|VIFF '09 Interview - A Blooming Business director Ton van Zontvoort
by Jason Whyte
A Blooming Business - At VIFF '09
“A Blooming Business is a poetic documentary about people in Kenya who are imprisoned by the power of the global farming flower industry. We meet the people in Naivasha and the dilemmas of the industry grow painfully clear. A dark world of oppression, sexual abuse and terrible working conditions unfolds.” Director Ton van Zantvoort on the film “A Blooming Business” which screens at this year’s Vancouver International Film Festival.
Is this your first film in the VIFF? Do you have any other festival experience? Do you plan to attend VIFF for the screenings?
This is my first film on the great VIFF festival and I am sincerely honored that the festival is showing this important film. I have more experience on festivals as the IDFA (International Documentary Festival Amsterdam), TDF (Thessaloniki Documentary Festival), EIFF (Edinburgh International Film Festival) and others. I had arranged the trip, because I would love to come, but suddenly got physical problems and therefore had to cancel,
Growing up, you were no doubt asked the eternal question “When I grow up I want to be a …” Finish this sentence, please!
When I grow up I wanted to be a ‘building laborer’ like my father.
He worked for a company that placed underwater tubing. He had charge over a small group of 5 people. When I grew older I thought to be a graphic designer.
Could you give me a little look into your and what led you to the desire to want to make film?
In 2003, I was filming in Kenya for a Dutch foundation that helps disabled children in developing countries when I met ‘the flower family’; a single mother that was living under really bad conditions with her 3 children (two of which were disabled). The oldest daughter had epilepsy and got sexual abused weekly, as the mother was working all day from 4 am until dark. She didn’t see her children in daylight. When we went to the mothers’ work we discovered that she was working on an immense huge flower farm. I then discovered that these same flowers were shipped daily to my own country the Netherlands, and I was so shocked badly.
I since then felt the urge to tell this story. I worked on this film for the last four years, independently, spending my own money and risking my and others people lives.
How did this project come to fruition? If you could, please provide me with a rundown, start to finish, from your involvement.
I initiated it myself. After the experience in 2003 I start developing the synopsis a year or so later. I had some doubts as it was a very big project for only me. But as I could not find partners that were financially supporting me, I decided to continue on my own.
What was the biggest challenge in the production of the movie, be it principal photography or post-production?
The whole process was difficult. I couldn’t get much support until the film was nearly finished. During the filming we had quite anxious periods as the industry were every where and we had to be very careful what we did. When we were filming in the night -- accompanied by 2 military guys in civilian clothes -- we were even threatened with an AK 47 rifle!
To get the peoples’ trust and to find out who we could trust ourselves in this corrupt situation was a thing on its own. The whole project has caused many sleepless nights, a big responsibility for the people and much stress also for my home situation. After filming we heard that Jane got fired and I decided to collect money and send it through a channel that would arrange for her an own business. This stress didn’t stop till the film was finished and then it got even worse when the film was shown on television. I am glad it is now settling down a bit.
Tell me about the technical side of the film; your relation to the film’s cinematographer, what the film was shot on and why it was decided to be photographed this way.
I get many complements about the cinematography and I sincerely appreciate that. My relation to the cinematography is that I did it myself.
Talk a bit about the experiences (festival or non-festival) that you have had with the film. Have you had any interesting audience stories or questions that have arisen at screenings?
I am very surprised and sometimes shocked by all the reactions and discussions that the film is raising after a screening. Most people get really angry on the situation and say they will never buy a rose again. I then of course explain that stop buying roses will not help the situation or benefit anyone. Most of the times there are also farmers at the screening and they get angry at me, as they don’t recognize their company in the films’ situation. In Edinburgh I was shocked as even some people from Kenya got angry at me;
they really thought it was my obligation to point out exactly which companies are doing this.
Who would you say your biggest inspirations are in the film world (directors, actors, cinematographers, etc)? Did you have inspirations from filmmakers for this film in particular?
I am mostly inspired by life itself. I am not so much inspired by other filmmakers, but of course like some films more than others. Most films I like are different compared to my style. I think the Dutch Heddy Honigmann and John Appel are very good in what they do.
I also respect Hubert Sauper, the director of “Darwin’s Nightmare”. Some people compare my film with this film as it deals with similar issues.
I was already working on my film when I indeed saw “Darwin’s Nightmare” on IDFA. I was doing volunteer work for that festival and driving directors from the airport to the festival. The first director I drove was Hubert Sauper. As I did not know the way to the festival I let him read the map. When I saw his film, it gave me even more reason to continue my film.
If you weren’t in this profession, what other career do you think you would be interested in?
I sometimes think it would be nice to start a hostel somewhere near the beach where the sun is always shining, but I don’t give it much chance.
Please tell me some filmmakers or talent that you would love to work with, even if money was no object.
I would love to talk and work with more experienced filmmakers as the people I mentioned above or your own Canadian Peter Wintonick. I coincidently had a phone conversation yesterday with a Dutch filmmaker I did not know before. She just called me after she saw my film to talk about experiences with filming, festivals, broadcasters. This was really nice as we both agreed that making a film is quite lonesome; most things you have to discover and find out yourself and you get to speak many colleagues.
How important do you think the critical/media response is to film these days, be it a large production, independent film or festival title?
I think this is very important. I see my work as my art and put much time and energy in it when I am creating it. If then a simple written review completely destroys the film, it really feels like shit! Of course it is very easy to say what is not good about something. I wonder if those review writers understand what they are destroying with a few lines they write on a bad Monday morning. I also create my own posters, flyers and website but it is much more efficient if you just have good connections at the big talk shows.
If your film could play in any movie theatre in the world, which one would you choose?
I once experienced the Swann lake of Tsjaikovsky in the Mariinsky theatre in St. Petersburg, Russia, and that would be a great place for screening my film; would you have the connections to arrange that? (Me: no, but if you wanted to screen at the Alamo Drafthouse…) Then do make sure they get different chairs as the old wooden ones are not so nice.
What would you say to someone on the street to see your film instead of the latest blockbuster playing at the local megaplex?
Did you ever buy a rose? Then take some time, settle down and see my film. This is not an action film with effects but real people in the world we are living in.
No doubt there are a lot of aspiring filmmakers at film festivals who are out there curious about making a film of their own. Do you have any advice that you could provide for those looking to get a start?
Take a close look to your inner self. Trust in yourself and just do it!
And finally…what is your all time favourite motion picture, and why?
There is no number one fiction film, just a many movies that had impact in the period in my life when I saw them. Among them: “The Good the Bad the Ugly”, “The Matrix”, “Fucking Amal”, “Lost Highway” and “The Dark Knight”.
Be sure to follow instant happenings of VIFF on my Twitter at twitter.com/jasonwhyte!
This is one of the many films playing at this year’s Vancouver International Film Festival. For more information on the film’s screenings, showtimes and update information, point your browser to viff.org. – Jason Whyte, efilmcritic.com
link directly to this feature at http://www.efilmcritic.com/feature.php?feature=2857
originally posted: 10/12/09 18:33:05