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BERLINALE 2022 Generation

Shamira Raphaëla • Director of Shabu

“In the end, every documentary is always fiction; there is no such thing as an objective documentary”


- BERLINALE 2022: In the Dutch director’s film, the titular Shabu invites the viewer to spend a very special summer with him

Shamira Raphaëla  • Director of Shabu

Dutch director Shamira Raphaëla's documentary Shabu [+see also:
interview: Shamira Raphaëla
film profile
is premiering in the Generation section of this year's Berlinale. The film is a fresh, vibrant and charming portrait of an equally charming young man. We talked to the director about her bond with the protagonist and her thoughts on the nature of documentary filmmaking.

Cineuropa: Could you tell us more about the housing area where you shot the film?
Shamira Raphaëla:
The Peperklip is an (in)famous place in Rotterdam. It's supposed to be the worst neighbourhood you can live in, although it was built in the 1980s as a utopian place, with a particular design that would allow the community to come together in its central area, for example. But it has been in the spotlight for very bad reasons over the last two decades. Nobody wants to live there. Except Shabu – he loves it there.

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How did the idea to make this film come to you?
My previous movie was a children’s film that won several awards, and it told the story of a child living in awful conditions. After I finished that movie, I felt that it wasn't quite right to use people’s stories. I had the impression that, in documentary filmmaking, there is this tendency to consume the pain of other people, especially the pain of marginalised folk. And then we turn it into entertainment for people who are higher up in society. The protagonists are modern gladiators – amusement for the masses. I come from a marginalised community myself and have been making films about my own family as well. But there, too, I came to the conclusion that the public seems to crave stories about broken families, crime and poverty. All of these things end up being a great hit, and everybody loves it. But is it fair on the people we are portraying? I feel we have a huge responsibility as filmmakers: we inject these images into the veins of society and create a narrative. Even the people we are portraying will believe the narrative and internalise it. Especially concerning diaspora families, black families, I think the right balance hasn’t been struck yet, at least not in the Netherlands. There are lots of films about those negative aspects. I was yearning to make a picture about normal things, about love, friendship – nothing extreme, nothing out of the ordinary.

How did you choose Shabu as your protagonist?
In the beginning, I had planned to make a film about four kids who live on this estate, about their dreams and aspirations. A researcher, Debbie Kleijn, found these children, and we formed a bond. But due to certain circumstances, I had to postpone the production of the film by a year. When we were ready, Shabu called me, literally a day before we wanted to start shooting, telling me that he had crashed his grandmother’s car and that this would make it impossible for him to participate. But it was the best thing that could have happened. I called his mum, and she was really fed up with him. She said that I could have him for the rest of the summer; he would be my responsibility. That’s how I got stuck with a 14-year-old kid for the whole summer.

What can you say about the relationship between fiction and reality in the film?
What is important is that nothing is scripted. Everything happened as you see it. Shabu knew I was there, but everything that happened was his own life, his own words, his own experiences. However, I was in search of a different power dynamic; Shabu was part of the process, as he was very much aware of the camera. This was really us making the film together, instead of me observing him in a more voyeuristic way. And of course, it’s also the magic of editing, the way the story falls into place.

I am trying to get out of these boxes that we have created and that define what documentary is and what fiction is. In the end, every documentary is always fiction; there is no such thing as an objective documentary. It’s merely the filmmaker’s interpretation of reality, and therefore, it can never be an all-encompassing perspective.

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