Filmmaker Dives Into ‘Family’ Vault for Soph Feature
While it is not uncommon for successful docmakers to segue into narrative film, don’t expect any such transition for Fassaert.
“I’m inspired most by fiction features to see how story and structure work,” the 36-year-old Dutchman says from his Amsterdam home, “but I’d never even think about making fiction, because of the range of complex and unpredictable situations in which you find yourself as a documentary filmmaker.”
Things certainly got more complex than Fassaert could possibly have anticipated while making his sophomore feature, “A Family Affair” — which premiered as the opening film of IDFA in November, going on to win a Special Jury Award in the fest’s Dutch documentary strand. Where Fassaert’s Berlinale-selected debut, 2011’s “An Angel in Doel” was an intimate portrait of an elderly Belgian villager, his followup heightened the personal stakes by taking Fassaert’s own grandmother Marianne Hertz as its subject. A proud, evasive woman with an enigmatic history of familial estrangement, Hertz initially welcomes Fassaert’s scrutiny — yet the further he probes, the darker her delusions appear to be.
As a study of fascinating family dysfunction, Fassaert’s film stands with Andrew Jarecki’s “Capturing the Friedmans” and Sarah Polley’s “Stories We Tell,” and he admits it was a painful experience. “I studied at the Dutch Film Academy, which gave me conditioned ideas about planning and form,” he says. “But here I felt like I was starting all over again as a filmmaker: I was making a film, but I was also digging up everything in my family, with consequences I couldn’t foresee.”
Fassaert is researching material for his third feature: He has yet to settle on a subject, though it’ll be a little less close to home this time. “If I’d known what I was getting myself into with ‘A Family Affair,’” he says wryly, “I’d probably never have started.”
— Guy Lodge