Dutch floods captured on film 56 years on
The film, De Storm, is about a 19-year-old girl who lost her baby in the flood that engulfs over 3,000 houses in the provinces of Zeeland, Noord Brabant and Zuid Holland and over 200,000 hectares of land.Amsterdam – The Netherlands' 1953 floods, which killed 1,835 people and left 72,000 homeless, is the theme of a dramatic new film entitled De Storm, a reconstruction of the gravest natural catastrophe in the country's modern history.
"Nobody has ever attempted to do it before," Dutch director Ben Sombogaart, 62, told AFP ahead of the film's release nearly 60 years after the actual events.
"It was very complicated, technically but also because there are still many survivors."
On the night of 31 January 1953, the southwestern dykes separating the Netherlands from the North Sea failed to keep out severe spring tide flooding.
A total 200,000 hectares of land and 3,000 houses in the provinces of Zeeland, Noord Brabant and Zuid-Holland were engulfed.
Recounting the events, De Storm follows the attempts of 19-year-old Julia to find her baby, from whom she was separated in the storm. Julia is aided in her search by a handsome soldier who had earlier saved her from the flood waters.
The film shows Julia's desperate search for her son in the murky, cold waters, filled with the corpses of cows floating past submerged rooftops.
All the open-air scenes were filmed in Belgian town of Tielrode, where a portion of reclaimed land had been re-flooded for this purpose for a period of six weeks in the autumn of 2008.
A special wall of 200 metres in length and two metres in height was constructed for the movie, representing a submerged dyke whose barely protruding top had provided flood survivors with the only solid ground for miles on end.
"It is very difficult to film in the water," said the director. "It takes three times as long; it is cold, the actors have to swim a lot."
Sombogaart was six years old in 1953.
"I was at home in Amsterdam, with my parents, listening to the radio, when I realised that something had happened," he recalled.
"We heard the first journalist flying over the area by plane. He was very, very emotional, he said that the dykes had burst and described seeing people on roofs, waving sheets to signal for help.
"For 24 hours, the inhabitants received no help, no one knew what happened, all communications were cut and it was the weekend. It was horrible," the director said.
He has dedicated his film to all the victims of the floods.
"Many of those who were there and lost loved ones are still alive: if one makes a film like this one has to do it with a lot of respect. It is not simply fiction."
De Storm began screening Thursday in 111 cinemas in the Netherlands.
"It is huge for a Dutch film, akin to a Harry Potter movie, "said Sombogaart, who hopes his offering will also be picked up overseas due to its environmental topicality.
"People are confronted now with issues of climate change and the rise of the sea level," he explained.
A special screening was held for people born in Zeeland province before 1953.
"They told me that what Julia had gone through is what they themselves had experienced," said the director. "We managed to tell a true story, that is what was important."
The Netherlands, two-thirds of it below sea level, launched its Delta Plan water protection programme after the 1953 floods, which included raising and reinforcing its hundreds of kilometres of dykes.
Nine million people out of a population of 16 million live in inland areas directly sheltered from the sea and rivers by dykes and dunes and 65 percent of the national production capacity lies in flood-prone areas.
A government-appointed commission said in September 2008 that the Netherlands would have to spend more than EUR 100 billion over the next century on dyke upgrades and coastal expansion to avoid flood damage resulting from global warming.
AFP / Expatica