Myself

Louk Vreeswijk

Dutch filmmaker and cultural anthropologist

“In the late nineteen sixties, I lost my heart first to the classical music of India and then, as a film academy student, to its alternative cinema.

I spent six months in India in 1971, learning, on the spot, more about its cinema, the country and its people. It was the beginning of a passion that never ended. It deepened further during my studies in cultural anthropology in the early seventies and, subsequently through numerous visits to different parts of the country.

Although I have made documentary films over the years in different parts of the world, my work and my fascination with the country have brought me back to India again and again. It has become my second home.

As a young anthropological filmmaker in the late seventies, I lived in Kerala, the ‘communist’ state in the south of India. I was struck by the poverty of working class men and women struggling for a decent existence, fighting against injustice and exploitation. With its sympathy for the prevailing culture of workers’ resistance, my film: Made in Kerala (1979/81) is a true portrait of this era.

Louk in 1980, during the shooting of Made in Kerala

In the early eighties, my commitment to the cultural and political struggle against oppression found expression in my contribution to the production of two films for the international Anti-Apartheid movement: The Doors of Culture Shall Be Opened! (1982/83) and Witness Apartheid Aggression (1984).

Back in India, my appreciation of the age-old traditions of the culture in which people live grew stronger, and consequently the anthropological approach in my work became more apparent. This is reflected in films such as Punki and Ganshyam, twins in India (1988/89), about two young children in a remote village in Rajasthan, and In the Land of the Living Gods (1992) about the confrontation of a group of foreign tourists with a country and culture so different from their own.

Viewers have often asked me how it is that the people portrayed in my films don’t seem to be conscious of the camera even though it must have been right there among them. For the most part, this has to do with my style of shooting, inspired by the anthropological research method of participant observation. It involves a slow process of building trust in order to finally be able to capture natural human behaviour on film. Especially in films about sensitive subjects, like Birds of Passage (1987/88) about labour migration from Sri Lanka to the Middle East, or Home Ground (1996) about a gang of street children in Manila, or Mumbai Mahila Milan (1998) about a women’s organization of pavement dwellers in Bombay, this method has proved to be well worth the effort.

From the end of the last millennium onwards there has been a certain change in my work. I have developed a more personal, artistic approach and express myself not only in the moving images of video or film, but also in the still imagery of photography. My latest video films and photographs are artistic reflections on the place of nature, art and spirituality in life, both at the individual and sociocultural levels. Works as Memoria (1999), In the beginning was desire (2005), Journeys in Clay (2009) and Still Dance of Life in Time and Space (2010) give evidence of this development.”

For the last ten years, since 2008, I have been working closely with Claude Presset, ceramic artist living in Geneva, on projects about clay and ceramics. Each project consits of a film and book, which often accompany a traveling exhibition. You can find information on these projects on our website dialogue-ceramique.ch

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