Different side of the Roma community


We sat down with Koosje de Pooter and talked about her new documentary, Positioning Roma.

Have you liked Viscult so far?

Yeah, I really liked it. I have been on one festival before, which was in Gottingen and this is also very nice. Also, very small too, like one screening room but yeah, I like it so far. It’s intimate.

Are you going to see Joensuu or other part of Finland?

Yes. We went to Helsinki for two days and then we came here, but it’s three days only, until the festival ends and then we go back home.

What did you like about Helsinki?

Yeah, I liked it. The city itself wasn’t very interesting, like the city centre, but we did go to Suomenlinna and it was really nice. And we also did walks in the park and more in the nature and that was really nice.

What films are you interested to see?

Yeah, I was interested specially in female autonomy part, because I studied genre studies last year and I have always been really interested in films about female characters. I also wanted to do it in my film, but I couldn’t because I didn’t have any access to females there. That was a pity, but I managed to do something else. And I really liked Facing Fears (film by Almut Dieden) and also Living Arts, it is from a friend of ours (Tina Krueger), so that is nice. And I also like the Underground (film by Julie Høj Thomsen).This is about homeless people, which also interests me. And Shashamane (film by Giulia Amati) also, a film about Jamaica.

Had you been in Ghent before making this documentary? Did you have any previous knowledge of the situation over there?

Yeah, because I grew up there partly. I am from Netherlands and Belgium is really, really close. I had to travel half an hour by car and I am already in Ghent. From 3 years old to 19, I went to school there, so I made clear from the beginning, that when I was doing field work, I would do this. And Roma people has been problematic, so to speak. I wanted to do this many, many years and I wanted to shine different kind of light to this problem, because it’s always very negative and one sided in the media. So, I wanted to show how they do have an agency and how they do take up things for them self and try to negotiate about their situation. So yeah, this is what I did.

How did you tangled upon this group and making this film?

It wasn’t really easy. I went there few months before we had to do the field work. It wasn’t easy, because at first, I wanted to do something with women and that really wasn’t working, because they didn’t want me to film them or to pay any attention to them. It was really hard to find any connection with them. It wasn’t so nice actually, but then I found this one guy, who is one of my main characters, Tibor. He actually knew my mother, because she is teaching also in Ghent and his children are in my mother’s school and he was “okay, okay, I’m willing to give you a change because I know her”, and suddenly he started to see what I could to this community and give them different voice and different way. So, it was easier but still not easy. Sometimes I went along and they said you can’t film this and that. And that’s also why I chose not only to focus on him and Martin’s organisation, but also charity organisation.

Are there any changes coming for the Roma community?

Yeah, I really hope so. Because there is more and more attention to them being there. City itself has to manage how to deal with this very large group. Which is growing in the city. There are changes on the way, but it is really, really slow. It is always very bureaucratic. They can do these certain things, because there are rules. It is also in my film, there are rules, so I can’t do anything else. That is a bit of a pity. The city (Ghent) has to stick up with these rules and can’t go further. There are changes, but they are really slow.

How have the city’s policymakers reacted making this film, or how has the reception been in Belgium altogether?

Yes, for example, this one guy from the city which I interviewed, said it was fine what I did. But he wanted to manage the interview, which was all scripted. He would not do anything else. So, for me, it was that there were so much more under the surface that they would not talk about. I haven’t screen it in Belgium, this is my first screening in a festival. I have shown it for the participants and they partially liked it. For example, Tibor said “yeah, you could have been more positive. You could have included me more”. I said to him “yes, but you would not let me film you more”. But the people who have seen it, said it shined a different light on this problem that is always shown in a negative way in the media. I show the people themselves, what they are doing, that they do have a voice and they are doing activities and stuff, but people don’t see it, because it is not that big.

Autonomy is this year’s theme, how well does your documentary fits to this theme?

I think it goes throughout the whole film, like for example, this one organisation especially really try to get recognized as a group, and that they have rights and they have a voice and it’s like this whole conversation with the city and charity organisations. We’re all trying to do the same thing, which is like helping them and letting them be there, but they are doing it so different ways that sometimes they don’t work together. Especially these organisations I think they are Roma activists, and this is where autonomy theme really comes to front row.

What would you hope for your audience will learn after watching your documentary?

I think that minority groups are really struggling in these cities. And they do have a voice and they do want to do stuff, plan activities to raise their voice, but people have to listen and it’s not always that easy. And I hope people see different side of Roma community.