I was producing films, but there was no money, no glory, no nothing. It felt I was stranding as a filmmaker. Around this time I learnt that my year old father needed someone back home, so I returned to Suriname to take care of him. Before I left the Netherlands, in , I handed over my entire personal and professional archive, including all my film tins, to the Dutch Film Museum.
It really felt like my final break from filmmaking, at least in the Netherlands. During my first period in Suriname I mainly occupied myself with doing nothing.
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My father passed away in , and out of the blue my son died in , which kept me emotionally busy for quite a while. It was not until that I got involved in film again. A few years earlier, in , Aruba-born film producer Eddy Wijngaarde and his wife Hennah Draaibaar initiated The Back Lot Foundation with the objective to revitalize film culture in Suriname. In a time when our country did not have any cinemas at all anymore, he started to organize film festivals at the Thalia Theatre in Paramaribo.
During these courses, the students, approximately 60 in total, worked together on the production of a pilot film, Ala Di… , In the Mean time…. Upon completion, the minute long film premiered at The Back Lot Film Festival in April and was subsequently broadcasted four times on local television, non-stop without any commercial breaks.
It was a great experience—we really wrote history—so the following year we wanted to run the program again. We received another grant from the Dutch Ministry for Development Cooperation, which again enabled us to get three professional Dutch filmmakers for two weeks in Suriname to teach the different courses.
While being educated, the students participated in the making of the feature-length experimental film Het Geheim van de Saramacca Rivier , The Secret of the Saramacca River. Like Wan Pipel , this film revolves around a Surinamese man living in the Netherlands who returns to his country of birth, this time a middle-aged university professor who visits Suriname for the first time in 40 years to celebrate his 50 th birthday. He is joined by his younger wife, a Surinamese woman who came to the Netherlands when she was The story, a psychological thriller, follows the couple on their trips through Suriname, during which they get entangled in a marital crisis—and a secretive conspiracy.
The film premiered at The Back Lot Film Festival, after which it was once more broadcasted on local television. Figure 7.
Martens: The learning-by-doing program of the Suriname Film Academy educates students in the craft of low-budget filmmaking. What is the overall objective of the Academy? De la Parra: The objective is to develop a continuous production of feature films in Suriname with an educational program that is based on my vast experience of low-budget filmmaking. Throughout my career I became an expert in making films with minimal resources and almost no money.
Therefore I think I was the obvious person to return to Suriname to set up a national film academy. The program completely reflects the principles of minimal movie making. We always work with small, almost non-existent budgets. Public and private funding covers the operating costs of the Academy, replenished by the tuition fees paid by the students. The biggest overhead always consists of the travel and accommodation expenses incurred by the Dutch filmmakers who come and teach here.
For the remainder, we only have to pay rent for a classroom and some equipment. Sometimes local professional technicians offer us their services for free to help us out. Finally, to get our films on television, we always have to find a sponsor who pays for the airtime. In order to guarantee the continuity of the Suriname Film Academy, we aim to release one new film on each edition of The Back Lot Festival, which is now taking place at TBL Cinemas, a great modern multiplex cinema they opened in —only then do we feel we have a right to speak.
So far we have succeeded in this aim. The second film, Hori Yu Srefi , Blijf je zelf; Remain Yourself , marked the first co-production between the Suriname Film Academy and Film Institute Paramaribo, which was founded by Arie Verkuijl, a well-known architect who attended the classes and volunteered as a producer. After that, Arie Verkuijl largely took over the directing stick.
He had already produced the first three films of the Academy and now it was time that I would produce films for him.
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Do you think the production of minimal movies can contribute to the development of a sustainable film industry in Suriname and the Caribbean in general? De la Parra: Not at all. When I started to make films there in the s, the field of filmmaking lied fallow. Now there is something that could be called a Dutch film industry—an industry that, due to the support of all kinds of funding programs, is able to put out around 25 feature films per year.
In Suriname, one of the poorest countries of South America with a population of just over , people, such an infrastructure is just unconceivable. The country is too small in both capital and population to establish a national film industry. We have only one cinema here, TBL Cinemas, so you cannot generate any profit from locally produced films.
You would thus need somebody who is either from a wealthy family, or funded with grant money, or just crazy enough to produce a film. I think I mainly belong to the latter category, the dreamer who just tries and tries and tries, because he just wants it that much. As said earlier, I am currently trying to get my last feature film off the ground. I want to show the young generation here that you can incidentally make a Surinamese feature film.
However, the idea of a Surinamese film industry is not realistic. There is simply no economic power and political will. I think the same goes for the wider Caribbean region, with the possible exception of Cuba, Jamaica, and Trinidad, considering their size in terms of capital and number of people, also in the diaspora. Yet still, in these islands, like everywhere else in the world, feature films are almost exclusively made by people from wealthy backgrounds. In Jamaica you see, for example, that most of the filmmakers are from the small, White- and Brown-skinned elites, while the poorer, often darker-skinned people do not really get to enter the world of professional filmmaking.
Also, I think that the Caribbean islands are too fragmented in terms of language to build a strong and unified Caribbean film industry. I am sorry, I am quite sombre, but I am afraid I am too old to deliver merely positive sounds. However, this does not mean that Caribbean cinema does not exist. Of course it exists! Caribbean cinema consists of all these individual initiatives in the region that have brought about, and brought together, a diverse body of films that are somehow connected through our history, culture, geography, and climate.
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There will always be young Caribbean people who will rise and produce films—and so every now and then such a film could reach the whole world. We just have to keep hoping and to keep dreaming. Martens: Do you feel that your learning-by-doing way of filmmaking could serve as a model to realize the dream of creating a film culture in the Caribbean?
De la Parra: Definitely, I think the method of learning-by-doing can be the savior of Caribbean cinema. I am now trying to export the method to the rest of the Caribbean. Both my early and more recent works are thus just now, sometimes decades later, being discovered in the region.
My travels provide me the opportunity to meet the young people involved in Caribbean filmmaking and also to spread the idea of the minimal movie throughout the region. For example, last year I visited the Trinidad and Tobago Film Festival, where I not only showed two of my films, but also gave a workshop about minimal movie making to teachers and students at the Film Department of the University of the West Indies. They were all very enthusiastic and this year I will hopefully return for 10 days to produce a feature-length film with their students according to the principles of the minimal movie , which they can then release at their annual festival.
Figure 8. A recent portrait of De la Parra in Suriname, This way I try to chip in and contribute my part in the development of Caribbean cinema. On the other hand, who listens to an old man like me? Life is all about dynamics, about movements, about developments. Intrepid Tongues : Young Flemish and Dutch artists speak out. With Maud Vanhauwaert and Gebroeders Fretz.
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