Ten Dutch people on the trip of a lifetime in new pension documentary

Published on: 20 October 2022

Ten Dutch people, each from a different decade, meet in a bus driving across the Netherlands. They each have their own story, but connect with each other around their struggles, their passion and their dreams about the Netherlands of the future. Director Sander Ligthart recorded their conversations during their cinematic road trip Encounters. A documentary created in honor of 100 years of pensions in the Netherlands.



100 years of pensions in the Netherlands is the premise of the documentary commissioned by ABP and APG and created by director Sander Ligthart. The result is a look back and ahead at the state of the Netherlands over the past century: how has our country dealt with sustainability, equal opportunities for all, and wellbeing? Ligthart gets ten Dutch people from ten different decades to have conversations about this with each other; ten perspectives and ten different stories. They are unknown but special people, such as Roxanne Salehi, until recently Children’s Director of Nature & Sustainability of Flevoland and a student at the first ecological elementary school in the Netherlands, and education professional Karim Amghar who fights against inequality of opportunity and polarization in the classroom and in the neighborhood. But well-known fellow citizens, such as historian Els Kloek and writer and former politician Jan Terlouw also appear before the camera. In the film they all ride together in a bus through the Netherlands, and on the way, they have frank and inspiring conversations. We are now speaking to the director, who has an impressive resume that ranges from light-hearted commercials to a short film about sexual abuse, prior to the premiere of the documentary.

And then there's the question about a documentary on pensions. Were you able to immediately envision what kind of story you wanted to tell?

“Yes, the idea came to me pretty quickly. I have made videos for ABP and APG before and I know that for them, their work doesn’t end at providing pensions: they use their knowledge and network for social issues. My idea was to give viewers inspiration about sustainability, wellbeing and equality: a story that makes pension builders and pensioners, people with a heart for education, science, defense and politics, look at things differently. This film is really the opposite of the News. Not focusing on what went wrong, but looking back at the past years and then creating vistas of the imagined Netherlands of the future. A perspective on the future, and how you can influence it, without losing sight of the fact that there is still much to be done.”

And what does that Netherlands of the future look like?
“While we were recording, we came to realize that, in terms of politics or society, there is generally not really any vision of where we want to go as the Netherlands. Where are we going to be in ten years, or a hundred years? We need to have that vision.”

And how do you portray that in a documentary with 100 years of pensions as its theme?
“The actual pensions occupy a modest place in it: the 100th anniversary of the pension act is the occasion to look back 100 years and ahead 100 years. Questions that come up include ‘How did sustainability become an increasingly important issue?’, ‘How have we dealt with equal opportunity for women or groups who could not always make their voices heard?’ and ‘What about wellbeing?’ The people we chose for the film fit into the story in multiple ways. Like Maaike Leichsenring, a former TU Delft student who, despite being advised that engineering is not for girls, decided to go into that field anyway, and is now researching applications of sustainable energy.”

And are the answers to the questions you ask always positive?
“No, we certainly also make the dissenting voices heard. Take pensions as an example. Scientist Rutger Hoekstra, one of the ten people, questions the measurement of wealth in economic figures. He agrees that pensions have made many people independent and allow them to live the way they want to. But Rutger argues that pensions can also be seen as a cause for more loneliness among the elderly. Pensions make Dutch people feel almost like they no longer have any responsibility for their parents, which in turn can lead to loneliness. In other words, social cohesion partly falls away because of pensions. The story of Ibrahim, the boy who fled Syria with his parents when he was six years old, ties in with this: his parents have given their children a lot of love and care, and they see this as a kind of loan. They get that love and care back from their children when they are old and in need of care and assistance.”

Your films always focus on people, because you want to touch the viewer’s heart. That is also the case with this one. Why that approach?  
“I wanted to create encounters between people who all have interesting views of the future: people from every decade opening up their world and showing their perspective from there. Children, adults, pension builders, pensioners; a diverse group of people. They have stories about the past and the present, about dreams and ambitions, and about fears. About how the Netherlands is changing, as well as the changing world, about economic prosperity and the crunch of sustainability. Stories that are worth sharing. And precisely because they are genuine, personal stories and because sincere interest arises between people, this is inspiring and the stories move you.”

The setting is not commonplace; you are driving across the Netherlands in a bus.
“Think of it as a unique road trip. Ten people going on the ‘trip of a lifetime’ together. During the trip, they share their stories with each other. The bus is a place where they get together, they share, they are proud of the past and express ambitions for the future. It’s a place that has no geographical location, but it’s where the stories are. On a road trip, everyone is free; not bound to their own domain.

And it is precisely there that unexpected conversations arise, between the teenager who makes a case for sustainability and the politician who is now in his nineties, and who brought economic prosperity to the Netherlands when the word sustainability did not even exist yet.”

What challenges did you face while you were filming?
“The biggest challenge was to show the viewer new perspectives and opinions. I.e., staying away from the beaten path and not telling them what they actually already know.”

Such as?

“Most people think sustainability is important, but they might not know, for example, that the Netherlands is way ahead of the game. The challenge is in tapping as many resources as possible, and in energy storage, because energy is needed even when the sun is not shining and there is hardly any wind.

Everyone is for equal opportunity women, but people often don’t realize that women are barely mentioned in history books and how it affects a woman when she is the only woman in an organization; something we illustrate with the story of Colonel Sylvia Busch. There is also a lot of discussion about equal opportunity in education, but people don’t always know how it affects a student when they are dismissed as part of a pathetic minority group who won’t make it anyway.”

You spent days filming, traveling and talking. Which of the stories will definitely stick with you?  
“That of Karim, a Moroccan boy from Bleiswijk who works as a program writer for NTR and as a teacher. When he was in elementary school, he was advised to aim too low and consequently ended up in a kind of black hole. He felt left out, got bored, ended up in crime and became radicalized. Until his own brother said he believed in Karim and signed him up for a college entrance exam. That set off a huge upward spiral, and look where Karim ended up. He even got to attend King Willem-Alexander’s Uitblinkers lunch (Lunch for Star Students) to talk about this.

Karim only needed one person who believed in him. And it is with that attitude, that he now walks into his own classroom every day himself. He exudes confidence to the kids and makes them feel that they all have their own talents; he motivates them.”

And what are you giving the viewer?
“The main lesson that has been learned is that when different groups in society do not know each other, misunderstanding and separation occur. Money is not the answer to that. Stepping out of your bubble and showing interest in what concerns someone else, what fears and aspirations someone else has; that is the answer. The need to meet face to face and have genuine conversations with each other came up in every conversation. Take a look around your neighborhood, and have conversations with each other.”