SSIFF 2023: interview Simon van der Zande
Interview by Nick Cunningham
Dutch director Simon van der Zande talks to SEE NL about his award-winning and highly confrontational short film Thank You For Your Patience!, shot in one take on a Brussels bus, that is selected for San Sebastian's NEST Student Competition.
Still: Thank You For Your Patience!
It’s the kind of confrontation that most people seek to avoid. A man, whom we discover is a Congolese immigrant, gets onto a busy bus in Brussels and begins to unapologetically voice his discontent with Europe, possibly with Belgium specifically. “Who here finds 400 years of oppression a bit troublesome? 400 years of murder and rape?” he asks. For a while nobody responds, looking anywhere but at the Congolese man who continues his lecture. He is angry and he is loud, but he is always articulate.
But then a blond man at the front of the bus decides to take exception and asks the man to be quiet, at which point the passengers begin to get agitated. There is a moment of respite as the immigrant has a measured conversation with a Moroccan woman and her young son, but inevitably, tempers flare once more. When another man, a black Flemish guy, attempts to intervene this leads to a flurry of aggression as the immigrant is manhandled off the bus. When he gets back on, he is now at the front, while the blond man has taken up position at the back…
Everything we see is shot in one take from a static camera position.
Director Simon van der Zande explains how the film works to illustrate what he calls “avoidance strategies” that some white folk use when challenged with racism and colonial history.
“Feeling awkward, insecure or angry when the topic is put forward, they will look for ways to change the direction of the conversation,” van der Zande suggests, “so they don’t have to face the shame and guilt they might feel over this history of oppression, maybe also out of fear to be called a racist or to be made responsible for the oppression of people of colour.”
So they avoid it by not talking about it, by minimizing the racial dimension, making it about the way the conversation is being conducted, in emotional/rational terms, tone of voice or acceptable rules of politeness. “The avoidance strategies are there to help maintain their innocence and keep up a self-image of a decent human being that is against racism. But they also help to silence critical voices and prolongate the status quo from which they might profit.”
“The consequence is this becomes very frustrating for people of colour when most of the time the [white] reaction is, ‘well actually, this is not the right place or the right way to talk about injustice,’” the director adds. “And this reaction is thereby always postponing the conversation. There’s always another moment or another way that should be better, which kind of forces people who do want to address these topics, and have an urgency and a necessity to do so, to become more, let's put it bluntly, aggressive in their way of getting the message across.”
In other words, comfortable people whose lives are unaffected by prejudice don’t want to be made to confront it. Van der Zande cites the example of Dutch protests around the festive tradition of Zwarte Piet, the companion of Saint Nicholas who, every December, is portrayed on the streets of The Netherlands by white folk who darken their faces.
In the film, the reactions of the other passengers on the bus run the gamut from embarrassment to fear to flight. Such is the authenticity of their response, many audiences have assumed that they were genuine members of the public as opposed to extras. “I did consider at one point to film it actually in a real bus with a hidden camera and actors. But other than the fact that it's technically difficult, the most important reason for me was more ethical. I didn't really know if I could put my actors into such a situation,” says van der Zande. “And also to fool a large amount of people on a bus about a topic that is so charged and so sensitive just didn't feel right.”
Thank You For Your Patience! world-premiered at the Ghent Film Festival in 2022 where it won the Pack Audience Award and a special mention before going on to win the Audience and Youth awards at the Go Short International Short Film Festival in Nijmegen (The Netherlands). International festival distribution for Thank You For Your Patience! is handled by Kapitein Kort.