Interview of the week 18: Jan van den Berg, Director of “Silent Snow”

The message of “Silent Snow”, a documentary about the damaging use of DDT, is in line with our “Stop DDT!” campaign: There needs to be a rapid phase-out of DDT as environmentally sound alternatives are available. We had the opportunity to show the movie during the 5th UN-Conference of the Stockholm Convention (COP-5) from 25 to 29 April 2011 in Geneva. This international agreement forbids the use of dangerous pesticides. While we met him we also asked Jan van den Berg some questions about the project and his experiences.

Why did you start this movie project?

I was asked by Jan Betlem, who travelled on a plane with Namgyal Lhamo. She is a Tibetan singer who lives near my house, just around the corner. Every summer she is going to India, in order to collect songs and stories from the refugees that escape from Tibet. They’d suffered a lot, and made very dangerous journeys through the mountains. I made a film with her: “Seven Dreams of Tibet” with seven Tibetans and their nightmares and dreams of a free Tibet, among them His Holiness the Dalai Lama. She had told Jan to contact me.

Jan’s stories about pollution were horrible, with images of poisonous white mountains, children playing nearby. Sometimes the army helped cleaning up the mess. They were dressed like moon travellers, really from another world. Jan worked mostly in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, where the Soviet Union left these poisonous mountains, rather carelessly.

I didn’t like these images for a film, it was just too ugly and only made you feel helpless. But I was fascinated by the invisibility of this silent enemy, threatening the health of so many people. And that’s why we developed a script around all these heroes fighting the pollution of their countries.

How did you meet Pipaluk Knudsen-Ostermann, the young Greenlandic woman who is portrayed in the movie?

That’s a funny story. Everybody advised us to go around the world with the two kids who played in the short film I made first to raise some money. “Four Inspirational Stars for a doc well shot, and for Sarah and Pipaluk, kids who might show us how to save the planet”, wrote Peter Wintonick in POV magazine. (For other reviews of the short trailer film see the website.)

But they were 13 years old and much too young travelling to all these countries with me. When the short film premiered at IDFA in 2007 someone called me for tickets, but it was completely sold out. When this young lady told me she was from Greenland and her name was Pipaluk, I couldn’t refuse and I gave her my seats. That’s how we met, and she became a wonderful travel companion, took unpaid leave from her job to join me to all these countries.

You showed the movie in the United States, in Kenya and now also in Switzerland. What type of reactions did you get?

It was really great. I was afraid that the movie would make people too depressive, but nobody complained about that. In the States I had told people in the Q&A about my neighbour back in Holland, who – after viewing one of the first versions of the film – said: “After you’ve finished this film we will all have to commit suicide.” Then, a lady came to me out of the audience and said: “My husband and I, we were afraid of going to the cinema because we thought we would be depressed afterwards, but we are not. Because despite the very serious message, you made a beautiful piece of art.”

Also in Geneva they praised “Silent Snow” for showing a unique community feeling between all those people working with the same objective. Someone said: “This film changed my life and gives new hope to all of us who work for a sustainable world.”

What do you think about Biovision’s work and our “Stop DDT!” campaign?

It’s exactly our aim, exactly what the film is about, and I’m glad we are working together.

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