Let me explain what motivated me to make the Security Guards.
A few years ago, I was sitting in a sold-out show in the Oude Luxor in Rotterdam. There were easily 900 people there, and the room was packed. We lived in an age of attacks and terrorism. Why wasn’t I checked by security before entering the room, I asked myself? All it took was one madman in the theater, and…
I kept looking around me. Everywhere, there are cameras: on streets, in buildings, and even watching over the entrance of the grocery store. We have airtight security measures to protect our politicians. Was I only making myself anxious, or were my fears a reflection of reality? And what did we need this protection for — or against?
That year, the KRO/NRCV issued a contest to make a documentary about ‘societal anxiety.’ I thought to myself that security guards were the dividing line, protecting people from danger. Every day, they faced a sea of anonymous people who might do harm, and constantly had to protect their backs from a possible threat. Their work could tell us a lot about the state of anxiety in our country. I won the contest with this premise, and decided on a mosaic format of storytelling: a documentary with five different and diverse guards, ranging from small-scale protection at the grocery store and the Christmas markets, to far-right Dutch politician Geert Wilders’ security guard.
It took me months to convince the high-ranking security guards to let me film them, as they were afraid to share too much information. At a nuclear power plant, I had to make an agreement to store all recordings in a safe during the filming period. The spokespersons had questions for us, if we weren’t going to cause any danger while filming. But even we didn’t have all the answers. The guards weren’t allowed to tell me where or when they were working — I had to rely on Wilders’ tweets to find out where his guards would be protecting him. My camera man tried to get in the head of one of those guards: a hand in a coat pocket, a backpack, a plastic bag — everything is suspect. I could understand when one of them told us, his back drenched in sweat, to clear the street.
Now the documentary is finished. What I’ve learned: security is everywhere. We watch and are watched. The ‘normal’ world is constantly filmed by an unmanned camera. On a short subway ride, I now know, I am watched from every angle. While I walk from one train platform to another, security guards can zoom in on my phone screen to read along with me.
Do I feel safer than I did, that night in the Oude Luxor? I don’t know. No one can truly guarantee safety. Security guards are hard-working people with their heart in the right place, but it’s impossible to eradicate the threat of violence and terrorism.
Security Guards shows us how societal anxiety and the protections against it play a game with each other. They keep each other in stride, in an arms race. There’s no way back, and a true sense of security doesn’t exist.
We live in fear of terrorism; as we look over our shoulders, the cameras rotate countless times, searching for something that’s often not there. It’s a fascinating world. I hope to bring the passion of our security guards into focus. Some are willing to risk their own lives to save that of another. But where that danger will come from next, no one knows until it’s too late.
Anneloek Sollart, director