Gentenaars point way to better world, one interview at a time

Summary

Two friends from Ghent have launched a series of online interviews in which they talk to people who are committed to making this world a better place

All you need is hope

If not for hope, the heart would break, a Greek proverb goes. A new online interview series launched a year ago puts a similar premium on an optimistic attitude.

Under the banner Zwijgen is geen optie (Silence is Not an Option), Gentenaars Tom Mahy (pictured left) and Anthony Bosschem (right) have been releasing long, in-depth and inspiring interviews with people who have demonstrated exceptional civic virtue and commitment, or resistance to injustice. In short, they are offering a platform to people who are committed to building a better world.

The first series of 23 interviews posted to their website attracted over 500,000 views. A trailer for the first interview of the second series, in which retired journalist Walter Zinzen comes out strongly against the political discourse around immigration and refugees, was shared more than 1,500 times in the space of a couple of days.

Bosschem and Mahy took very different career paths. Bosschem is a tech whiz kid who created online content and platforms while still in college, and was declared one of the 50 most promising entrepreneurs by financial newspaper De Tijd a couple of months after graduating. Mahy is a trained philosopher and director who has worked on several international TV series.

World on fire

They had been tryin to figure out a way to work together for 12 years. It was the birth of their children that finally made it happen.

“One year ago, Tom became a father,” says Bosschem. “Four months ago, it was my turn.”

According to both men, the link between becoming a father and wanting to create a better society is as straightforward as can be. “You start thinking about the world in a different way,” Mahy explains. “The responsibility of being a parent makes you less detached, less cynical and more hands-on. The world is on fire, and a lot of things are fast deteriorating.”

That’s a realisation that can easily lead to despair, Mahy concedes – until you start talking to people who have solutions. “We set out to find these people,” he says. “We called them up and quite literally asked: Can we interview you to become inspired? Can we please fill up on hope?”

Even the smallest thing you do for the better has an impact

- Tom Mahy

Bosschem and Mahy run the project – a full-time job for both – from a rustic metal container on the DOK grassroots multi-purpose site in Ghent. Although the series has found appeal and an audience, the project is not yet generating revenue.

The proceeds from workshops the pair give in schools and during festivals keep them going, if just. They are contemplating conducting live interviews in front of a paying audience as well as a crowdfunding campaign to keep the project going. Current funds are due to run out in January. 

Despite such financial worries, the two are adamant that they will finish their wish list of 200 interviewees. “They are the ones who ultimately keep us going,” Bosschem says.

He gives the example of psychologist Marjan Gryson of Touché, which provides aggression therapy to prisoners. “I cried during the interview. Tom cried during editing. And when I saw the final version, I cried again. That doesn’t happen with just any job.”

When asked whether their project will succeed in making the world a better place, the two are modest. “Even the smallest thing you do for the better has an impact,” Mahy says. “We are shining a light on a neglected undercurrent of commitment and engagement in Flanders. Things are happening that need to be seen. Because they offer hope.”

Photo: Michiel Devijver