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Suzanne van Leendert is an award-winning documentary maker, a writer and an English interpreter. As a documentary maker she has worked as an executive producer and researcher for many award-winning documentaries. She also specialized in project financing and writing documentary plans. The last couple of years she started directing documentaries herself as well.
Her documentary Broken Dreams won the Docfeed award for Best Dutch Documentary.
As a writer, she wrote two English books, The Peace Within, the story behind a CD from Barry McCabe, and Broken Dreams, a book that accompanied the documentary with the same name. Recently she started to write poetry as well in Dutch, winning twice at the ‘Parade der Poëten’ with poems about Utrecht cultural heritage sites. She also gives creative writing workshops.
Did you study creative writing?
No, I did not. However, I have written two books and I have worked for over 15 years as a translator, interpreter and a copy editor. I’ve always been very interested in languages and the different ways to tell a story; not only in writing but also in films and documentaries. I started to teach creative writing after the Fontys School of Fine and Performing Arts asked me to teach a minor to their students, which was a great experience.
Do you have heroes or is your work unique?
I work a lot with other people, which means that everybody’s ‘uniqueness’ is constantly being intertwined, which leads to inspiring projects. I really like collaborations, because it’s wonderful to share creativity with others.
When I am making documentaries or when I am writing, I tend to focus on the fleeting nature of life – I hope that doesn’t sound too depressing – but there often is a melancholic feel to my work. I can’t deny that. By putting events and situations into words, I’m somehow able to get to grips with them.
I’m also intrigued by life stories. Why does someone decide to take one road instead of the other? Or do nothing at all? And why do I do what I do? Those are questions that keep me busy. I think everyone has a story to tell, in one way or the other. In everyone, there’s something beautiful, touching, powerful; a story to be told.
I don’t know if I really have any ‘heroes’ but Werner Herzog and Louis Theroux are very inspiring as documentary makers. Billy Collins is my favourite poet in English and Maud Vanhauwaert in Dutch.
What piece of work are you most proud of?
The Broken Dreams documentary and book (co-written with Barry McCabe) is still one of my favourite projects and something I’m quite proud of. For this documentary, we filmed in the Netherlands, France and the United States.
Broken Dreams is the life story of a unique airplane that was supposed to be used for a musical in the Netherlands. But everything turned out different than planned when a terrible accident took place.
This accident is used as a starting point for the plane herself to reflect upon her life and the part she played in history, as if she is an old lady telling her story to her grandchildren. The plane and the hours it has flown are used as a metaphor for a human life and all the experiences that are part of that life. Will there still be a future for this plane or has her story come to an end?
The Broken Dreams documentary DVD is in English, Dutch and French and the book is written in English. For more information about the project, you can go to: www.brokendreams.eu The first chapter of the book can be downloaded for free there as well.
Are you working on anything new?
I’m currently working on three new documentaries but it’s too early to give more information as they are still in the development stages.
Is Utrecht a particularly poetic city?
Well, I believe you can find poetry in anything and everything, but it helps that Utrecht has such a rich history dating back to Roman times.
In Utrecht you also literally walk on poetry.
The Letters of Utrecht, set up by the Utrecht Guild of Poets, is an endless poem in the cobblestones of the Oudegracht in Utrecht. One character per stone, one stone per week. Every Saturday a stone mason turns the next stone into the next letter.
As a starting poet, it’s inspiring to live in a city with an actual Guild of Poets.
Which is your favourite media and why?
Although I like my work as an interpreter a lot, it’s different when I’m able to create myself, able to create my own ‘content’. I don’t really have a favourite medium, it all depends on what works best for the project that I’m busy with at that moment. I do like cross-fertilizations, such as a documentary that is complemented with an exhibition or a book.
Does Utrecht inspire you?
Absolutely! There are so many beautiful historic buildings scattered throughout the city. The Dom is always impressive, no matter how many times you’ve seen it. It’s a very vibrant city and there are always lots of things to do. The fact that is a student city helps as well.
Where is your favourite place in Utrecht?
I like the Ledig Erf, because my favourite cinema, the Louis Hartlooper Complex, is there. Also, the Soestbergen cemetery is close by.
When I made a documentary about cemeteries in Utrecht, called Zielen van Utrecht (Souls of Utrecht), I really got to know Soestbergen.
It’s an oasis of peace within the hustle and bustle of the city.
It’s a miniature ‘Père Lachaise’ where numerous famous people from Utrecht are buried; Gerrit Rietveld, Nicolaas Beets, Dirkje Kuik. Just walking around there, you can really unwind and – strangely enough in that surrounding – I feel myself become more alive, energized even.
What would be a perfect day in Utrecht for you?
I’d start off with a visit to the Centraal Museum. After that, I’d grab something to eat somewhere alongside the canals, then shop in the many little shops and second-hand shops on the Oudegracht. Catching a film at the Louis Hartlooper Complex would finish the day off perfectly.
Does Utrecht do enough for creative arts?
I think in general Utrecht wants to give everyone a chance to be creative and to offer possibilities and opportunities to the arts.
Of course, if you’re a little proactive you can always organise something yourself.
Would you like to see more activities?
I think Utrecht is already a very active city.
It would be a very good thing if the city council continues to value its local artists and if that leads to even more activities, then all the better.
Suzanne’s website is at: www.uandeyemedia.nl
The website for Broken Dreams is: www.brokendreams.eu