Tu ne Verras pas Verapaz

11/05 > 17:00
12/05 > 21:30
13/05 > 12:30
13/05 > 15:30 > Debate
Musée du Cinéma

Spanish, EN, FR, NL - Subtitles: NL & FR - 45’

(Who’s coming to Verapas* with us?
There’s no need to work there
Just drink and eat if you want to
And snooze like a pig)

*Verapaz refers to Santo Tomas de Castilla, a former Belgian colony in Guatemala. A promised land to lonely outcasts (poor people, drunks and beggars) who made the healthy society in nineteenth century Belgium feel uncomfortable.

Based on an idea of : vzw de hondsjaren

Direction : An van. Dienderen

Co-direction : Didier Volckaert

Assistant to the director : Veerle Devos

Script : Didier Volckaert, An van. Dienderen

Research : Veerle Devos, Tobias De Pessemier, An van. Dienderen

Line production : Tobias De Pessemier

Production : An van. Dienderen

Local coordination (Guatemala) & translator : Elke Borghs

Director of photography : Didier Volckaert

Additional camera & sound : Maximiliano Godino

Editing : Didier Volckaert

Mixing : Alea iacta

Production : Elektrischer Schnellseher

Coproduction : vzw de hondsjaren, KunstenFESTIVALdesArts

Supported by : Koning Boudewijnstichting (Brussel/Bruxelles), Fonds Film Vlaanderen, Stad Gent Dienst Culturele Zaken, Provincie Oost-Vlaanderen Dienst Kunst en Cultuur

Presentation : Filmmuseum/Musée du Cinéma, KunstenFESTIVALdesArts

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Wie goat er mee noar Verapas?
Doar moete wij niet wirke
Eten en drenke op eu gemak,
Sloape gelijk een virke

(Who’s coming to Verapas with us?
There’s no need to work there
Just drink and eat if you want to
And snooze like a pig.)

This old song from Ghent, popular at the beginning of the last century, refers to an unfamiliar piece of Belgium’s history: the former Belgian colony in Guatemala, Santo Tomas de Castilla. An van. Dienderen and Didier Volckaert use this song as their starting point and go in search of the great-great-grandchildren of Belgian émigrés to Guatemala. The documentary begins in ‘de Muide’, the émigré district in Ghent from where boats left for Guatemala. Two situations in parallel: Belgian migration in the nineteenth century and the more recent migrations of Turks and Moroccans.


When Leopold I bought a piece of Guatemala in 1843, it wasn’t to exploit valuable resources as was done in the Congo, but to reduce crime levels in Belgium. To do this, they had to deport the unemployed, losers and adventurers – rejects of nineteenth century society one and all. Propaganda was vital: they handed round exotic engravings, fake letters supposedly written by Belgian migrants praising Santo Tomas as a land of plenty and presenting Guatemala as a promised land.


This is what our project is about: what role does image have in migration? What struck us are the differences of perception. In the stories here, the situation is described as chaotic and a failure because lots of people died over there and because there was no real economic advantage for Belgium.


When we were in Guatemala, all the descendants spoke of this history as a great situation. Those who stayed introduced the stage-coach which created a small economic revolution in the country.


The poor couldn’t give a damn about their Belgian descent. The rich need recognition. Some, out of nostalgia or a need to identify, others for economic reasons. This confirms that the concept of cultural identity is not just linked to geographical location. It is a complex and dynamic concept.


In Guatemala, we interviewed an old man who was poor and wondered if the word ‘Belge’ was a surname. He was happy to learn that Belgium was a country.

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