At first she made her new movie Dear Mr Bouterse for Surinamese. Her country is still deeply divided over the military coup d’état by the sergeant and later president Desi Bouterse in 1980 and the aftermath of the December murders in 1982, when fifteen critics of Bouterse’s regime were murdered in Fort Zeelandia.
“A country that does not dare to face its past has no future,” says filmmaker Ananta Khemradj. Khemradj is 32 years old, was born in Tilburg, worked as a journalist for the Surinamese current affairs program ABC Current and back in the Netherlands combines a day job in the agricultural sector with a life as a filmmaker. In You can read (2019) she was surprised that she and her contemporaries know so little about Suriname’s past. Dear Mr Bouterse is the sequel. Now she questions friends and acquaintances, former colleagues, ’boutists’ and relatives of the victims of the December murders about how Suriname should proceed. The film became a sensitive and impressive quest for connection.
She chose to only talk to people close to her. “A real conversation requires a certain vulnerability. It was quite difficult to get people in front of the camera. In addition, I felt responsible for the environment in which I grew up, which is more the side of the next of kin.” This is apparent, for example, from the emotional telephone conversations with her journalistic mentor, who believes that every film on this subject provides Bouterse with a platform.
However, her film also has a message for the Dutch viewer. “The Netherlands must take its responsibility and open the archives.” The film recalls how Prime Minister Rutte determined in 2014 that these will remain closed until 2060, leaving a lot of uncertainty about, among other things, the Dutch influence on the coup. Khemradj visits PvdA politician Jan Pronk, who was involved in independence as the then Minister of Development Cooperation. He argues that the archives must now be opened if a process of processing and reconciliation is ever to take place. 2060 is too late. President Santokhi says in the film that he will work to open the archives. Khemradj: „There is no openness now. The people who can tell something about it don’t have that long to live, so how long do I have to wait?”
There was even laughter during the film, but during the discussion the emotions ran high again
Dear Mr Bouterse is, as the title implies, set up as a letter to the former army chief. Until the end, it remains unclear whether she will actually get to speak to him. Khemradj consults her old group of friends about it, one of the film’s most poignant moments, which, like You can read calls for a sequel. Khemradj: „I feel that too, but I don’t know if I can do that now. This was such an intense journey that there must first be room for conversation and reflection.” Can the film achieve that? She hopes so. For a private screening in Suriname this summer, she brought all those involved together. “There was even laughter during the film, but during the discussion the emotions ran high again.”
New investigation into the December murders is currently not high on the agenda. Suriname is going through a turbulent time again. Last summer there were protests against President Santokhi’s nepotism. The country is also in a serious economic crisis. Khemradj: “There is never a good time to make this film. My generation may not even benefit or benefit from it right now, it is surviving. But then we have to do it for future generations.”
Filmmaker Pim de la Parra, who made the ‘first Surinamese film’ in 1976. Wan pipel (“One people”) made, says in Dear Mr Bouterse that it may still take “2,300 years” before there is unity in Suriname. “I am not that pessimistic, but he is right that it will take a long time. It takes more than just a few answers in a report, or compensation. And the Netherlands also has a role to play. We need to gain insight into how the decolonization process went, otherwise it will just keep on simmering.”
A version of this article also appeared in the newspaper of September 21, 2022