Stunned by illiteracy
"The idea for Sjeemte (Mother Tongue) came to me whilst visiting Maastricht, the city I grew up in. I’ve been working as a director in London (UK) for a decade (give or take a year) and had been searching for a project to film back in Limburg for a while. That particular visit when I was home, my parent’s elderly neighbour had just passed away, and they had been catching up with her daughter, who works for a charity promoting literacy in local libraries. When my parents filled me in on what Ivette Sprooten (Cubiss Limburg) did for a living I was shocked.
The functional illiteracy levels in the areas I grew up in were stunningly high, to the point where I didn’t believe the figures. From that moment on I was intrigued, and after some enquiry, decided I wanted to write a short film on the subject matter. The anecdotes detailing the harrowing experience of people suffering from functional illiteracy, and the ingrained generational shame that comes with the territory, inspired me to write Sjeemte – where I wanted to create a single moment in time - a scene that would show this extreme denial around functional illiteracy that I had come across.
The script itself went through a few iterations, perhaps five drafts or so, where I homed in ever more closely on the actual premise and the thematic structure of the short film. Throughout the different iterations of the screenplay, I was in touch with Reinier Selen, the producer, and he would just offer me his thoughts, without really influencing me or pushing me in a direction I didn’t want to go.
In a way, Reinier would sense-check that whatever I was trying to accomplish, the script indeed accomplished (or not). That allowed me to structure the intent of the narrative very clearly. In the end I pretty much shot exactly what was on the page (yet lost a few chunks in the edit that didn’t work). But as the short film is very much about the internal life of the lead character – Candide’s unspoken shame of her functional illiteracy, all of the action and dialogue - her interaction - is about the fact that she is hiding something, therefore, you can’t really change the script too much as all of the behavioural nuances have to be exact in order for the audience to witness it."