“I went to see this film with an open mind but after five minutes I had a sinking feeling. Ten Canoes unsettles everything that you thought you knew.”
Houtepen is used to watching films on screen, because besides being a philosopher he is also a lover and critic of films, for example for the monthly magazine Maandblad Geestelijke volksgezondheid by the Trimbos Instituut. He feels that Ten Canoes (2006), which received a jury prize in Cannes, is an intriguing immersion into another world: the world of the Aboriginals. The images are accompanied by a voiceover that tells of Creation, love and geese hunting.
“It is a unique chance to see how arbitrary our way of life is. Take our perception of time, for example. The storyteller, a nuisance by the way who likes to joke around, speaks about the ancestors from way back and their hunt, a story that also contains a tale about their ancestors. It goes every which way, with numerous loops and digressions. Time is actually not linear but cyclical. Everything always returns. Something that also applies to people, because an Aboriginal is an incarnation of all his ancestors. So not an individual in our meaning of the word. Everybody together makes an Aboriginal.”
Director Rolf de Heer, an Australian son of Dutch immigrants, also discovered on the film set how deep the cultural differences ran. He thought he could find a few Aboriginals to work as actors, but playing a role, acting like someone else, apparently isn’t a universal concept. In addition, a story is only good if it is true, not if it has been made up. “De Heer also thought he could draw up a contract, but at one time or another a distant relative dies and the ‘actor’ takes off. These scenes are not in the film but they are in the making of, on DVD, which has real added value.”
Ten Canoes throws light on a completely different world, but we all - students alike - continuously meet people with different backgrounds, says Houtepen. “Whether you end up in health care, in business, or in the legal profession. But also during your time as a student, we have all nationalities here, Germans, Saudi Arabians, you name it. All people with a unique frame of reference, a different way of life than your own. The question is always: how do you, with your personal baggage, relate to the other? To my mind a good sense of perspective is part of an academic education. It is good that you understand that your own social environment is also based on a set of agreements. This creates opportunities for a dialogue with others.”