Interview with Digna Sinke

Waste nothing and you have… plenty of material for a documentary. Three years ago, Digna Sinke made it to the IFFR audience top 3 with the fictional documentary After the Tone. This edition she is back with the world premiere of BEWAREN – of hoe te leven. In this filmessay she analyses her own – and her mother’s – love of hoarding. Also, she seeks advice from digital nomads who sometimes own nothing more than a passport, a phone and a laptop.

So take a look around in your study, what do you see?
“A closet with the collection of sugar packs, postcards and stamps I saved as a child. Letters, lots of letters, fileboxes full of them. Stuff to make wine, to fix clothes. Old school newspapers, all my calendars from 1964 till now, my father’s AEG-typewriter, movie cans with movies in it, two pairs of ice skates, jewelry. In the dressers: clippings of movie reviews about the movies I loved in secondary school. Old clothes in plastic boxes: unwearable hippiedresses from the seventies and tops you wouldn’t DARE to wear anymore. Photo albums... wait, let me count: about thirty. Film negatives. All the Filmkranten and Skoops, starting from issue one. And documentation from meetings, closets full. I keep a lot, that’s true, but not everything. The criterium is: I have to be able to find it all within five minutes. Pretty reasonable, right?”

  • Still: BEWAREN – of hoe te leven

  • Still: BEWAREN – of hoe te leven

When was the moment you thought: Now there is a movie subject!
“That took a while. I knew I had to do something with it, but initially I was thinking more in a conceptual direction, an installation type thing. When the Mediafund announced a competition for an essay documentary, that’s when it first dawned on me. Within a few days, I had the concept on paper. The timing is right; we’re at a weird point in history right now. The need to keep things is lessened by digitalisation. Take music, for instance, or books. People’s attitude towards stuff has changed: we’re in the middle of a paradigm change. The trend that you have to get rid of everything makes me unhappy, as if saving things is utter nonsense. I want to show that there is another way to look at it.”

But how?
“In the film I try to name all the functions of objects. They keep your own memories alive and they also give you access to other worlds than your own. I kept my deceased partner’s things for example. That is his past, not mine. I was never quite aware of how emotional and tangible a memory could be, until I confronted my mother with the objects I kept for her. Her father’s little fork instantly evoked memories and stories. When she’s fidgeting an old blanket, images spontaneously arise. It’s all very authentic – my mother refuses to be directed. But will that memory effect still be there, now everything is in the cloud? The minimalist in my film says: ‘Maybe we’re all gonna end up with poor memories.’ That might just happen.”

I don’t keep everything. The criterium is: I have to be able to find it all within five minutes.” – Digna Sinke

How special is it to have a world premiere at IFFR?
“I’ve been coming to Rotterdam for years now, all the way back to the Huub Bals days. In the early years, the festival was even wackier and more defiant than it is today. IFFR stands for special, headstrong movies. A movie such as After the Tonewas just like that; defiant, but not unaccessible. For BEWAREN – of hoe te leven, the festival can be an important stage. So many films are made; everything that helps to elevate your film a bit above the rest, is a bonus. During my career, I never cared about commercial success. I really hope that the film finds its audience. An international film festival is the perfect place for BEWAREN, because the theme is universal and actual. The phenomenon is not typically Dutch.”

The international nature also shows up in the locations you visit: you venture outside of Amsterdam and Zeeland, the place from your childhood.
“In my opinion we also had to focus on the digital nomads, the minimalists on the other side of the coin. We shot in Missouri, in Lissabon, on Bali. For research we traveled to Bangkok and Heidelberg, though we could reach that last location by train. Secretly, I’m a digital nomad myself of course. When on location abroad, I run my entire office through my Office365-account, and I neatly answer my e-mails as if I was sitting at my Amsterdam desk. Being far away is truly appealing, a real guilty pleasure. Ach, basically I’m no better than they are.”

Photo in header: Photo: Digna Sinke | Interview: Anton Damen