The cruel truth of life


Last saturday, I met Anja at cafe Maison du Peuple, one of her “favorite places” in Brussels and we talked about : herself, her projects and her work for the European Commission’s DG DEVCO now doing scripts, graphics and shooting videos. The story I cherry picked from our exchange is one embodying her ties with her family, her love for her job(s) and a personal experience tainted with mixed emotions. She told me this story while projecting these pensive features and often interrupting her sentences with the succint french expression ‘Bon’ – and I thought that perhaps she did so to allow herself a pause, to deal with her emotions or to change her train of thought – in order to tell me what she herself called ‘the cruel truth of life’.

14:37 . -I made this personal documentary : it was filmed in a residence facility for the elderly, the headmaster of which was my grandmother. When she got ill, she insisting on staying there for her ‘last years’ and my mother decided to stay there as well and take care of her. Bon. It was surely painful for both of them, but I can imagine it was a little more so for my mother, as she started seeing her own parent, this strong figure that she had looked up to her whole life, now become weaker and weaker. Initially I started filming with the aim of presenting three generations of women, but then my grandmother died during the shooting. Bon. I thought ‘Hmm, what am I going to do with this movie now?’ It was not the story that I wanted to tell but it was very powerful, even more than I had envisioned, I would say. Not the death of my grandmother, that being; no, that was sad. My mother’s response and her emotional reaction was what I found powerful; how she handled the situation with strength. The initial message behind the movie was the circle of life and in a sense the message came across well, although in an unexpected way. My mother realised that age does affect all kinds of people and that when people get older they do lose some of their abilities and strengths. That is the cruel truth of life. My mother took over my grandmother’s role as headmaster of the residence, which is shown at the end of the movie and embodies the succession of things. In a way this was a feminist film as well, because it showed the extent of women’s strength. I hope so at least. Bon.

(She smiled a LOT)

anja - photo 2

Background: when Anja met me, and when I met Anja

Last spring I met Anja : a bubbly photographer and filmmaker who asked me a few questions about Humans of the EU. From the outset, this lady seemed to be (uber)working on different projects at once and juggling between meetings, people and tasks of many layers, which I figured must be the situation of most freelancers. We managed to find a date that fit us for the interview, and Anja not only directed me with clear instructions while filming me and asking me questions, she also displayed an incredible sense of calm and patience – politely reassuring me when I kept asking whether my makeup looked alright and whether my words came across alright (or the paradox of my priorities).

In retrospect I find this experience insightful: it gave me an outlook on how other people must feel when I ask them questions about themselves and how they can feel: stress, joy, confidence, confusion at times. Anja told me “I tend to observe and then take the best part out of that person. That’s my motto in my work. When I see the reaction of people when I shoot them, it makes me happy.” To which I thought: Amen. So, I wanted to get to know Anja better, just like she got to know me better in our first encounter. and I found out, just as happens so often with this project – that I related to many things she told me about, and saw myself in her work ethic. At least, I can only hope I approach my own work with as much love and dedication as she does. 

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