Raw and realistic: why Dutch children’s series catch on internationally

The elevator in Kemal’s grandmother’s apartment creaks. Kemal prefers to take the stairs, it feels safe, then he doesn’t have to go into the scary elevator. He doesn’t care that he keeps showing up out of breath. But then Grandma proudly shows off her new wheelchair and asks Kemal if he wants to go out with her. Kemal knows it: then he has to take the elevator. And that scares him. In his head, he is standing in the elevator with his grandmother, it stops, the buttons fall out one by one, steam rises from the shaft. “I don’t feel like going out,” he says. A look at the sunny sky. “I think it’s going to rain.”

It’s one of the scenes fromCrap!, the 2021 ten-part fiction series from KRO-NCRV and IJswater Films, which won an International Emmy Award in late November. Less than a week later, non-fiction also won Essential a major international award, the European television award The Golden Rose. The VPRO series, where children talk about their worries or what makes them happy, was voted the best European youth program of the year. Both programs have previously won a Cinekid award, Kabam! for Best Fiction Series, Essentials for Best Nonfiction Series. The latter also won the Prix Jeunesse twice, an international award for children’s television.

It may seem like a coincidence: two major awards, two youth programs that come very close to the world of children’s experiences. But when Juliëtte van Paridon, editor-in-chief of VPRO Youth, visits international conferences for youth films and series, she sees that the Dutch approach stands out and reaps success. To take children seriously, based on their view of the world. Not pretending to be stupid or petty, but acknowledging how accurate their comments and observations are, she sums up. This is the starting point for VPRO.

Unpolished

According to her, it fits into the Dutch tradition of youth films and series. Van Paridon: “At such conferences it is often about heroes and fantasy figures. It’s also nice, and it’s not because we don’t do it, but Dutch youth series are a bit rougher, I think. We don’t shy away from subjects, we think we can challenge children a bit.” The Scandinavian countries also traditionally make such unpolished, realistic youth films and series, she says.

In Kabam! each of the ten episodes focuses on a child from a group three class who is afraid of something. Just as Kemal is afraid of the elevator, Alisa is afraid that, while swimming underwater, she will be sucked down through a large hole. Children’s imaginations run wild, but kindergarteners eventually overcome their fears by using that same imagination. For example, Kemal imagines that there is a large drum set in the elevator. When he drums, he feels like a hero. Alisa figures out that there are bonus points to be earned during swimming lessons, just like in her favorite game.

In Hoofdzaken, children from eight to thirteen years old are treated in Marko Suds’ hairdressing chair. During the haircut, the children look in the mirror, they forget that there is a camera with them. In reality, the camera is directly behind the mirror, meaning the children are looking directly at the viewer. They tell their story without any embarrassment. What makes them happy, what worries them. Sometimes a child comes to talk about how well they can imitate animals, and sometimes, as with Babette, it’s about how she found her older brother in his bedroom after a holiday after he had killed himself. “It might not be a very good thing to say…”, she says, “but I thought: why are you doing this to us?”

Essentials are excluded Back of the cabinet inspired by the eighties, says Derk-Jan Warrink, producer and creator of the program – he himself was a child at the time. He and Van Paridon even state that giving children a voice once started with that youth program: kids in a closet behind a curtain, a few minutes of air time, no editing and no help from adults.

But the idea for the barber chair arose when Hoofdzaken director Menno Otten made the documentary in 2014. face-to-face made, where adults and children took their place in the hairdresser’s chair in the same way. Warrink watched as children bared their souls in the chair. “Then Menno and I thought: this must be a program.”

According to Warrink, Hoofdzaken’s strength is that the children themselves tell their story and that they, the producers, but also the hairdresser, only listen. Warrink: “That’s also the task for Marko: send as little as possible, let there be silence.” Sometimes it’s hard – a child who is telling a very vulnerable story wants you to help or give them a big hug. “But by not doing that, by letting the children come up with answers themselves, uplifting you such a child. As an adult, you are easily inclined to help: ‘Too bad for you, maybe you can try this and that.’ As we watch: The more silences there are in such vulnerable moments, the more often the children themselves come up with all sorts of clever statements.” Besides, it won’t be uncomfortable to remain silent – ​​after all, there is always a moment of silence at the hairdresser’s.

The children may report to VPRO or sometimes they are literally picked off the street. Warrink: “Because they have a very good energy.” But at least as often, editors are looking for specific stories: divorcing parents, being lonely, being bullied. According to Warrink, the condition for broadcasting a story is that a child comes out of the chair stronger. “You immediately feel in your gut whether telling his or her story has helped a child.” It also happens that the editors protect children from themselves. “We always ask ourselves: can a child proudly display this in the schoolyard.” If the answer is no, a story will not be published.

Dutch tradition

Does Warrink also think that the Hoofdzaken fits into a Dutch tradition, as described by Van Paridon? Absolutely, he says. “When I look at what is being made internationally of youth films and series, producers generally like to patronize themselves. They lecture children, they want to teach them their adult view of the world.” Dutch manufacturers are more likely to dare, he sees, to let children speak. “Children are not crazy, they can handle it. We do not smooth the world, we do not make it more beautiful.” Does it have to do with culture? “Maybe we’re not afraid to kick sacred cows.”

The strange thing, says Warrink, is that the Dutch approach is viewed with envy, especially in Europe. “But when push comes to shove, many countries apparently don’t dare to make youth series with heavy subjects.” International success does not necessarily mean success in terms of viewership. That’s how the movie turned out Chewboy, about the problems of adults in the lives of young people, was widely recognized internationally, but attracted less than 27,000 visitors in the Netherlands. Crap! average 28,000 viewers per episode, the fourth season of Mains averaged 93,000 viewers per episode. section.

Saying yes to a program where the topics are not exclusively about superheroes and fairies, and in the case of Hoofdzaken, where it is not certain what children will come up with, is therefore also a merit for Dutch public radio. as far as Warrink is concerned. You can see this, for example, in the extraordinary budget of the VPRO youth series Light got how hard, realistic themes (an out-of-home placement, a drunk dad) and a fairytale-like world coexist effortlessly. The fictional series from the production house Juliet at Pupkin cost 4.5 million euros.

Children’s songs

After all, children also have to deal with ‘adult things’, says Elisabeth Hesemans, director of Kabam!. Kemal may be afraid of the elevator, his grandmother is in a wheelchair, so he will have to go outside with her anyway. Hesemans also thinks: it produces the most beautiful youth films and series if you stay close to children’s emotions. “I also try to be realistic in my fiction. It can all be stylized, but why does it have to be big, with lots of stereotypes and colors? Or with the childish melodies below: for-for-too. Then I think: no, what stimulates children’s imagination? Children use their own imagination, you don’t have to believe everything.”

She herself was always an anxious child, she says, she had a lively imagination that regularly ran away with her fears. Hesemans: “Category people in the closet, monsters under your bed.” But she also loved Shirley Temple and could lose herself when she tap danced. “Then I was Shirley.” The idea for Kabam! she thought from that idea: your imagination can be there. “You can even use it to overcome your fears.” And: in her youth, people never talked about being afraid. Hesemans: “So I wanted to make that a topic for negotiation.”

It is not without reason that both the creators of Hoofdzaken and those of Kabam! can often be heard that their program is watched with parents or at school, and his series such as Lampje for the whole family. And it is not for nothing that Dutch youth series contain numerous jokes for adults. As Kemal hesitates at the elevator, Grandma’s neighbor already presses the button. “Hello Mr. Maas”, says Kemal. Hesemans: “I would have preferred to cast Dick Maas himself. But he did not become the director of it The elevator, but Willem Nijholt. Also a huge honor.”

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