ATM: What’s your contribution in the The Resistance Banker?
Sytze: I produced the film together with my colleagues Sabine Brian and Alain de Levita at NL film. I came up with the story and worked with the family that the movie is about. I shepherded the whole project creatively.
ATM: Sometimes in America, the people who are working on a film or projects about a historical figure do not go to the source. They do not go to the families. They go on the societal misconceptions. Whereas, you went to the source and took the time to speak to them. You wanted to get educated about the person so you could deliver a story.
Sytze: Obviously, I am reminded of the Green Book controversy that is running around at the moment. The producers seemingly did not talk to the family of Don Shirley. Then at the Oscars you see a lot of white people on stage talking about the black experience. This is very strange.
ATM: Is it strange because this is not their race?
Sytze: Yes. This is not how I work. I get a lot of inspiration from true stories and also from the people who have gone through these stories. I always to talk to them first. I seek their consent to make the film. I talk about how I see the film. This might not be a reality at the moment, but it is more like I want them to feel the emotion of what I want to convey with the story. If they are not OK, then I let it go immediately.
It also gives us a moral compass while making the film. If it is not good for the family, then I think it is not good for the movie. This is the way I work. Some people work differently. The movie before this one was about a family who lost their 20-year-old son in a car accident. I also went to them and say, “If you do not want to, then I will not do it.” It is also inspiring. They know more about the story than I do. They know everything and I know nothing.
ATM: This technique is great. It is relative and opinionated. I have talked to some who have sat and talked with the families. Some have not even thought about it. Maybe because they feel they would say no. Some families might want a story being told. It is better going to the source. I have learned more while going to the source. I keep asking why this and that. I just started going to the source. I wanted to know the truth. I wanted to know and learn about Amsterdam, so you are my source. I am not trusting anything in the books. They are lies. You have to make sure you know your facts. A lot of times people go off stereotypes. You do not want to ruin someone’s historical image when putting your twist to it. Make it known that you want to put a twist on it. If you are making it known this might not be what happened, but this is my modern take on it.
ATM: In America, the familial lineages connected to black historical leaders or figures who once walked and lived on American soil are not respected in society very much and not by the media. They are not represented probably by the media. I am not sure if you know Harriet Tubman. Where is her lineage? Where is Sojourner Truth’s lineage? Where is Fanny Lou’s heritage? Where are they? They are out there, but the media does not represent them properly.
Where is the respect? For white people where is the lineage of Thomas Jefferson or John Adams? Why is the media not interested or focused on it? This is heavily a black thing, but it also has happened to other races. So many decades have passed. Where are these families? People do movies on them and we believe them. I am not saying we should think they are inaccurate. This is not what an average viewer thinks when looking at any movie. “This movie is a lie.” No. You went to the source. It is 2019. You grasp what they are saying, but to really get it you need to properly go to the source. Let’s be honest, there is a lot of things that are not true online. We have pieces of history walking around and no one is focusing on it or respecting it.
Sytze: Right. With respect to the ‘The Resistance Banker’ -brothers: we wanted to know from the family things like how the main character dealt with his wife. Were they physical? All these kinds of things.
ATM: Most of the prolific black figures in my race are not even given a National Holiday. They cannot even get on a dollar bill. There should not be a debate. Their statues are not even their real height. They are lowered to a shortened height. For example, Malcolm X. There are so many people who were risk takers like the two brothers in this film in my history. We do learn about them. . . you know what it is 2019 I am going to be honest. We do not learn accurately about them in my history. You have black people growing up not knowing their own history.
You have people of my generation trying to talk about black history but go off the stereotype of historical black people supposedly preaching to hate white people. Malcolm X or Martin Luther King Jr. never said to hate white people. They wanted equality. I do not hate any race. I love all. It got miscued very heavily. We only get one month. Is not even a month, but only 28 days? They gave us a shortest month of the year. Is this fair?
Sytze: No. But I also know people here in Western Europe do not know their histories very well. But you have been denied your history. That is something of a different dimension.
ATM: Did the family believe you did their history justice?
Sytze: We worked with them all the time. They maintain a family archive. It is a very old family that goes back for centuries. They are very close in community. There were some arguments in the family on whether they should do the film or not. They are important people, but they are not out for publicity. There were some hesitation but slowly we developed a close relationship. They worked with us and the actors in terms of being a knowledge source. It was in the end an unifying experience for the family. Their memories are all very different. Most of them have not known the brothers. It is a movie and not the truth. It is our, the makers, version of the truth, but we also gave the family a collective memory of this story.
ATM: What were facts you were unclear about that you wanted to clear up to get a better understanding and assessment?
Sytze: I was clear about what the adventure was with the story – the actual bank robbery that is also the centerpiece of the film. But what we did not know was what makes this family tick. Why were they doing what they were doing? Why did they participate in the resistance? Something made them mad and made them get up to fight for their country and for their countrymen. I was interested in this. What provoked this attitude? How did they live with each other? How were they emotional to each other? What were the family quarrels about? How did the boy grow into the man that committed this major bank robbery, fraud? Why was he an adventurer and his brother not? The stuff you do not find in books.
ATM: Why do you not find them as characters in history books?
Sytze: Because all the books were concerned with their achievements. “This one guy was an adventurer who performed the biggest Dutch resistance feat of the 2nd World War’ and other guy was a stuck-up banker who became a Dutch Senator in the end.” This was all in the books, but it did not bring me closer to them. But we had to get close in order to cast the right actors for the part who were more or less intrinsically like the characters in the family.
ATM: This is true. In America, they concentrate on the personalities and less on their achievements. The stereotype for Malcolm X was him being violent and Martin Luther King Jr. being the nonviolent. A lot of the truth is kept out of the books. You have people who are making quizzes, presentations and making exams based on these inaccuracies. This makes it systematic, and this is how the false inaccuracies get into our brain and society. For example, a multiple-choice test question could be “Who had a violent approach in the Civil Right era?
Choice A: Malcolm X. Choice B. Martin Luther King Jr. I would have to pick Malcolm X to pass to the next grade or to get an A. Even if I know the correct answer is None of the Above; then I would still have to put the wrong answer forcefully. He was not a violent person as the media portrayed him. He was a kind, highly intellectual husband, father, and thinker, and a lot of other things and so was Martin Luther King Jr. Trust me I know, I went to the source. I felt there were blind spots and I wanted to fill them in. Most times, when you are a black intellectual and grow powerful in America, conservative whites do not like this.
Sytze: But I do think it is the most effective way to convey the historical story if the character rings true to the audience. I have been in a lot of screenings of the film. People were emotional after seeing the film both young and both. This is what I wanted. We wanted them to feel more emotional afterwards and more knowledgeable. This is why I go back to the stories and the family instead of literal research.
ATM: How would you critique the film in your own eyes and your work?
Sytze: Ah, this is a good question. What stays with me is that we have done right by the family. This is the core marker for this film. Did we do right by this family? But this was also the most successful film of the year in terms of the box office. But you always see tons of little things. A lack of budget is a common trait with any Dutch film. Just because it is a small country and territory. We do not have a lot of chances and choices in exporting our films. We were extremely lucky for Netflix to pick up our film and for the film to be chosen as the Dutch foreign Oscar entry. We were grateful because people got to know this story. We managed to do what we set out to do. I am a happy man.
ATM: Well, I am a happy viewer.
Sytze: Thank you! This is what films are supposed to do. E.g. we screened it for military personnel, active, and veterans. They were crying because they recognized the sense of duty and sacrifice also in today’s circumstances. It has a larger footprint than only the wartime story. We wanted people to think about what it takes to get out of your chair and fight for what your country is worth. This is something that is valid in any time frame. This is today’s situation. We are back in a time where you have to choose between right or wrong more than we had to 20 years ago.
ATM: For example, I would describe America now as . . .The Great Awakening II and the Era of Good Feelings II. But in this version, we are going to get answers.
What slogan or description would you adapt to the Netherlands?
Sytze: We are still extremely confused. The debate about Muslim population and a democracy vs popilism debated started fifteen years ago. One of our famous film directors was killed by a Muslim terrorist. He stabbed him in the chest because he did not like his films. We are also looking at Brexit and thinking “What the f**k is happening?” It is a confusing time. I was hoping this film brought a note to it that even if you are white and well off you still have a tremendous responsibility even today to use your life to fight for freedom.
ATM: I once asked someone “Why has there has not been another high this or that not speaking about the issues in our society?” They honestly looked at me and said. “A black person? Because you will get martyr, assassinated, and murdered. Look at our history.” No one is going to step up and risk their lives because they are afraid to die.
Sytze: You have a point.
ATM: They said, “This is the simple answer and real answer as to why people have not done it.” From your comment on America in your previous answer, yes, it is based mostly on race than class. You can be a rich black individual and still fall in the canon of racism. A white woman once spoke to me. “Gaby, I want to get it. All white people do not hate you all. It is horrible what is happening to blacks and other minorities.” Whites tell me they hate the stereotype. “I want to help, but I do not know how because of the stereotype. I said, “I know not all whites hate blacks. I know.”
Money, degrees, or your resume as a marginalized sector in America does not stop racism. If you are a black woman and you are intellectually smart, then white conservatives of America is not going to like this.
Sytze: Because it is a threat.
ATM: We were told that we were stupid and not smart. But to be powerful? Makes it worse.
Sytze: And you all are still told the same. Trump tweeted that Spike Lee’s speech at the Oscars was stupid, continuing the framing. But I see some glimmers of hope since the midterm. I see some people standing up and rediscovering they have a spine. It is sort of a fighter spirit. I am happier than I was a year ago.
ATM: I just had an epiphany. This is how I would classify America right now. This is just a theory of mine. America is between the Old Americanism and New Americanism phase. The Old Americanist are people who are just sitting back and doing nothing. They are stuck in old customs and what happened in the past. Their words want change, but their actions show none. They are not open to any new ideas but feel they can make a change with old thinking.
Now, the New Americanist are people who have taken the old customs and thoughts, making them into change. So, people should really start asking themselves “Am I an Old Americanist or a New Americanist?” There is no in between. A person is one or the other. Does this make sense?
Sytze: Yes. Absolutely it does. Also, voting matters. The erosion of the democratic institutions make me extremely uncomfortable. But suddenly you see women, people of color in Congress. It turns out to be quite easy; quite easy; you have to vote for it!