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Empire is an investigation into the aftershocks of the first global capitalist endeavor, Dutch colonialism. Creators Eline Jongsma and Kel O’Neill tell us more about their inspiration for the expansive project — shot in 10 countries over four years — and what they hope audiences will walk away with.
What is the most rewarding aspect of being an independent filmmaker?
Eline Jongsma: It’s rewarding to create documentary work that you’re passionate about. If you keep your costs low enough, you can stretch the form and explore parts of the human experience that tend to be ignored by larger productions.
Which filmmaker(s) inspired you to get behind the lens?
Kel O’Neill: Paul Thomas Anderson. If he hadn’t fired me from There Will Be Blood I would probably still be an actor dreaming of making my own films someday. Also Sean Baker, who lent us his camera for a year when we were making our first documentary shorts.
Could you list three films that all independent film supporters should take the time to see?
Eline Jongsma: Darwin’s Nightmare, Svyato and The Act of Killing — although I think everyone has seen that last one already.
Kel O’Neill: Aguirre, The Wrath of God, Swimming to Cambodia and Z.
What do you hope the audience comes away with after seeing your interactive project?
Eline Jongsma: History is not simple, and no single perspective can explain a phenomena as complex as colonialism. On a long enough timeline, everyone is both the oppressed and the oppressor.
How did you choose the locations for your investigations into the “unintended consequences of colonialism”?
Eline Jongsma: We used a map and our instincts. The themes we investigated in one country naturally led to the next country and the next investigation.
What messages did the members of the community you documented want to share with an audience?
Kel O’Neill: Empire includes the stories of people from every conceivable economic class, ethnicity and social position. The contradictions between their opinions are as important as the similarities.
What was the most challenging aspect of filming Empire?
Kel O’Neill: It was tough at first to live a life entirely on the road, without a home or too many possessions beyond the bare necessities. Now it’s equally tough to adjust to living in one place.
The book “Empire: The Unintended Consequences of Dutch Colonialism” is available in the Empire store at jongsmaoneill.com. Get more documentary film news and features: Subscribe to POV’s documentary blog, like POV on Facebook or follow us on Twitter @povdocs.