Interview with Sannette Naeyé, director of Cinekid Amsterdam

“I’ve already stepped on many toes but I never got punched in the face yet”

NaeyeCinekid, the International Film, Television and New Media Festival for Young People in Amsterdam celebrates its 25th anniversary. Over the last years with open mouth the entire industry gazed at the continuous growth of a festival that eagerly embraced not only children’s film but also television and new media. This course was steered by festival director Sannette Naeyé. Until last August a sudden alarm bell threatened to put a permanent ending to Cinekid’s growth. The Dutch government decided to stop funding Cinekid and in that way deprives the festival of 50 % of its income and casts a dark shadow over this jubilee edition. There were plenty of questions for Sannette Naeyé.

Many children’s film festivals have found their home in small provincial towns. Not Cinekid! You have your spot in a capital with a strong international appeal. In what way does the city of Amsterdam add to the image of Cinekid?
Sannette Naeyé: “It’s a lovely place to invite international guests. Every day I still enjoy the beautiful ring of canals. When I come back from a journey and ride my bicycle home through the city centre, I sometimes sigh: ‘how lucky we are!’ And Amsterdam’s progressive image suits us at Cinekid: based on very old values while constantly aiming for innovation. You could say that both the brands ‘Amsterdam’ and ‘Cinekid’ fortify each other.
The same goes for moving to a new location in the Westergasfabriek. From the tourist magnet at the Leidseplein we now moved straight to the hot spot for all things popular and trendy.”

Do you feel supported by the Amsterdam municipality?
Naeyé: “Besides the city’s financial support it is important for us to ‘be known’. The magistrates are opening the festival or come on a working visit; they know about our activities. That doesn’t guarantee us subsidies; that’s what we have to extort ourselves. But I find it easier to accept criticism when coming from people who are familiar with Cinekid’s background. I have difficulties with criticism simply based on a hierarchical position”

You also seem to have a special bond with the Amsterdam hotels. After the Hilton and Krasnapolsky, now it’s the remarkable Lloyd Hotel.
Naeyé: “The hotel situation in Amsterdam is terrible: not enough rooms and much too expensive. We owe many thanks to Roberto Payer, manager of the Hilton Hotel, who hosted us for years out of a personal dedication to Amsterdam’s children culture. We try to host all guests together in one special hotel. Such wishes we have to negotiate about thoroughly.”

Will this anniversary be visible in the city centre?
Naeyé: “The crown prince will open the festival. Due to princess Maxima’s enormous popularity this is the best media-event you could possibly wish for. The fact that they’ll come both is a meaningful signal: ‘What Cinekid does is important’!
We’ll organise a programme with 25 winning films from the past and a Day of Dutch Cinema for professionals. The European Audiovisual Observatory will come to Cinekid to present the results of their current research on film, TV and animation for a young audience. I’m expecting some very useful numbers and data for the industry. And we’ll present a book about the history of Dutch children’s film as a very successful product. Building further on the Scandinavian pioneer’s work, our children’s films booked more international success than Dutch films for adults.”

Does this anniversary mean more to you than just a number?
Naeyé: “It proves that Cinekid is solid. And it means: celebration and attention, which we need to secure our future.”

I don’t know any other festival with a similar desire to grow. Where does that desire come from?
Naeyé: “Out of my motivation to support ‘media for children’. In our sector there is a lot of good will but little infrastructure. In the markets of big festivals like Cannes and Berlin children’s films stand in the shadow, Mipcom is purely business-minded and small TV-initiatives hardly gain attention and have little battle force. To strengthen our sector you need to push hard, because from within our industry we receive little lifting-power. Stumbling blind, left to your own devices is simply no longer enough. Look at the recent developments: for a long time our niche was supported by the political vision of a ‘social European society’. But as this well is running dry it seems we’ve build up little defensibility. Sometimes films still get supported as a commonly consumed cultural forum. But even in the progressive Netherlands, public TV broadcasting for youngsters is thoroughly cut down to the bone. Unfortunately all this forces me into the role of a sourpuss.”

You can’t explain Cinekid’s policy solely from within our sector. Isn’t there also a personal drive from a woman we all came to know as an emotional but also doughty business woman and an expert in tracing money flows?
Naeyé: “These are two complementary aspects of my personality, hopefully also in my personal life. For every project I want to weigh out the content and the budget in one and the same hand. I don’t understand those commissions giving advice without studying the estimates. I‘m good in reading numbers, often I can read much more about a project’s content in the estimated budget than in all the sweet-sounding words in a dossier.”

With such an attitude without any doubt you’ve stepped on people’s toes.
Naeyé: “I’ve already stepped on many toes but I never got punched in the face yet. I’m a builder, more interested in development than in management. And I can congratulate myself on a fantastic job: being the director of a trade with so many possibilities and pleasures at our disposal. All my life I’ve been blessed with interesting jobs but also with a lot of responsibilities. I’m no giggly girl, although I often laugh out loud with abundant display of tooth flesh. If I meddle with something, I’m all sharp. It must have to do with Dutch Calvinism: working from a deeper need, always looking for a surplus.”

Cinekid for instance was the first to realise the importance of new media.
Naeyé: “As worldwide pioneers. We started it the first year when I became the new director and it turned out to be a very important decision. It wasn’t obvious as the new media were still in their infancy years. That’s what makes Cinekid interesting for professionals: they can meet with the latest trends. And it goes with the lifestyle of modern children. In The Netherlands every child is online, they have smartphones, they are occupied with various media 4 hours per day and school education is completely digitalized. For children cinema is only a relatively small aspect of a bigger picture. Nowadays all platforms entwine with each other so that the content of traditional media has to be redefined. You can even fit feature films into the ‘social media’ category: all together watching a story in one dark room.”

The Screening Club seems to have reached its maximum capacity. Do you still see room to grow?
Naeyé: “We were given subsidies to prove ourselves to the industry but now we’re at a turning point. Users will have to pay for their facilities. The guests at Cinekid have no idea how much money is deposited into their pockets during the festival. No longer can they take for granted that everything will be paid for. Our network is very dear to us, but we can’t keep on financing it. I’ve invested a lot to strengthen this network and now I hope everyone will take their responsibilities. In Europe children’s television is a rahter narrow industry, not like adult TV with all its commercial and public channels. You must realize that if every European country sends one buyer to Cinekid to watch and select productions (which is what they do) this has a huge impact in almost every European living room.”

These last years you gave a lot of importance to the international Cinekid Conference. Is that your latest show-pupil?
Naeyé: “Coordinating various separate small initiatives it seems only logical to bring them together into one conference updating you completely on the latest developments in 2 days. It’s our ambition to do that in a way so that every professional thinks: ‘If I’m not there every year to pick up new ideas, my vision is no longer correct and I’m getting behind.’ Broad information helps to create new possibilities.”

Is there still a possibility to grow on the national level? Can you even make more children enjoy the Cinekid films?
Naeyé: “Cinekid travels around to 30 locations in Holland. Thanks to a unique jubilee subsidy we can offer a little extra there, like active workshops with children and media, in which we are specialized. Reaching children via their parents requires a lot of marketing. (For instance 60 % of the children in Amsterdam have their roots in other countries and do not easily take part in cultural activities.) But reaching children through the schools is rather easy. To us that is still unexplored territory.

Did these recent financial problems apply the brake on your entrepreneurship?
Naeyé: “In 2013 we’ll lose our governmental subsidies, which amounts to half of our budget. It came as a total surprise. We are the victims of a rigorously bureaucratic execution of certain rules in a drastic economy campaign. Cinekid has fallen! For me it was important to find out if we did fail somewhere, but no… the government has put a stake on the cultural sector and we didn’t seem to fit in anywhere. It only stimulates me to research new possibilities. The old days are not going to come back, and what this new era brings will be revealed step by step.”

Will the audience notice?
Naeyé: “Tickets will get more expensive. Crowd funding will be very important: many people will each pay a small bit. Cinekid has to pass around the hat. But that’s not where we’ll find the big money. The government has deprived the cultural sector of € 200 million. Our only rescue could be private foundations. But we don’t have a tax shelter to stimulate such investments.”

The news came as a shock for everyone, but you’re not the only European festival struggling with financial problems.
Naeyé: “Everyone in their own country has to explore how to strengthen the position of media for children. We have to make clear to governments and broadcasters how vulnerable we are. Football and news will always be the broadcaster’s priorities, but the impact of youngster’s television on society is much bigger than people can imagine. And if we don’t proclaim that message any longer, then who will? Children’s media has grown thanks to a European society that wanted to support common values, even financially. Nowadays other paths have been chosen. Complaining doesn’t help and neither does shouting out even louder. Now cultural and economic routes have changed drastically, we have to find unexpected partnerships and challenge the industry.”

Throughout the last decades the Netherlands have worked their way up to become a leading country in children’s film production. In what way has Cinekid contributed to that?
Naeyé: “We both helped each other. The success of the Dutch children’s film is the credit of a small group of fantastic producers. Some of them aim for the national market, others tried work their way up through co-productions, festival awards and international recognition. That success has motivated broadcasters to invest money. Holland always had a strong tradition in children’s culture: literature, illustrators, innovative TV-formats… All based on the typical Dutch way of thinking: we’re all teachers on the ideological level, but at the same time we combine a talent for organising with a bit of anarchy. These are the ingredients of our movies and also of our festival.”

Is Cinekid a show-room for the Dutch children’s film?
Naeyé: “More and more we’ve grown into that role with the co-production market and Screening Club as our most useful tools. Many international buyers attend our Screening Club. It’s a fine feeling when I hear buyers from the German public broadcasting doing business with a Dutch filmmaker. Cinekid’s co-production market supports filmmakers from Holland and abroad. You can see an evolution of films being shown in our competition, which were presented in our market years before. We receive many grateful emails from filmmakers telling us that their project was actually born at Cinekid. That makes us really happy.”

You must have strong memories attached to some Dutch productions.
Naeyé: “There are many films that mean a lot to me. But if I have to pick one… I always find it very special when I see my husband shedding a tear in the opening ceremony. Like with Ineke Houtman’s SCRATCHES IN THE TABLE.”

You’re not an expert in hiding your emotions neither..
Naeyé: “During Cinekid sometimes I get overpowered by emotions, because what happens there is so special, so many things in such a short time with such a strong impact. That’s why I try to mingle with people during the festival: I want to show my gratitude to people who give us their trust, who show us their films, who give us their support…”

You are surrounded by a team that you seem to have picked very carefully.
Naeyé: “The value of Cinekid can be measured through the people who work here; they’re the centre of everything. That’s why I invest so much in human resources. I can really enjoy a pile of application letters. When reading them, I see so much potential… It’s almost like reading scenarios. I’m always in search of completing qualities. Cinekid’s structure is very flat: everyone is responsible for something, but someone mastering one section, can be the errand-boy in another section.”

Imagine… you get the chance to invite 2 persons to be flown over from wherever on earth to visit your festival. Who do you invite?
Naeyé: “Hayo Miyazaki, in the idle hope that he’ll speak English, to find out what he thinks about all these films. And one of the world’s great charismatic leaders like Mandela, Obama & co. I don’t know which of those visionary outsiders should come, but I’d like to hear their opinion about children and culture.”

Gert Hermans