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Francois Pieneman on addressing difficult social topics  in his podcast 'Meestervertellers'


Story by:

David Wouters

Interview by:

April 28, 2022

Meet A Labber, film producer, ‘Meestervertellers’ podcast host and director of Worldvisuals Film’: Francois Alain Pieneman. Until his 30th he worked in finance, one career switch and years later, his documentary ‘BRUCE’ was selected for IDFA and the short feature ‘Turn it Around’ was nominated for more than 100 Film Festivals. Francois has a fascination for producing documentaries that address difficult social themes and present them in a light-hearted way. For member story #6, Francois and I talk about his career path, the power of storytelling, his new podcast and cross-pollination with other A Lab members.

Hi Francois, tell me more about your background story.

My name is Francois Alain Pieneman and I grew up in Hoofddorp. As a kid I always enjoyed creative activities like writing, drawing or taking photographs. I applied for several creative studies such as industrial design, display, I even applied for the Film Academy and for a graphic school. Unfortunately, I got rejected wherever I applied as they noticed I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do myself. I then moved to Amsterdam to study Commercial Economy. After my graduation I worked at a recruitment agency, travelled for a year, did some volunteer work and then worked in finance as a business controller.

Could you tell me more about the moment you decided to switch from finance to film?

When you get into your 30s you either die as a popstar, or you get into an existential crisis. I realized that my job wasn’t something I could see myself doing forever. I thought back of a company film I once made, a project I really enjoyed - and decided to continue with film. I set up my own company and soon worked as a freelancer for online commercials. I was happy with my work, but I still felt like I wanted to create work where I could put in a little bit more of myself.

What was it that you were missing at that point?

You can’t put a lot of ‘you’ in commissioned work. Giving meaning to work is important to me, to be able to contribute something to the world. I then asked myself how I could combine both worlds and then it dawned upon me: documentaries. Through this form of film everything comes together and I’ve always enjoyed watching them.

What documentaries or stories have inspired you for your work?

It all started with fairy tales; they are so much more than just a fun story. They contain morale, they address how we treat each other and they’re timeless.

When talking about documentaries I think about ‘4 Elements’ which was screened during IDFA. The documentary is about the four elements of life: fire, water, earth and air. Characters in the documentary barely talk and it contains powerful imagery. It taught me how you can tell a story without spoken word.  

How has that idea influenced your way of producing?

I started playing around more with symbolism as well as with the power of words all the while using less words.

‘’When you get into your 30s you either die as a popstar or you get into an existential crisis’’

Flash forward: You’re 30, you just made a big career switch, and a couple of years later your short feature about coming out called ‘Turn it Around’ is nominated for more than 100 film festivals worldwide. How does that feel?

It’s crazy because you work towards something like this for a long time. When my film career started, I didn’t know where to get information from, I experimented, I failed. But I have always been someone who has a hands-on mentality, that’s the only way you’ll learn what your strengths and weaknesses are. I’d rather do something and then later find out that it’s not for me. When you get into your 30s you either die as a popstar or you get into an existential crisis’’

In all your time of producing films and documentaries, what has been your favourite production?

I really enjoyed ‘Turn it Around’. The atmosphere during recording was amazing, the writing process was a lot of fun and the fact that it was a success worldwide also contributed to that. It was screened worldwide, at schools, in theatres, in Amsterdam during the ‘Roze Filmdagen’. The most rewarding was a message I got about a gay guy in China that came out of the closet because of the film.

If there was one other social topic you could tackle with a documentary, what would it be?

I’m currently working on a children’s TV series that addresses the topic of domestic violence. Sometimes it looks like this problem doesn’t exist because it happens behind closed doors, because children don’t talk about these kinds of problems and because there’s a taboo resting on it.

I would also like to create a movie about a couple of friends who hit the road, a little bit à la Rabat – but it should address a social topic. Depression and suicide are both subjects I find very important. I want to present these tough-to-approach-complex subjects in a light way without losing its power. It’s something I want to do more; address difficult social themes in a light-hearted manner. I believe that by doing so you can change people’s perception, it doesn’t always need to be heavy and dramatic.

Have you also struggled with issues when you were younger; where you feel you couldn’t find support or relate to TV because it addressed those issues in a dark or dramatic way? Is that the reason that you would like to bring it in a more light-hearted way?’

Definitely, ‘Turn It Around’ is a good example. Coming out can be very difficult, but it can also be something powerful. When guys or girls who struggle with their sexuality see the film, it invites them to speak more freely about it as it’s not presented in a difficult way. It takes away the pressure and the taboo.

Let’s talk about another thing you’re working on. You recently set-up a podcast called ‘Meestervertellers’, what led you to this moment?

It seems like everything I’ve worked with over the past years comes together in my podcast, but the idea was triggered by COVID. The pandemic got me to think about the struggling arts and culture sector. Why is it that this sector is not receiving the support it should? Arts and culture bring us so much; It brings us stories and stories connect people. With my podcast Meestervertellers, I shine a light on urgent stories.

Marketeers have to do with stories, journalists, film makers, politicians. We’re all story tellers and there’s so much we can learn from each other; it can make us cross-pollinate and it can bring us more fun in work. That’s why I invite guests working in several fields to talk about the importance of storytelling in their work.

Authenticity is important within storytelling. In your second episode you discuss authenticity with one of your guests. That got me wondering, what is your own authentic power in telling a story?

My strength lies in empowering people to tell their story in the best way possible. Their story is the central focus and I try to ask people the right questions to bring light to the subject in the best way possible.

When did your story in A Lab begin?

I’ve been in A Lab for three years now. I know a film director that knows Lucas and he recommended me to pay a visit and I’ve been here ever since.

You like to experiment within your work, have you experimented together with other A Labbers?

I’ve worked together on several projects with Yvette Dorrepaal (Uptale) and Joyce van Rijn (Ulysses Agency), who both work with film. Joyce has an agency for directors, so we were bound to work together once. One of the perks of A Lab is the amount of people working within many creative fields, which can be very interesting for the podcast. Lucas already recommended me a list of people I should interview.

What is it you like most about A Lab?

There’s a low-key atmosphere, it’s a big building but you still know everyone. People say hi, everyone knows the team. There’s just a general atmosphere of warmth, it’s nice to be able to work in A Lab.

If you could set up one company other than the one you have right now - in A Lab of course - what would it be?

I believe that the way we receive and give education is going to change, so I would like to do something with education and of course integrate storytelling into that.

You can listen to the 'Meestervertellers' podcast through Spotify, Google Podcasts and Castbox.
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