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Cultural Embassy

EDDY WIJNGAARDE - Entrepreneur

Eddy Wijngaarde (73) is a serial entrepreneur who fell into the film business while entertaining friends at his restaurant in Amsterdam in the 1980s. Having grown up in Surinam and The Netherlands his projects straddle both countries and cultures. His past successes include award-winning documentaries and pioneering projects like ‘Surinam Youth News’. He tells Kim van Beek how his career as a film producer unfolded and what we can expect next.

How did you get into film production?
When I opened my second restaurant called Sancerre in Amsterdam some of my guests were film and documentary makers like Louis van Gasteren, Leon de Winter, Rudolf van den Berg, René Seghers. I came to know them, got involved in their projects and when we met and talked about film productions I was always thinking about the business side. Then I was asked to be the director of the first film association of Amsterdam. In 1987 we produced our first film “Looking for Eileen”, directed by Rudolf van den Berg, based on the novel written by Leon de Winter. I did the financing and distribution. In the early 90s I produced two more documentaries called “Siki” and “Battle of the Java Sea”, both directed by Niek Koppen, and two films, “The Flying Dutchman” (a European co-production), and Colpa di Luna.

[Image: “Siki” documentary about the short life history of a Senegalese world champion boxing. Director Niek Koppen. Production: Eddy Wijngaarde]

Why film and documentaries?
I feel attracted to films or documentaries with interesting content. It is a bigger challenge to realise the financing of these projects - I like the complexity. When I was trying to finance the last part to produce “The Flying Dutchman” I took a big risk by showing rough, non-edited film material, images without text, to sales agents during a film festival. It was very unusual at that time, nobody did it, but the images were strong, I believed in them, and thanks to showing these images I managed to get the last financing we needed to round up production.

[Image: "This portrait inspired Niek Koppen to make the documentary “Battle of the Java Sea”.]

Which project are you most proud of?
Niek Koppen called me to say he was inspired by a photograph he found on his mother’s desk. A stately picture of his mother’s first husband, an officer in the army in Indonesia, who died in the battle of the Java Sea just after they married. Niek thought this man might have been my father. Not long after our conversation, back in Surinam, I opened the newspaper and read an article titled “Battle of the Java Sea”. The phone rang and I said, Niek! Let’s do it! The documentary offers oral histories by survivors of the battle, both Japanese and the Allied forces. To gather these stories Niek Koppen flew all over the world and interviewed 50 survivors. The documentary won the Golden Calf prize at the at the 1996 Nederlands Film Festival.

What is the Surinam Youth Journal? How did it start?
The Surinam Youth Journal is a 10-minute journal for children created together with my partner and chief editor Hennah Draaibaar. It is an example pilot for other developing countries. In 2004 I was initially approached by Free Voice (an organisation that helps journalists in war and conflict areas / developing countries to make produce news) to create this pilot for a Youth Journal in Surinam, Afghanistan and South Africa. The Dutch Youth Journal and the Dutch radio station Wereld Omroep were responsible for training the journalists. In Afghanistan they didn’t want to train female journalists so they couldn’t further develop the pilot there. Despite that, now the Youth Journal News is broadcasted in 14 developing countries.

[Image: Some of the documentaries about musicians that we aim to show during the film festival themed “Music and More” in Surinam November 2016.]

What brings you to Amsterdam?
There are a couple of projects I am organising now, a film festival in November in Surinam, with documentaries about musicians, so I’m meeting people to finalise the selection of films.
Also, I have set up a school in Surinam for audio visual projects in collaboration with the Grafisch Lyceum in Rotterdam. Another project is in collaboration with the Dutch Film Academy, eight documentaries made by Surinam film makers will be shown in Surinam and hopefully in the Netherlands.

[Image: Youth Journal Surinam. In 10 minutes it covers topics ranging from economic crisis to a Russian artist mixing real animals with animation.]