This story is part of True/False Conversations, a series of in-depth interviews with the filmmakers of this year's True/False Film Fest.
Directors Petra Lataster-Czich and Peter Lataster started out making Miss Kiet’s Children with the intention of creating a love letter to education as a profession. When they found their film’s subject, the stern yet compassionate primary school teacher Kiet Engels, they realized they were making a much different film than they planned.
Miss Kiet’s Children follows four children in Engel’s classroom over the course of a school year. What’s noteworthy is that the children are all refugees resettled in the Netherlands. Most of the children are Syrian, and the film shows the challenges they experience as they learn a new language and culture. The film captures the small and large triumphs of these children under Engel’s watchful eye.
Elena Rivera spoke with Petra Lataster-Czich and Peter Lataster, directors of Miss Kiet’s Children.
Rivera: What kind of did you think you were going to focus on and did it change over the course of filming?
Lataster-Czich: We intended to make a portrait of a teacher, in order to make an ode to all teachers who do a good job in the world. But when we found out about Kiet, we discovered she helps refugee children and immigrant children who came to Holland and are unable to speak Dutch. So we had to change a little bit. Kiet also said immediately, I do allow you to film in my class and I do allow you to film with me, but the focus has to be on the children.
Rivera: One of the things I loved was how the camera really focused on the children, and their faces, and then you would see kind of her profile, and how that really put you in the mindset of these kids, and what they were experiencing throughout the day.
Lataster: We thought it was very important that you would totally focus on the kids and the camera should always be eye-level with the kids. So the few moments that we look up to the teacher, to Kiet, you see a very long person, hovering above you. The idea was to treat the children as independent and mature film persons. They are telling the story, nobody else. Nobody else outside the children, or some person outside with a magic voice, is going to tell you what you see.
Rivera: Syria and Syrian refugees are still such an important political conversation. What do you think the importance of your film is now in this political context and what does it have to say?
Lataster: There is a kind of political undercurrent, or strategy, here in the Netherlands and also in other European countries. It's that we shouldn't make life for refugees comfortable, and that also applies to education. And at the same time, the other side is that these children, like any other child, these children have a right to education. So as soon as they enter the Netherlands, within three weeks they are obliged to go to school. And the idea is that we have to do whatever we can to give these children a good start, because the start is so essential for their coming life in Holland.