»WHAT I LEARNED IS THAT IT’S ABOUT EMBRACING LIFE.«
The film BUURMAN ABDI relates episodes from the life of the Somali Abdiwahab Ali — called Abdi —, who came to the Netherlands in the mid-1990s at the age of eleven and who now works as a shelf designer and social worker. We see Abdi going about his daily work in the workshop, where he welds shelves that are based on geometrical forms. At the same time, his workshop is a contact point for people who themselves have fled, as well as for people with migration backgrounds who have difficulties finding their place in society and want to apply themselves artisanally. Abdi’s workshop is in the same building as the studio of filmmaker Douwe Dijkstra. In his animation studio, scenes taken from Abdi’s life in Mogadishu as well as in the Netherlands were reenacted by people who work in the workshop and by various children. Abdi’s memories and emotional states are of central importance; he enacts the scenes and lucidly explains what happened. When asked why he does not play himself in the movie, he says that he does not want to re-experience the pain and trauma he had to endure.
The film was shot exclusively in front of a green screen: This means that the actors act in front of a mono-colored green background. In post-production, the actors are cut and placed in front of other backgrounds. In this case, these are the streets of Mogadishu, which were re-created in miniature on a table. These scenes are dominated by war, violence, and death. Shortly after arriving in the Netherlands, Abdi strays from the straight and narrow path. He engages in a wild police chase, commits robberies, and there is no brawl he steers clear of. In total, he spends eight years in prison. He finally succeeds in transforming his disposition toward violence and crime into a passion for artisanal design. The geometric forms of his shelves symbolize the balance in which he now lives. The documentary film primarily draws from reenactment, a popular media and performance art strategy. Reenactment refers to the authentic re-creation of past events with different participants.
Douwe Dijkstra’s artistic work features a mixture of video, animation, and VFX. It can be characterized as humorous as well as socially committed. His projects run the gamut from short films and documentary films to video installations and theatrical productions. (Lisa Bosbach)
Images: Douwe Dijkstra, Buurman Abdi, 2022 © Douwe Dijkstra / Courtesy Square Eyes