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Film Academy : Amsterdam Jan 04








When I visited the Film Academy it was undergoing major refurbishment so many of its activities we're on standby. Even so it's pretty impressive housing a cinema, dance studio, health clinics, cafe, music studio, print workshop, homes, & offices. The following questions were answered by Joey.


Tell me a little of the history of film academy.

This place was squatted in November 99 it used to be a film academy but they moved to a new building & they wanted to demolish the place & make a bicycle path where we are right now so we squatted it almost immediately after 2 weeks of standing empty which is illegal in the Netherlands. We combined that with a vigorous political campaign to avoid eviction. For a year it was not clear if we were going to succeed but we were still inside & had not been evicted. Then the political campaign started to kick off & we got much more support from the central government in Amsterdam.

They put pressure on the owners of the building to allow us to stay here so after 2 years we negotiated a contract to stay here for 5 years & we got a grant to renovate the building to fix the roof put in central heating & make the place fire proof.

What activities go on here?

Since November 99 weíve organised different activities here in the building. Thereís an organic vegan restaurant there is a sound studio for recording & rehearsing there is a dance studio we offer theatre concert & parties. There is a darkroom we offer an exhibition room there are different offices Counter Information magazines & thereís an animal defence group. There are a lot of private studios for artists to work in.

How many people involved in the activities.

Inside the film there are around 20 people who attend the regular meetings & are involved in the day to day organising of everything & participate in the decision making because itís a collective process. For the different activities there are subgroups organising the activities for example the restaurant or the cinema & these sub groups always have a lot of volunteers as well so in the end thereís a big number of people involved in running the place but only a few are coming to all the meetings & participating in the whole decision making process.

How many people come along to take part in the activities.

Many hundreds of people come. For the parties 1000ís. Many people using the place.

Right now there's a lot of building work going on - what's the story with that?

Itís already been going for half a year & itís still quite a mess & itíll take us quite a while longer to finish up. But we made the building fire safe basically we put in fire escapes in the front & the back & we made drastic changes within the structures of the place so with the fire regulations we are aloud more that 100 people in the different spaces. Before we ran into problems with the fire department. There are strong regulations about fire safety here & before we didnít meet them & now we do.

Are the people from the social centre doing the building work themselves?

A lot of the building work we did in self-management so basically there was this subsidy provided & we did the work we were contracted to do the work. Some things we couldnít do ourselves that had to be done by professionals but what we could we did ourselves. 

One problem a lot of social centres face  -& often fail to address - is providing disabled access what's the situation here?

After the renovation we made sure that everything on the ground floor has disabled access & also there will be a toilet on the ground floor that is disabled access & there will also be a changing room for babies. The rest of the building it is much more difficult because to install a new lift is too expensive we donít have that kind of money youíre talking about hundreds of thousands of euros excluding maintenance. We canít finance that

Most of our activities are on the ground floor.

Do you have to meet a lot of  regulations to get legal status? Is this a compromise between being completely squatted?

Here in the film academy we never really had the choice because the building had been empty for two weeks & we had the information that the owner would put in anti-kraak; which is basically tenants without any tenants rights often young students who just accept anything for a couple of months & very cheap rent. So we squatted it after it was empty for only 2 weeks which gave us a 429 which is an eviction order according to Dutch law It became immediately from day one it was necessary for us from day one to seek a dialogue while it was not necessary for the owner to even listen to us we had to force a dialogue & to legalise us & if we hadnít done that we would have been immediately evicted so it wasnít really a choice whether to enter into this process or not. & In the process we lost some members of our initial group because different tensions did arise & different ideas did clash. But we have coped so far successfully because we are still here & can manage to do all these activities on a non-profit base.

In regards to the fire regulations these kinds of things there was also not much choice. Two years ago in a small town in Holland there was a big disaster a big fire many people died over 100 or something & since then the fire regulations have become much stronger & the police & the politicians they all want to see it enforced because otherwise it will affect their heads they are accountable after all. So basically we were put under a lot of pressure to conform to these norms or again be closed down for public use & since the whole idea of this space is to be open as much as possible for public (half of the space of the building is open to the public Ė has a public function & to then be closed by the fire department didnít make sense so we felt we had to make this investment in the structure of the place to make it conform to fire regulations.

What's the plans for the future?

We do have quite a good political network within the city of Amsterdam we have quite some allies to help us to stay here we now are looking forward in 2004 to have one year in which we are full operational & have all the public events going & show to the city what we can do. & In 2005 we should negotiate a new contract which will be fundamentally about the rent that is being asked because we want to remain a non-profit cultural centre & if the rent became to high we could only pay that by going commercial & that could be a failure of the whole project. At the moment it does look good that we can manage to stay on our conditions.

Advice for people new

If you try to start something like this it always makes sense to have very good contact with the neighbourhood because thatís in the end where a lot of your strength will come from. Second of all international networking can be useful to share experience & share knowledge.

As far as meetings go if you try to use facilitators use structured meetings just so when emotions run high thereís a way to deal with it. Because itís quite common when pressure mounts these group decision-making processes become very dysfunctional. So itís good to have a facilitator who can steer a group towards decisions rather than fall apart in quarrels & arguments. I think thatís one of the most important things about working with other people in a non-hierarchical setting.

Anything else youíd like to add?

No. Just welcome for a visit.











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