7 billion Others inscribes itself in Belgium’s current affairs by meeting with its inhabitants. Additional questions on the concept of identity in the lives of the Belgian have been grafted to the initial questionnaire. The Belgian identity, is it important? Is the concept of a Belgian identity still meaningful? What does it mean nowadays, for an inhabitant of Brussels, a Flemish, a Wallon, or a German speaker? What is it, today, to “be Belgian”? Nic Balthazar, famous ecologist and Flemish film director, known as television and cinema (Ben X), and clip (“Big Ask”, “Big Ask again”, “Dance for the Climate”) director, joined the production team and went to the meeting of Belgians from all horizons. Pascal Poissonnier accompanied him in this adventure, and co-directed the movie.
The testimonies thus collected have been put together to create the new movie you have been able to view in the Brussels exhibition.
MEETING WITH THE BELGIANS
Seven billion others… and us, the Belgian?
On the theme encounter with the other, Belgium had to come out of the lot. Is she not at the heart of Europe, one of the countries in which encountering the Other, the other community, is becoming less and less frequent? Is she not a country where identity is a permanent quest for some, an “absence” for others? How can one imagine a 7 billion Others exhibition in Brussels without giving the Belgian public the opportunity to discover what those of the other community think of the country and its future?
Flemish direct Nic Balthazar, a Yann Arthus-Bertrand admirer, first viewed the exhibition in Marseille. “Going there, I though I would grow weary fast. But I soon found myself under the spell. I stayed there for 2 and a half hours… then I left for lunch and went back in the afternoon. It was a little like TV series; we always say, ok, lets watch one last episode, and we end up spending part of the night in front of the screen”.
On June 13th, 2010, day of the elections in Belgium, Nic Balthazar is in Paris, alongside Yann Arthus-Bertrand, amidst French worried by the future of Belgium. “Yann challenged me to put together “Being Belgian” in the framework of the upcoming Brussels exhibition. I had little time, but I accepted because it was the occasion for me to discover the other community. I worked at the VRT for a while. It is the most absurd building in the world: a single hallway separates us, yet never do we come into contact with the people working on the other side.”
In the end, it is more than 100 people who filed past Nic Balthazar’s camera. A chart of criteria was first established: as many Dutch-speakers as French-speakers, without forgetting the German-speakers, as many of this or that age, this or that background, etc. Then, Nic Balthazar and his team addressed themselves to active associations in different shooting areas (Brussels, Lièges, Marche, etc.) in order to recruit people that were interested in the project. The ritual is unchanging. A rail on which is hung a curtain for setting, a single projector, a chair on which the witness takes place, facing the camera. Pascal Poissonnier is behind, Nic Balthazar a little way back. He first recalls the project in a few words to make the witness comfortable, then asks him to introduce himself. Even though he disposes of an interview map, Nic Balthazar does not seem to refer to it often. The interview takes the shape of a casual conversation, despite the fact that Nic does not hesitate to make the witness start over, and to push him further in his reasoning. But there is an essential difference with the testimonies seen in the exhibition: the witnesses are not asked the usual list of questions: they all refer to the theme of identity, Belgian identity.
“The work we are conducting here, explains Nic Balthazar, is the opposite of what we are doing on television. Here, I never cut the witnesses, I let them express themselves until they stop talking. Then I launch them again. It is, I believe, what gives specificity to a project like this one.” Regardless, 70 or 80 testimonies for a 50 minute movie, even if not all witnesses are kept, adds up to less than a minute per-person whereas the interview lasts a lot longer. “I only keep what seems to me the strongest, the most original, the striking in each one. And often, that appears at the beginning of the interview.”
In an interview we witnessed, a young Flemish talked about dialects, insisting that when she came home of the weekends, her mother insisted that she speak West-Flandrian and not Dutch. “It is very probable that I will use this cut, explains the director. In Flanders, the dialect question is important. There are more jokes – often mean ones – from inhabitants of Antwerp on those of west-Flanders – and inversely – than on French-speakers for example. And this will show that when they speak of “LA Flandre”, it is not correct; “LA Flandre” is not monolithic.”
And this is why the movie “Being Belgian” is so special compared to the exhibition’s other movies. Two communities will listen to one another. “That never happens in our country, regrets nic Balthazar. Or in some political debates – but they are rare – and in that case, people talk back to eachother. Here, each person gives his or her vision without others interfering.”
Nic Balthazar was born in Gand in 1964. After studying university literature and theatre, he becomes theater critic, first for the De Morgen daily, then on Radio 1 and Studio Brussels, at age 21. He later moves on from radio to television, and from theater to the cinema. This occurs around the same time as the launch of Canvas, a VRT channel, where during more than 10 years Nic Balthazar animates the “Filfan” show. Every week, he presents and analyses a cult film. He thus becomes recognized as one of the best Flemish critics.
Nic Balthazar spends more than 20 years at the VRT, as cultural show anchor.
Progressively, he moves to the other side of the camera, using the skills he acquired on television sets.
In 2002, he writes a novel: Niet alles wat hij zei (“He was not saying anything at all”), then adapts it on the stage. Without a single granted euro, his play “Niets” (“Nothing”) becomes a multimedia representation, using Praga Khan’s music as background to a short film. “Niets” has a huge success among the public and the critics, and is the subject of 250 representations.
“Ben X” is Nic Balthazar’s first long film, written and directed in 2007.
In August 2008, Nic Balthazar shoots another film, which brings together more than 6.000 people, on the Petite Plage d’Ostende, around the theme of “SOS Climat”. One of the film’s scenes features a giant, moving human banner, inviting political decision-makers to take action. Ostende’s small beach was transformed into a giant shooting stage for a day, with extras coming from all over Belgium, but also from Germany, France, the United Kingdom, and the Netherlands. A great number of participants chose to travel to Ostende using eco-friendly transportation such as trans, trams, and buses.
In 2009, Nic Balthazar embarks on a new project: “The Big Ask Again – On danse pour le climat” (“The Big Ask Again – We dance for the climate”). 100 days before the Copenhagen UN summit, he reunites more than 12.000 people, once again on Ostende’s small beach, to shoot a video clip calling for action against climate change. For the occasion, the group U2 accepted to give out the rights of its hit “Magnificent”. Translated in about 10 languages, this short-film was diffused in more than 40 countries after its official premiere at the federal Parliament. The film became a tool for mobilization in the context of the UN Conference on climate change in Copenhagen, which took place in December of the same year.
Pascal Poissonnier est né en 1973. Il est réalisateur, musicien et acteur à ses heures.
Il a étudié à la Royal Academy of Fine Arts de Ghent (KASK). Son court-métrage de fin d’études "Dat Ben Ik" ("C’est moi") a été particulièrement apprécié en Belgique, a été diffusé et selectionné par de nombreux festivals internationaux, et a remporté de nombreux prix. Il s’interesse particulièrement à l’écriture, stimulé par sa curiosité envers le scénario. Ainsi, après son diplôme de la Royal Academy of Fine Arts, il a été diplômé d’une maitrise en écriture de scénario (scriptwriting).
Un an plus tard, il est entré en contact avec le monde du théâtre. Ce qui initialement était supposé être un projet accessoire, a abouti par une longue collaboration avec le théâtre. Jusqu’à ce jour, ce lien existe toujours bien que moins fort.
Ces dernières années, Pascal a réalisé et produit de nombreuses publicités, reportages, films courts, clips vidéo et films de commande. Il a créé une installation vidéo, publié des EPs et fait des vidéos de performances.
Pascal enseigne actuellement à la Royal Academy of Fine Arts de Ghent and et au Lemmens Institute.