24-year-old Utrecht university student Vivian had plenty of dreams, plans and ambitions. So why did she decide to end her life? Her sister, filmmaker Ingrid Kamerling, went in search of an explanation for her sister’s suicide. On Monday evening, the documentary ‘Vivian Vivian’ [In het hoofd van mijn zusje] will be shown in Kino. Kamerling hopes the documentary will get young people to talk about suicidal thoughts and mental problems. An interview about her search and about the second main cause of death among young people: suicide.
The documentary focuses on ‘why’. Did you get an answer?
“In a way, yes. I spent years working like a detective asking the question: what could have happened? In the course of my investigation, I spoke to over forty people, from loved ones from a distant past to people who had passed through Vivian’s life. Thanks to this, I got a good picture that comes close to getting the answer to ‘why’.”
“Although at first I thought that it had been a very conscious choice, as is often thought in cases of suicide, in my search I discovered that it wasn’t such a conscious choice at all.”
Why did you feel the need to make a documentary about your search?
“I was still studying at the Art Academy when I started to collect the initial film shots. Eventually, for ‘Inside my sister’s head’, I combined the images from my detective work and the more poetic images I created later. I felt the strong need to record it, but I didn’t know exactly how it would turn out.”
“During my search, I talked to friends and colleagues of Vivian’s. They told me about the great pressure and stress they experience: that they sometimes get bogged down too. When it became apparent that my personal story contained many universal themes, I decided to show the film to the public.”
Why should students in particular see this documentary?
“I want to break the taboo that exists around mental illness and suicide. Vivian didn’t look like someone having mental problems at all – even if it was possible to see them. So everyone was terribly shocked. Like many young people, she was ashamed to share her doubts. We need to banish that shame. Vivian thought that vulnerability was dangerous, but the huge interest in the film shows that there is a need for these stories.”
According to the Dutch National Students’ Association (ISO), there are very few student psychologists at universities. What role do universities play in breaking the taboo?
“The universities certainly bear a great responsibility, but above all so do students themselves. Don’t just focus on each other’s successes, but support each other when things aren’t going so well. Be willing to show your vulnerability and discuss your anxieties and doubts.”
Suicide is difficult for suicidal people themselves to understand. How did you manage to portray these thoughts?
“The thoughts in the mind of a depressed or suicidal person are often intangible and difficult to describe. By creating a montage of images and sounds, you can portray how it feels when you’ve reached an impasse. One person said that I’ve exactly portrayed the feeling of a psychosis, while another person recognised it as depression. Although I consciously didn’t give it a name, it seems very recognisable for many people.”
Watch the trailer of ‘Vivian Vivian’:
On Monday 13 February at 7.00 p.m. ‘Vivian Vivian’ is being shown in the Rotterdam Kino. At the end, there will be a discussion with the audience and the makers about Ingrid’s search and the production of the documentary.
If you’re having trouble yourself, you can arrange to see the university psychologist. Are you having thoughts about suicide? At 113 suicide prevention there’s a specialist available 24 hours a day, through phone (0900-0113) or chat.