Not many journalists get to interview Geert Wilders, leader of the anti-Islam party PVV, except to talk about his love of cats or some other innocuous subject. American journalist Stephen Robert Morse was granted unprecedented access to the politician and followed in his footsteps for four months. Last night Viceland broadcast Morse’s documentary ‘Wilders’.
The documentary maker became interested in Wilders in the wake of the rise of Donald Trump and other populist leaders, he said in an interview with RTL Nieuws . ‘Wilders is the leader of a worldwide movement which started in the Netherlands. He is a rising star and I wanted to show his influence,’ Morse said.
The documentary maker thinks Wilders, who is notoriously shy of Dutch journalists, said yes to his request almost immediately because he promised to portray him ‘honestly and without prejudice’.
Morse’s personal impression of Wilders is a non-committal ‘a man with good and bad qualities who cracks the odd joke’ and who is ‘very open’.
This openness notwithstanding the film has not much to offer to the Dutch viewer, says the NRC‘s Floor Boon who saw the film in Sheffield where it premiered in a half-filled cinema.
‘In spite of the ominous sounding score the film fails to put you on the edge of your seat. It’s a film that may be interesting to an outsider unfamiliar with Geert Wilders but in the Netherlands it won’t make much of a splash. Yes, the politician talks about his personal life, his childhood, his mother, his marriage. But the details he gives have been carefully chosen to fit the story he wants to tell,’ Boon writes.
As far as Wilder’s political stance is concerned, the film suggests that an incident during Wilders’ time in Israel when he was 17 may have been a key moment in his development, Boon writes.
Wilders tells the story of when he crossed the border with Egypt without a visa, helped by an Egyptian boy. As soon as they had arrived in Egypt the boy’s opinion about Israel flipped completely. He calls them beasts and accuses them of poisoning wells. ‘I saw hate in his eyes’, Wilders says. ‘How can a boy that age have so much hate in him?’.
Volkskrant critic Haro Kraak thinks Morse ‘milked’ his unique access to Wilders but failed to make good use of it. ‘Viewers were meant to feel they were getting incredibly close to Wilders but all they got was a heavily guarded and scripted walk in a park, a couple of uninteresting chats in the back of a car and a studio interview,’ Kraak writes.
Kraak also mentions Wilder’s comments about the hate-filled Egyptian boy. ‘If that moment really is the basis for his own hate then that would be tragically trivial. It is more likely that Wilders knew what the film maker wanted to hear. Or that he has convinced himself that this memory has formed him,’ Kraak writes.
Boon suggests the interest in Wilders might be waning. ‘If this documentary had been made a couple of years ago public interest would have been enormous. But the turn up in Sheffield was very low and there were no sparks during the run up to the broadcast in the Netherlands. Could it be that the Netherlands tired of Wilders?’ she asks.
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