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Gaze into the future: Chesney Giersthove

Every year, newly graduated filmmakers complete their training in good spirits and with unbridled enthusiasm for sharing their new ideas with the world. And then there are the autodidacts, who find their own way in the wonderful world of film. We speak to these new makers, whose names may forever be among the classics of tomorrow.

By Michael Oudman08 February 2024

© Alex Pandora

Chesney Giersthove (born 1993) envisions a future for film with more profitability and fewer subsidies. For her, entrepreneurship is at least as important as making films – even an integral part of it. She is therefore not the prototype filmmaker. In addition, she not only makes films to channel her creativity, but also to help others. To find their way in the Dutch film landscape, but also to do business. Oh, and with her acting school. Chesney also has her own talent pool at her disposal.

Early in life, Chesney's dream is shattered. At school she is told that it would not be possible to earn a living by making films. “When I later told my father this, he wondered aloud how John de Mol made his money then.” Chesney attributes this to conformity. “I have the feeling that many filmmakers see the Dutch Film Fund as a kind of benefit. That because of their subsidy they try less hard to make a really good film. When I look at the number of occupied seats in the cinema, that seems to be correct. I believe that if there were more entrepreneurship among filmmakers, they would automatically make better films that appeal to a larger audience and are more profitable."

“I believe that if there were more entrepreneurship among filmmakers, they would automatically make better films that appeal to a larger audience and are more profitable.”

Chesney Giersthove

Yet it is currently unthinkable for Chesney to make films without subsidies – as a starting filmmaker you simply do not have any capital to build on. However, she is selective in the sources she taps. “I mainly apply for subsidies from funds other than the Netherlands Film Fund, which better suit the social themes of my films. I then release them completely independently, which gives me the freedom to decide what I do with my films and where I release them. As a filmmaker you are a storyteller, but if you are not careful, you will be told a lot of things from all sides, with the risk that you will ultimately no longer tell your own story. That can happen if you work with a producer, for example.”

“As a filmmaker you are a storyteller, but if you are not careful, you will be told a lot of things from all sides, with the risk that you will ultimately no longer tell your own story.”

Chesney Giersthove

Intellectual property is a topic that fits seamlessly into this. “When you join a distributor, you also give up some of your rights. You lose your independence. That is why I would like to advise all aspiring filmmakers to read up on all regulations surrounding intellectual property. Before you know it, you receive a one-off payment from your distributor or producer, while you could have been provided with an income for years by keeping your film rights in your own hands.”

After the foregoing, it is tempting to conclude that Chesney is mainly interested in the business side of film. A conclusion that would greatly disappoint the woman from The Hague. Film certainly plays a major role in her life. “When I wasn't doing well a while ago, I noticed that watching a movie sometimes felt like a therapy session. At that time I had not yet realized that filmmaking was a profession, so I decided to write a book that would hopefully be made into a film by someone. Not much later, when I found myself standing in front of a cupboard full of DVDs, I took one out. I saw all those names on there and wondered why mine couldn't just be there.”

This gave birth to the desire to make films herself. “For me, filmmaking is the means to reach people's hearts with the stories I want to tell.” By bluffing she knew drug users, she was able to make her first – then small – contribution to the Debat op 2 programme. Later she attended the NOS News Academy. “It turned out that I liked current affairs, but preferred to see it in a fictional guise.”

“For me, filmmaking is the means to reach people's hearts with the stories I want to tell.”

Chesney Giersthove

The road to fiction led from Debat op 2 to the production team of Het Schaap in Mokum, and later to a private film school. “At that time I made my first short film. Uncool Kid, which was about a female pimp, and I don't want to show it to anyone anymore, haha. During that first period, I learned a lot from Julio Accord, who was often my Director of Photography. He works in a super structured way and was therefore able to show me what it means to make films. I just had to put my own twist on the structures he devised.” She is always looking for social themes in her films. This also applies to My Name Is Queen, which was shown in Eye as part of the Black Light programme. In that film, she explores what freedom is for young women against a background of intergenerational trauma.

My name is Queen (Chesney Giersthove, NL 2019)

In a perfect picture of the future, there is more room for alternative paths in the Dutch film world. “I think too often people say 'no' when paying out subsidies because someone's plan does not fit in with the current system. If someone is rejected because the quality is not good enough, then I understand that. I sometimes get the feeling that the independent film industry is not taken seriously.”

Her new film, this time not a short one if Chesney has her way, has brought her to the US. Not only because it will be about a merger between America and the Netherlands, but also for financing. “I spend a lot of time in Atlanta now, the city with the highest number of Black millionaires. When I pitch my plans there, I have the feeling that people are listening to me much more than in the Netherlands. When I talk to a fund here, I have to explain and justify everything in detail. The exception to this is Da Bounce Urban Film Festival. We were on the same page within five minutes.”

Don't think that Chesney's entrepreneurship lacks a higher purpose. “I would like to use the money I earn to give other young people the opportunity to find a place in the film world. Initially by hiring them and thus supporting them in building an economically strong position.”

“I would like to use the money I earn to give other young people the opportunity to find a place in the film world.”

Chesney Giersthove

The same applies more or less to The Rehearsalroom, the acting school that offers lessons in both The Hague and Amsterdam. “With The Rehearsalroom I try to encourage people of color to take steps in the film world. I really believe that they can find a safe place there. We also regularly invite actors so that the students come into contact with established names.”

An additional advantage for Chesney is that she has her own pool of talent. “The last short I made but which is not yet out is full of emerging talent. Some of our students have actually already been on set. Many students also have a large following on Tiktok or Instagram, which in turn increases awareness of my films. I always invite other filmmakers to attend a class to get acquainted with new talent.”