Greetings again from the darkness. For anyone who still believes documentaries are dry and boring, the cure is this latest from Jonathan Blank, a filmmaker who returns to Holland 25 years after his first documentary, SEX, DRUGS & DEMOCRACY (1994). Entertaining and informative is a terrific blend as Mr. Blank uses interviews, statistics, and animation to contrast the Dutch way of life with that of the good ol’ USA.
Tall and happy … the description of Holland’s citizens. And why wouldn’t they be happy? The Netherlands are known for picturesque windmills, fields of tulips, and of course, legalized drugs and prostitution! Director Blank digs in to find out more, and what he teaches us, in an often humorous manner, is that Holland and USA are quite different in many ways, yet similar in some others. While Americans are known for devoting excessive hours to work and forgoing vacation, the Dutch are paid for 13 months, while actually only working 11. Yet hate crimes and a blight on history are shared traits.
The number of topics touched on here can seem overwhelming, though Blank’s structure of the “Top 10” things to know about Holland definitely helps. We get insight from locals, including a Senator, sexologists, educators, pot farmers, and other citizens. The topics include a national healthcare system, climate change, free speech, social tolerance, and renewable energy vs fossil fuels. There is even an “Animal Rights” political party.
Is Holland a Utopia? A regulated sex worker industry, pot smoking in coffee houses, and double-paid vacation might lead you to think so. However, Blank also talks about the high taxes, a history of slavery, modern day holiday parades that feature blackface, and hate crimes. The progressive social aspects of the culture include a healthcare system that covers gender-reassignment surgery and open acceptance of the LBGTQ community – except where it’s not. It turns out that even in the world’s happiest country, there are closed-minded and nasty people.
In a country of 17 million people where the admitted national pastime is “complaining”, it turns out there is much to admire, yet also an existence of many of the same problems faced elsewhere. Heck, the Dutch use the f-word as frequently as any Quentin Tarantino character, and their dependency on fossil fuels is a known hot topic. Director Blank has succeeded in presenting an entertaining and informative look at an admired culture … warts and all.
The film will air on PBS on February 26, 2021, and also on various streaming platforms.