The sequel to hit documentary ‘The best for Kees’ cannot be seen at the NPO: ‘I would be left with a loss’

The sequel to the documentary hit All the best for Keith about the autistic Kees Momma can be seen from Sunday 2 April at streaming service Videoland, owned by RTL. That is remarkable since All the best for Keith was shown on public broadcasting. Since the first broadcast by KRO NCRV in 2014, the film has attracted about 1.5 million viewers. The documentary was repeated several times, nominated for a Golden Calf and in 2018 declared the best 2Doc of the past five years.

Nevertheless, the continuation Keith flies out, not financed by the public broadcaster, but largely through crowdfunding and with the support of the HandicapNL fund. “The rest was paid for by Videoland,” said maker Monique Nolte. That’s why the film can now be seen there, which means that everyone who Keith flies out want to see must subscribe to Videoland.

Also read our recent interview: New documentary about the autistic Kees Momma: ‘I had to give up my parents’

NRC Nolte asked how this came to be. “As a maker within the public system, you cannot make a living from making documentaries,” says Nolte. “For All the best for Keith I received an hourly wage that is lower than the minimum wage, a total of 25,000 euros salary for seven years of work.”

Nolte received many congratulations on the success of All the best for Keith. “They thought I was making good money. But it didn’t feel like a success to me because I couldn’t pay my bills. That’s why I chose my new movies NIKKI and Keith flies out not through the regular route of the NPO Fund, but under our own management.”

And so her new film about Kees Momma finally ended up at Videoland, just like her film Nikki, about a girl with an addicted mother and absent father. RTL’s platform was also eager All the best for Keith can stream, much to the dismay of KRO-NCRV. The broadcaster managed to prevent this by instituting summary proceedings against Videoland. In the end, it was agreed in a settlement that Videoland will not show the first part of the Kees saga.

Calibrated away

“I have until the last minute Keith flies out offered to the public broadcaster,” says Nolte. “If they had offered me better conditions, they could have just broadcast the film. But only 7,000 euros were offered to buy the film ready-made. Or 45,000 if they still got in, when the film was almost ready, but in that case I would have lost the exploitation rights again. After a long negotiation, they have moved up to 80,000. But the production cost about four tons. How would I recoup the rest? I would be left at a loss.”

Jelle Peter de Ruiter, head of documentary at KRO-NCRV, says it is “very unfortunate” to find that Keith flies out cannot be seen at NPO. “I can also imagine that people wonder why that is,” says De Ruiter. “The usual way is to write an application for the NPO Fund. That is the large fund of the public broadcaster where you can get a few hundred euros to finance a documentary. But Monique was already filming and said she wanted to produce the film herself. She did not want to apply for the NPO Fund, but asked us as a broadcaster for compensation for what she was already doing. It just doesn’t work that way.”

Nolte can explain well why she did not want to make her documentary via the usual route of the NPO Fund. “If I had gone for the route of the NPO Fund, I might have received a salary of 30,000 or 40,000, while in the end I spent nine years on Keith flies out have worked. In other words, less than 4,500 euros per year. And then I also had to give up the distribution rights. Then you earn almost nothing, even if the film is a success.”

De Ruiter sees it differently. “NPO does not pay makers to follow someone. Monique had been following Kees for years when she joined us All the best for Keith was going to make. You cannot expect the NPO to pay for this afterwards. We pay for a movie, not for personal involvement. And it is true that you cannot make a living from making documentaries. This even applies to famous makers such as Heddy Honigmann. Everyone does something on the side, it’s not a full-time job.”

Monique Nolte: ‘Before All the best for Keith converted, I received an hourly wage that is lower than the minimum wage.’

At the same time, De Ruiter says that he was already “not so keen on a sequel” of All the best for Keith. “In that film, the subject of autism was already well explored. Then you have to ask yourself: what else does a sequel add? Is there anything new being told? In part one, Kees still lives with his parents. Will he stand on his own two feet in part two? Usually a follow-up does not provide any new insights. And we are not Hollywood, not going to milk a success. We use tax money to make documentaries with a social interest.”

De Ruiter regrets that he and Nolte “no longer on speaking terms” are. But maybe Nolte is more at home with the commercials, says De Ruiter. “There you can get money on the basis of one A4 sheet. A streaming service can easily pay such a large amount than we can. But I don’t know if Videoland would have paid for part one. We do. A commercial party takes less risk. Videoland is now making grateful use of the success that Kees has achieved at NPO.”

Doesn’t he think that NPO should have thought ‘out of the box’ to Keith flies out to broadcast? “No. That wouldn’t be fair to other makers either. We spent three years looking with lawyers to see if it was possible to offer Monique what she asked for, but it just wasn’t possible. The maximum amount to enter a documentary project in the final phase is 45,000 euros. In her case, we even went as far as 80,000. More was really not possible.”

New time

Nolte thinks the system should change. “There should be a distribution key. So if a documentary is a great success, the maker should also see part of it. I could have settled for 80,000 euros, if I could have kept my exploitation rights.”

The existing system is lagging behind the new times, according to the maker of Keith flies out. “It is no longer the case that a documentary disappears into the archive after broadcast. He often continues to be seen on a channel like NPO Start, which generates advertising revenue. At the same time, makers are no longer confined to public broadcasting: they can also turn to streaming services such as Netflix or Videoland. That is why public broadcasting should offer better conditions for makers.”

De Ruiter sees it differently. “That Keith flies out not to be seen with us is due to her own choices. She wanted to follow a different path than the paths that the current system allows. That system is good, I think, because we divide the money fairly among different makers and do not favor anyone. In addition, there must be a necessity for any film, even if it is a sequel to a ratings hit. But I think that Monique eventually collected a lot of money from donors and that Videoland also paid well for the film.”