In Memory of Heddy Honigmann


THE NETHERLANDS / 1999 / Dutch / Color / 35mm / 97 min

- Director, Script: Heddy Honigmann
Script: Esther Gould
Photography: Gregor Meerman
Editing: Mario Steenbergen
Producer: Pieter van Huystee
Production Company: Pieter van Huystee Film & TV

Dutch UN soldiers revisit the battlefields burnt into their memory. Now that they have returned to everyday life, the men find that recalling their experiences in faraway places inevitably brings one particular song to mind. Director Honigmann experiments with a tenacious interview style to expose the scars the soldiers bear deep inside as the music intertwines with memories of wartime.

Heddy Honigmann

Born in Lima, Peru in 1951, and trained as a filmmaker in Rome, Honigmann lived and worked in the Netherlands starting in 1978. Her films (short and long fiction films, short and long documentaries) have traveled around the world. She confronted her terminal illness in her last film No Hay Camino (2021).

To Look Upon Those Who Survived

YIDFF has been graced by the presence of many filmmakers over its long history but one who has been inscribed in my memory as one of the most revered is Heddy Honigmann.

Her debut at the festival, Metal and Melancholy (1993, YIDFF 1995) won The Mayor’s Prize, while The Underground Orchestra (1997, YIDFF 1999) won the Special Prize, and Oblivion (2008, YIDFF 2009) won her a second Mayor’s Prize. Crazy (2001, YIDFF 2001) didn’t win an award, but when placed alongside her other films the wide variety of themes and subject matter she tackles comes to the fore. Across all of her work, Honigmann imprints to film the deepest sentiments of ordinary people. She used the most candid footage to depict human beings—this method is rooted in her origins.

Honigmann was of Jewish descent and born on October 1, 1951 to a Polish mother and Austrian father in Lima, Peru. She was raised there but later studied filmmaking in Rome and then moved to the Netherlands. The awareness of being a Jew in a foreign land was bred in from her childhood, which compelled her to foster a sensibility to the art of survival, and people of all races found themselves opening up to her. In Metal and Melancholy, she turned her camera on people of all walks of life moonlighting as taxi drivers amid a period of severe economic downturn in Peru.

In The Underground Orchestra, Honnigman focused on immigrant musicians in Paris, sketching their everyday lives performing on street corners while bringing to the fore their life stories. Her films clearly express the theme of survival mentioned earlier. Crazy (1999) is the odd film out in her work: people who participated in war as UN soldiers discuss some of their most traumatic experiences alongside the music that stuck with them through it all. It takes a straightforward approach to depicting the trauma of war. She would return to Lima again, this time turning her camera on bartenders and waiters for the film Oblivion, showing how with every film she released, Honigmann would mature even more as a director. In 2016, Around the World in 50 Concerts (2014) had a general theatrical release in Japan.

The world today is rampant with events such as the war in Ukraine, famine, insurrection, and the refugee crisis which have all become part of everyday life, with the state of the world in general ever more unstable. There are any number of subjects that Honigmann could approach for her films but, unfortunately, she left this world at the age of seventy on May 21, 2022. Perhaps now is the time for us to take a much-needed look back at the suvivors in her films and to trace perspectives and emotions of those who were at the mercy of circumstance—may she and they rest in peace.

Inada Takaki
Film Commentator, International Competition Selection Committee since YIDFF ’89