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Karie (site owner) Written by Karie (site owner)
May. 30, 2011 | 5:00 PM

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An Interview with Susan Koenen director of I AM A GIRL! (Ik ben een Meisje!)

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I AM A GIRL! is playing in Shorts Program 1 at the 2011 Los Angeles Film Festival and will screen on June 18th and 20th.  Click here to get tickets.

How did you first become interested in film?

Watching movies was not my hobby when I was young. I thought feature films took too long so I preferred reading a book while my parents and sister would watch a movie on TV. Now I have no problem with the length anymore.  In 1992, I moved to Amsterdam to study Spanish language and literature. During this first year, I noticed my interest was completely focused on another field: film and TV. I attended the making of a lot of television programs in Amsterdam, just to see how it was being made. I wanted to know it worked, how people reacted to it, etc. I watched a minimum of three movies a week. I decided to switch studies to Film and Television Studies at the University of Amsterdam in 1993 and that was a great move.

How did you get started as a filmmaker?

In 1994, when I was twenty years old, I applied for a job at Student Television (“Studenten TV”), a local broadcaster. I could join them and immediately knew that this was it for me. Here I was at home, I felt I could do it. I loved every part of the process: the filming, editing, interviewing, everything. I also made a lot of friends there. Most of the people who were just as fanatic as I was, are still in the film or TV business. I am really happy that I started here.

I made short reports (12 minutes) for national television, in a documentary style, since 1995. In 1999, when I had reached the age of 25, I started making documentaries. I felt I was experienced enough to tell a layered story, to film more than 1 day for the same project, to make people aware of the whereabouts of interesting other people, who were well-worth watching.

What films and/or filmmakers have influenced you?

Filmmakers: Louis Theroux, Michael Moore, Alex van Warmerdam, Frans Bromet, Nick Broomfield, Paul Haenen.
Films: Betty Blue 37.2 Le Matin (Jean-Jacques Beineix), Abel (Alex van Warmerdam), Andr? Hazes - She Believes in Me (John Appel), Buren (Frans Bromet), Heavenly Creatures (Peter Jackson)

What inspired the idea for your short film?

As far as the images are concerned, I must have been subconsciously inspired by The Virgin Suicides (Sofia Coppola) for the pink, sunny, girly ambience. It was subconsciously, because I never thought about it until now.

And as far as the subject is concerned, I was inspired by a photo-report in a Dutch magazine (Volkskrant Magazine) about several children that knew for sure that they were born in the wrong body. It struck me that those girls I saw were actually boys, while you would never guess if you just looked at them. I was totally intrigued and simply had to make a film about this.

How did you get the funding?

In The Netherlands, we can apply for funding at an institution called ‘Mediafund’. You need a broadcasting corporation and a producer at your side to be allowed to apply. The broadcaster has to pay some part of the total budget, but most of it comes from the Fund. I had to write a detailed ‘film plan’, containing scenes that I was likely to be able to film, the story that I was expecting to tell, a detailed character profile of my principal character, a director’s view on the project, etc.
Luckily, the Mediafund was enthusiastic about my project and donated the exact amount we asked for.

How long did it take to get made?

I started researching and writing in September, 2009 and I received the money from the Mediafund in March, 2010. I filmed in April, May and September 2010 and edited in the meantime. In October the film was ready and it premiered at the Cinekid Children’s Filmfestival in The Netherlands. So let’s say: one year.

How have you gone about getting the film seen by audiences?

After it premiered at Cinekid 2010, I AM A GIRL was selected for IDFA 2010, one of the largest documentary film festivals in the world. I am really proud of that. Later, the EYE FILM INSTITUTE selected the film for their ‘Dutch Shorts DVD’, with which they promote the best Dutch short movies around the globe. That is an honor, and it resulted in the fact that I AM A GIRL has already been selected at ten different festivals around the world. It is great to know that all kinds of countries are open to show a gender-dysphoric (that’s how it’s officially called) child to the public. Even China!

That’s what I hope for, that my film can contribute to a more open view on people like my main character Joppe, on people who are not mainstream. Last week I also sent my film to a film festival in Iran, but maybe that was a bridge too far, but we’ll see… it’s worth the try, I think.

What are your goals and upcoming projects for the future?

I like to continue making films about special, not-famous, people. People I would like to be known by other people, because they have the power to inspire others. Almost all of my films are telling a story about someone who finds serious obstructions on her/his way, but who can cope with that because of her/his remarkable strength and courage.
My next short film is about a 15-year-old girl who sees ghosts, but she doesn’t want to tell her friends because she’s afraid they will bully her, like the classmates from her old school. But this time she stands up for herself and decides not to care about their opinion anymore: “this is me, and deal with it.” I haven’t made films yet with a length of more than 50 minutes. I hope to be able to make a feature length documentary film in the near future. Now that I’m finally able to watch feature length films, I must be ready to make one myself!

My website is

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