DIRECTOR ECHÉ JANGA: “MY GREATEST WISH WAS TO MAKE A FILM ABOUT THE MYSTIQUE OF LIFE”

Here is an interview (translated by Peter Jordens) by Belinda van de Graaf for the Dutch newspaper Trouw with Eché Janga, director of Buladó, which won the Golden Calf for Best Film at the 2020 Netherlands Film Festival.  [Also see previous post Eché Jangas: Bulado.]  

“I thought it was important to show the real Curaçao,” says Eché Janga (42), “not the famous white beaches and colored houses of Willemstad, but Bandabou, the interior.” There, the main character of Buladó, eleven-year-old schoolgirl Kenza, lives in a junkyard with her father and grandfather. Kenza is caught between two worlds. Her pragmatic father wants her to speak Dutch. He does not want to hear about anything from the past. He wants to sell the land on which they live as soon as possible. Her grandfather is a different story. He believes in spirits and speaks [only] Papiamentu. He reminds Kenza that “the blood, sweat and tears of slaves dwell on this land.”

In this way, Janga, born of a Curaçaoan father and a Dutch mother, constructs a dialogue between the past and the present in Curaçao. He based the story partly on an old slave legend that circulated in his family. […] Through [an] uncle, Janga heard about the slaves who worked on the salt pans in Curaçao under appalling conditions. “Their only hope was aimed at a flight narrative,” says Janga. “If the slaves fled from the plantation and jumped off a cliff, they would be able to fly to Africa and finally be free again. Buladó means ‘a flying person or thing’.” According to Janga, slaves told each other this story to stay hopeful. “While actually, it was about suicide,” he says. “Curaçao is a dry, barren rock in the Caribbean. There is no point in fleeing. If you flee, you will die.” Janga incorporated the slave legend into his film, especially in the story of the grandfather who preferred to die rather than be tucked away in a home for the elderly.

Making a film about the mystique of life was his greatest wish, says the director. “When you think about life, you automatically think about death. I remember that as a child I was already fascinated by the concept of death, by the realization that life is finite. “As a child I daydreamed about it: when I am dead, I will get all the answers to life. It kept me very busy, especially after seeing The NeverEnding Story (1984), a kind of philosophical youth film from the eighties. It was a film that did not provide all the answers, so that you could fill in matters yourself.” Janga, who already won two Golden Calves for his debut feature film Helium (2014), says that he prefers to work in that way, “such that you leave something to the imagination.”

With Buladó, Janga is one of the few Dutch filmmakers to situate a story in a former colony and to reflect on the past through the present time. This makes his coming-of-age story about a Curaçaoan girl a fairly unique project. A few years ago, there was a film adaptation of Dubbelspel [Double Play], the famous book by Frank Martinus Arion, but it was directed by an American and it was in English, which felt a bit awkward. Janga: “I think that if you are a Dutch person without an ethnic background, you won’t easily think about making a film about the Dutch Antilles, or about Suriname or Indonesia. The fact that Jim Taihuttu is currently working on De Oost [The East], a major film about the Indonesian War of Independence, has to do with the fact that he is Moluccan himself.”

In addition, filming in Curaçao is quite a challenge. There is no film industry, nothing. “Yes, you have to be able to adapt to the conditions on the island,” says Janga, “and film a bit ‘guerrilla style’: often off the cuff and with natural light.” According to Janga, one also needs a crew that can withstand the heat and is able to work all day at 90-degree temperatures. This was not a problem for the local crew members. Quite a few islanders worked on the film, including the young lead actress Tiara Richards who was discovered at a local school.

Janga: “What the people of Curaçao liked especially was that we did not go for the usual touristy view of the island, but filmed inland, and mainly in Papiamentu. They had never experienced that before.”

Translation by Peter Jordens. For the complete, original interview (in Dutch), go to https://www.trouw.nl/cultuur-media/regisseur-eche-janga-mijn-grootste-wens-was-een-film-maken-over-de-mystiek-van-het-leven~b4e0e616

[Photo above, credits: @Bruno Press.]

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