A Family Affair

Belgium, The Netherlands


On his 30th birthday, Tom Fassaert receives a mysterious invitation from his 95-year-old grandmother Marianne to come visit her in South Africa. At that time, the only thing he knows about her are the myths and predominantly negative stories his father told him. She was a femme fatale who went through countless men, a famous model in the 1950s, and a mother that put her two sons into a children’s home. Fassaert decides to accept her invitation. But when his grandmother makes an unexpected confession, his venture becomes much more complicated than he could ever have imagined.

Director's Statement

"Ever since my first day on earth, I’ve had my father’s camera on me. First a silent 8mm smalfilm camera, later a video8 camera with sound. My father captured all the iconic moments of my life: my first moments in my mothers arms, my first steps, my first birthday, my first day at school, everything. During 14 years he documented almost 100 hours of that what he found most significant in his life, his own family. When he and my mother decided to divorce, however, he suddenly stopped filming and since then never touched a camera again. This parallel between the break-up of the family and the end of my father’s family films, struck me when I started digging into my own family history. We seem to only record the moments we’re proud of and turn off the camera when we feel we fail, or when reality is too painful to capture.

I wanted to fill the voids between the iconic happy family moments. To make a film about the longing for love till this very day, within a family that has been separated through many events in the past. But also to put an end to the suffocating silence within my own family. Like most families, all the painful events are tucked away forever, thinking that it’s less painful that way. On the contrary, of course. Since my childhood I have felt that my father is still struggling with his past. Even before I understood or knew the whole story, it seemed everything was connected to his mother, who lived far away in South Africa. A topic that was never talked about, but that had great consequences on all our lives. When we did start to talk, during my teens, his stories conditioned my idea about my grandmother. She was the evil mother that put her two sons into an orphanage, the femme-fatale that devoured countless men and the famous model that lived a glamourous life and suddenly had moved away from the family to South Africa. These stories where told in many variations, over and over again. It became the only truth I knew. Until I finished film school and my dad announced the plan to start writing a book about his own mother. This triggered me to have a first look behind the persistent myths and tales that I had been hearing. A chance to really know her, capture her before she would die, but above all to find out more about my own roots. When my father’s attempt on writing a book failed and he broke off all contact with her again, I felt I had to go on.

My aim was to dig deeper. Not only to find out more about these undiscussed events in the past, or to understand my fathers sensitivity to his mother, but also to really dig deeper into my grandmother’s character. Who is she? And how did she become who she is? Basic questions, that ended up being much more complicated to answer than I could ever imagine. If answerable at all. Getting close to my grandmother gave me great access to the core of our family and made me realize that this destructive mechanism isn’t limited to these two generations, but has been going on for four generations now. But after seven years of filming, I have to admit that I haven’t found the one all encompassing answer or truth. Or like my grandmother says in the film: “there is no truth…you have to leave the family as it is and start living you own life…”

Director's Biography

Director Tom Fassaert graduated in 2006 from the Dutch Film Academy with his acclaimed short documentary DOEL LEEFT. In 2011 Fassaert finished his debute feature length documentary AN ANGEL IN DOEL, which premiered at the Berlinale Forum. The film was screened at more than 40 international festivals and won several international awards. A FAMILY AFFAIR is his second feature-length documentary.

Cast & Crew

Directed by: Tom Fassaert

Written by: Tom Fassaert

Produced by: Wout Conijn

Original Score: Tobias Borkert

Sound Design: Senjan Jansen

Nominations and Awards

  • European Documentary 2016
  • Documentary Selection 2016