THIS BITTERSWEET LIFE

Transnistria, 2018 - current

 

“Today” is a world full of tension in Transnistria, a semi-autonomous region in eastern Moldova. For over 25 years, the country has led a brittle existence. Once independent, Transnistrians were made believe economic prosperity would follow. But it never did. In fact, Transnistria has remained exactly what it was: the poorest region of the poorest country in Europe. It is not hard to guess where the unilaterally declared independence has led to: a massive emigration.And yet, as I have seen it on my visits to the country, Transnistria’s today is not a void.

Today is the time of youngsters. They long for life. Their today is forever hopeful, yet rooted. When talking with young Transnistrians and their parents, mostly simple curiosity was enough to establish contact. Interest was met with cordiality and warmth that made me wonder about their resilience.

But tomorrow might be another country. Youngsters get glimpses on the Internet and in stories of their family members who have made home in Italy, Germany or elsewhere. At the same time, on the verge of existence, the families who stay live with a strong community feeling. They take well care of each other, because little can be expected from the state. For youngsters an unavoidable internal confict arises: Should I stay or should I go?

I look at the pictures I have done up to now. I wonder. Dilapidated houses. The intense colors. An excited disco night. Folk dance in the House of Culture. A military event. An empty busstop. My feelings are contradictory but the images are clear. I am by far not done yet. I will need to return again.


subtitles: English, Nederlands, Русский

CARNIVAL DAYS

The Netherlands/Belgium, 1997-2008

 

It is often said that one has to have a personal link with Carnaval in order to understand it in depth, and I am the first to confirm the statement. My year is, if not fully failed, then at least incomplete if I have to miss the Carnaval for one reason or another. Carnaval is where I come from: South-Eastern Brabant, close to the Belgian border.

As a documentary maker, however, I got to a point in my life where it was not enough to celebrate Carnaval with my old friends. I wanted to find out what, exactly, makes up the uniqueness of the festival for Brabanders like me who have grown up with it. Together with Elisa Veini, an interested outsider and my partner in work and life, I decided to document the quest in photography and film.

The documentary is located in the Western part of Dutch Brabant and in Aalst, Belgium, where the tradition of the transvestite carnaval (‘Voil Jeannetten’, or ‘Dirty Janets’) is alive and kicking.

“A treasure of touching and delightful photos” – De Volkskrant
‘When I watch the film, I’d love to live in that pub’ – Midas Dekkers
‘Intriguing film’ – BN De Stem

BOOK
Paul van der Stap (photos) and Elisa Veini (essay): Carnavalsdagen | Carnival Days.
De Verbeelding Publishing 2009. ISBN 978-90-78909-11-8
The book is available in the webshop of Slowdocs publishers.

EXHIBITIONS
A large selection of the Carnival photos was shown in four solo exhibitions, curated by Elisa Veini and me. All four exhibitions took place during the Carnival period from January to April:

  • 2009: Het Markiezenhof Historical Centre, Bergen op Zoom (Netherlands)
  • 2010: The Municipal Museum Aalst ‘t Gasthuys (Belgium)
  • 2012: Museum Tongerlohuys, Roosendaal (Netherlands)
  • 2014: Galerie De Kring, Roosendaal (Netherlands)
  •  
    SELECTED PUBLICATIONS 
  • Carnavalsdagen | Carnival Days, De Verbeelding Publishing 2009. ISBN 978-90-78909-11-8
  • In feestkostuum in de kerkbanken, De Volkskrant (NL), A. Haijtema, 19-2-2009.
  • Carnavalsdagen, Neerlandia (NL), P. de Boer, 1-2009/113.
  • Carnaval ís, BN/De stem (NL), 19-2-2019.
  •  

    IN THE MEDIA

    The opening of the first Carnival days exhibition in 2009 was covered by the TV programme “Inz en Uitz” of Omroep Brabant The book was reviewed by Cornald Maas in Opium TV, Dutch National Broadcast NPO1

     

    PRODUCTION

    Financial support by:
    Special thanks to: Jan en Angele van der Stap; Het Markiezenhof Historical Centre, Bergen op Zoom, The Netherlands; The Municipal Museum Aalst ‘t Gasthuys, Aalst, Belgium

    CAFE BOSTELLA

    Belgium, 2015-2017

     

    This book and documentary film is about Julia and her pub Café Bostella, located in Belgium only a stone’s throw from the Dutch border. In her 80s, Julia still runs the immensely popular pub on her own, just like she has done for more than 40 years. The success has not come easy, and now Julia faces a new threat: what will happen to the pub when working round the clock becomes too much for her? In the film, Julia shows her life that is for a great part defined by the pub, and the struggles belonging to it. Also regular guests from near and afar tell about the importance of the pub for their social life.

    The guests attach to the cafe. It is a second home for many, and for many, Julia has a mother-like, caring role. The guests take turns helping her with difficult tasks. She also sells food and stuff in the café, not so much to earn extra but as a service to the guests. The book and the film show different sides of this community.

    Café Bostella is about persistence and loyalty in the face of quickly changing society and vanishing folk pub culture.


    ‘Brought into view with a lot of patience and a great empathy.’
    – De Volkskrant

     

    SELECTED PUBLICATIONS 
  • Café Bostella, (Book with DVD), Slowdocs Publishers 2016, ISBN 978-90-809375-7-4.
  • De laatste ronde, De Volkskrant (NL), A. Haijtema, 24-2-2017.
  • Portret van een echt volkscafé, BN/De Stem (NL), C. Hagenaars, 3-10-2015.
  •  

    PRODUCTION

    Credits: Paul van der Stap: photos; Elisa Veini: essay; Lex Reitsma: book design
    Financial support by: Province of Antwerp;
    The municipality of Essen
    Special thanks to: Julia van den Bergh and family, Angèle van der Stap, LECA, CineCrowd, and all regular guests of Café Bostella

    MATERIAL LIFE NOISY

    China, 2010-2012

     

    This is a fragmented story about how the Chinese are confronted with social, economical, and cultural changes in their country. Many Chinese have difficulty with finding their way between the old and the new China. In previous times, the collective was decisive. Values were set from above. Nowadays, there is a huge urge to consumption and a (assumed) freedom of choice. At the same time, ‘harmony’ – earlier a guide for the individual conduct – is now becoming a collective, societal ideal. What happens when traditional family bonds relapse due to a massive emigration to cities? How do those who stay behind on the countryside survive?

    The photos and texts are made between 2010 and 2012 during our travels from Sichuan in the southwest of China to Shanghai at the east coast, from Shaanxi in the north to Guangdong in the south, and from the capital Beijing to the southern countryside of Yunnan and Guizhou.

     
    SELECTED PUBLICATIONS 
  • Material Life Noisy Titojoe documentaries 2013. Dutch edition: ISBN 978-90-809375-0-5. English edition: ISBN 978-90-809375-6-7. Bookazine format, 72 pages including 56 photos and 14 mini-essays. Available in the webshop of Slowdocs publishers.
  • Material Life Noisy I: Do women count?, Berfrois, Intellectual Jousting in the Republic of Letters, 2012-june
  • Material Life Noisy II: Monetarized ethics, Berfrois, Intellectual Jousting in the Republic of Letters, 2012-june
  •  

    EXHIBITIONS
    Photographs from the Material Life Noisy project about social and cultural change in contemporary China were shown in:
    Podium Mozaïek, Amsterdam (6 March – 28 April 2014)
    De Observant, Amersfoort (29 April – 9 June 2014)

     

    PRODUCTION

    Special thanks to: Ilze van Roovert en Saskia Wilbrink / Prinaña grafisch ontwerp; Karlijn van Onzenoort; Lisa Jap-A-joe

    CAFE BOSTELLA – THE DOCUMENTARY

    Belgium, 2015-2017

     

    This documentary film is about Julia and her pub Café Bostella, located in Belgium only a stone’s throw from the Dutch border. In her 80s, Julia still runs the immensely popular pub on her own, just like she has done for more than 40 years. The success has not come easy, and now Julia faces a new threat: what will happen to the pub when working round the clock becomes too much for her? In the film, Julia shows her life that is for a great part defined by the pub, and the struggles belonging to it. Also regular guests from near and afar tell about the importance of the pub for their social life. Café Bostella is about persistence and loyalty in the face of quickly changing society and vanishing folk pub culture.


    ‘Brought into view with a lot of patience and a great empathy.’
    – De Volkskrant

     

    FILM SCREENINGS CAFÉ BOSTELLA
    16-10-2016: Cinema Rex Essen
    20-02-2017: docFeed documentary filmfestival
    21-02-2017: TV Omroep Brabant and NPO National TV
    23-01-2018: Filmtheater Hilversum

     
    SELECTED PUBLICATIONS 
  • Café Bostella, (Book with DVD), Slowdocs Publishers 2016, ISBN 978-90-809375-7-4.
  • De laatste ronde, De Volkskrant (NL), A. Haijtema, 24-2-2017.
  • Portret van een echt volkscafé, BN/De Stem (NL), C. Hagenaars, 3-10-2015.
  •  

    PRODUCTION

    Credits: Written, directed and produced by: Paul van der Stap & Elisa Veini; Camera & Sound: Paul van der Stap, Editor: Jaap de Goede, Paul, Elisa; Music: Gerard van Duinen (Bandoneon & arrangements), Mirek Walton (Guitar), Ingeborg Cneut (Violin)
    Financial support by: Province of Antwerp; CineCrowd with 95 donors; Omroep Brabant; The municipality of Essen
    Special thanks to: Julia van den Bergh and family, Angèle van der Stap, LECA, CineCrowd, and all regular guests of Café Bostella

    NORTHEAST ON THE MOVE

    Brazil, 2000-2002

     

    The seven states of Brazil’s Northeast move fast and slow. No doubt the best known picture of the region is that of persisting poverty and emigration, but in fact there is a long history of social and political protest. The contrast between the known and the less known Northeast became the topic of the documentary which we made in the years 2000 – 2002 as an independent project.

    The contrasts are abundant. In spite of the desperation and void that have replaced the once so firm belief in the blessings of modernity, there are enough occasions when, like during the gay parade in Salvador, the city becomes a stage for an outburst of optimism. And still, those who have migrated to the cities often just could not be worse off.

    On the other side, the popular religious faith and a deep-rooted sense of a culture of one’s own can survive even in the city slums. And it certainly does among those who have decided to stay in the sertão, the dry backlands. In Palmares, a settlement of the Landless Workers’ Movement (MST) in the interior of Ceará, seu Antônio, father of ten sons all named Francesco, likes to recollect memories of the land occupation that brought so many together.

    Next to the internationally known MST, there are also others like the upsurgent indigenous peoples, who challenge the traditional power of big landowners and other gatekeepers in the society. If they are to survive, they cannot but be on the move, socially, politically, and emotionally.

     
    SELECTED PUBLICATIONS 
  • 'Northeast on the move', ei8ht photojournalism, Vol. 2, No. 2 /2003, 34-43
  • 'Pólnocny Wschódinna Brazylia', fotopozytyw, No. 03/2004, 20-29
  • 'Zwischen Misstrauen und Hoffnung. Brasiliens Nordosten', Kommune, Forum für Politik, Ökonomie, Kultur , 3/04, 18-21
  • Photography for the publication: 'Cannibals, Crabs and Carmen Miranda: How Brazilian Modernists Keep on Unsettling Modernity', Elisa Veini, Third Text 2004
  •  

    PRODUCTION

    Special thanks to: MST Palmares, Luzia XXX in Crateús; Maria Amelia Leite, Aline and Flôrencio / Associação Missão Tremembé; Jan Glissenaar / Vereniging Wederzijds; Jon Levy / FOTO8

    A PICTURE OF YOU, A PICTURE OF ME

    China/The Netherlands/UK, 2005-2011

     

    This documentary film is a personal story. In 2005, my partner Elisa Veini a I adopted a daughter from China. As our daughter was just a 1.5 years old toddler and our parenthood had just started, we looked at the experiences of other adopted children and their parents. Finally, we decided to film a family with a couple of years older daughter from our daughter’s orphanage, and our own family. It took us five years to make the film.

    With this film, we hoped to give insight in what it means to grow up with a background that is different from the rest of the family – and to be proud of that background. Their special bound as children from the same country and the same place gives an extra dimension to the girls’ lives. Being adopted is not only a wound, it can also be quite interesting, at least if you are five years old and fond of all things Chinese.

     

     

    PRODUCTION

    Credits: Written, directed, edited and produced by: Paul van der Stap & Elisa Veini; Camera & Sound: Paul van der Stap; Script & Research: Elisa Veini
    Supported by:
    Special thanks to: Ruth and her family, Sara

    DALIT LIVES

    India, 2002-2004

     

    Dalits – 200 million people, or one fifth of the Indian population – face daily physical and symbolic discrimination based on caste. It is believed that Dalits are born as ‘impure’ and, therefore, are designed to do ‘unclean’ work like manual scavenging, burying the dead, handling dead animals, and alike. In spite of existing laws and quotas for the protection of the physical and social security of Dalits, most still live live in poverty.

    The photodocumentary shows how Dalits struggle for their daily survival and try to meet with the new requirements of a globalizing and urbanizing society. It portrays men and women in their attempt to improve their living conditions and escape the pitfalls of explicit and inexplicit discrimination. A special emphasis lays on the work of various Dalit and human rights organisations fighting for the rights of Dalits.

    The material was collected in spring 2004 during a three-month stay in Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Gujarat, working intensively together with Dalit and human rights activists.

     
    EXHIBITION
    As a part of the Dalit lives project, we made a travelling exhibition about Dalits for the international campaign of Dalit Network Netherlands (DNN). The inauguration was in May 2005 at the International Institute of Social Studies in The Hague, and the exhibition travelled many years to locations in the Netherlands and abroad.

     
    SELECTED PUBLICATIONS 
  • Leven als Dalit - 'Kastelozen' in hedendaags India / Dalit Lives - 'Outcastes' in contemporary India. Slowdocs Publishers/Titojoe documentaries 2005. ISBN 90-809375-1-7.
  • 'Dalit-Leben, Erfahrungen von Kastelosen in Indien', Kommune, Forum für Politik, Ökonomie, Kultur , 2/05, 28-31
  • Dalit Lives, foto8 book review , Sophie Wright, 19-12-2007
  • A woman apart, Titojoe Documentaries / Cordaid 2005. ISBN 90-809375-2-9 (DVD). Short documentary film.
  •  

    PRODUCTION

    In collaboration with: CordAid, Dalit Network Netherlands, India Committee of the Netherlands
    Financial support by:
    Special thanks to: Martin Macwan / IAS; Jan Glissenaar / Vereniging Wederzijds; Paul Divakar, Sudhakar David / NCDHR; S.D.J.M. Prasad / SAKSHI;Vara Kumary, D. Prasad / DAS;

    DES CHOSES ET DES PAYSAGES

    Morocco, 1997-1999

     

    Northern Africa gave me a sense of loneliness and dislocation. As soon as you cross the High Atlas mountains, everything is different. The radio changes abruptly to djembes, drums, and thumb piano’s. From that moment on you’re into the great wide open.

    Together with Elisa Veini I undertook three research trips to Morocco’s south during which we collected material for the exhibition “Pavillon du Maroc, another look at Moroccan pottery” that was shown in 1998-1999 in Museum Boijmans van Beuningen in Rotterdam, the Netherlands.

    We visited communities in the deep south. These journeys resulted in images and stories about makers, traders and collectors of handmade clay vessels and about the various places where the pottery is found: homes, markets, museums and shops. A selection of photographs was shown at the exhibition.

     
    SELECTED PUBLICATIONS 
  • Objets mobiles. Elisa Veini and Alexandra van Dongen. NAi Publishers 1998, ISBN 978-9069-181998. Photos by Paul van der Stap and others.
    This book was published for the exhibition Pavillon du Maroc in Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam, The Netherlands
  •  

    PRODUCTION

    In collaboration with: Museum Boymans van Beuningen, Rotterdam, The Netherlands
    Special thanks to: Maison Tiskiwin Musée Bert Flint Museum Morocco Marrakech

    A VILLAGE CALLED YECAPIXTLA

    Mexico, 1994-1996

     

    On a January morning we arrived in the village exactly the way we would do over and over again: on a packed local bus, squeezed in between a voluminous old lady holding a life turkey on her lap and a young tall man, whose sombrero and cowboy boots gave him a close resemblance to the Lone Ranger.

    My partner Elisa Veini was destined to do field research in a Central Mexican village called Yecapixtla. We were not the first foreigners to have visited the village, but we were the only ones who decided to settle there. With the kind help of a few locals, we found a vacant house in the backyard of a pizzeria. It did not take long before everyone knew us and we knew at least the key figures for our temporary Mexican existence.

    The village was famous for its meat production and a weekly cattle market was held just outside the centre. The village was also known for its Easter ceremonies, extended to last three whole weeks and including fireworks at five ‘o clock every morning. Besides all this, we took a special interest in observing the villagers’ refusal to be totally absorbed in the rapid transformation from a rural to a semi-urban society.

    For me, this was my first step into documentary photography. I loved it.               

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