Monday, April 22

An interview with the film-maker behind “The Daydreamers”

Thomas Renckens talks to 2Doc about the first documentary film on Maladaptive Daydreaming. (an English translation)

What made you so interested in exploring the psyche?

“I grew up in Friesland – a rural region in the north of the Netherlands – and I think this greatly
influenced the theme of my films. As a child, I always used to be quite bored. There wasn’t
much to do in Friesland. I would often lock myself in my room, and created different fantasy
worlds in my head. It was a way for me to keep myself entertained. I think I’ve always had an
urge not to be present in the real world. I think the fact that I was gay also played a part. I
always felt different from others. Because of that, the films I make often deal with the theme
of fantasy and escapism.”

How did you come up with the idea of making a film about maladaptive daydreaming (MD),
and what was the research process like?

“For my graduation film, I was looking for a particular concept that I could explore. In my
films, I generally don’t really follow a particular character, but I’m more interested in
exploring a certain phenomenon. I had made a couple of films that deal with fantasy and
escapism in the past. So, when it came to my graduation film, I locked myself in my room for
a couple of days to really try and find a subject I was passionate about. I watched a lot of films
by Tarkovsky and Jodorowsky for inspiration. Then, it all of a sudden occurred to me whether
you can actually be addicted to your fantasy. By doing a bit of research, I stumbled upon the
term maladaptive daydreaming.
Following that I started posting messages in various forums dedicated to MD, and I started
speaking to people all over the world who recognised themselves in the description of MD.
Some of them cried when I spoke to them. Many of them were afraid to openly talk about it,
because they felt ashamed. I could see a parallel between their stories and the shame I used
to feel about being gay: being in the closet and being scared to come out of it. In the
meantime, I also managed to get in touch with Prof. Dr. Eli Somer; he coined the term
maladaptive daydreaming. I think he has a very charismatic personality and he dedicates his
whole life to studying MD, so that’s why I was eager to include him in the film. The idea of
recording conversations between Somer and individuals with MD was inspired by ‘You Have
No Idea How Much I Love You’, one of my favourite documentary films.”

Can you briefly explain to us what maladaptive daydreaming is?

“According to Somer, individuals with MD have a special trait which enables them to fantasise
in a very intense way. The daydreams are very vivid and fanciful. Some of them can always
see and hear the daydreams, that’s how intense they are. I believe that this capacity for
immersive daydreaming is something that I, and many other individuals have, but for those
with MD, it actually becomes something that negatively impacts their life. For me to get a
better idea of what MD constitutes, I think I spoke to more than a hundred individuals from
all over the world who are suffering from it. Those with MD are very aware of the fact that
it’s not real, and their fantasies can be very elaborate. It can for example be a fantasy world
with thousands of characters, which they’ve been living with for many years. It can be a Harry
Potter type of world which they escape to. But it can be also be an idealised version of

In the film Jessica and Agatha talk about their condition. How did you find them, and what
was your reason for including them in the film?

“They reached out to me through messages which I had posted in the various online support
groups. Unfortunately, I could leave the UK because I wanted to make the film in a studio
space at the school. Jessica and Agatha were one of the few individuals who lived near
London. In the film you can see how shy Jessica really is, because she’s suffered from MD her
entire life. She wanted to take part to try and overcome the shame she felt about her MD.
Agatha told me she only wanted to participate if she could wear a blonde wig, which is how
she sees her alter ego in her daydreams. You can tell that she wears a wig, but it’s not
something I explicitly mention. At first, I kind of struggled with that idea, because I wanted
her to be fully herself. In the end, I was okay with it because it allowed her to feel more
comfortable, and it also underlines the shame that so many individuals with MD still feel. I
even had another individual who suffers from MD that was supposed to take part in the film,
but she decided not to do it at the last minute, as she was too afraid to face it so publicly.”

The film is filled with poetic imagery and fantasy-driven scene. Can you tell us a bit more
about that?

“You can’t make a film about daydreams and then not do anything with is visually. As a
filmmaker, I find it challenging and exciting to try and show what goes on in someone’s
mind. How do you visual something that’s intangible? I felt really attracted to that idea. For
the film, I needed scenes that show the appeal of daydreams. In the end, that became the
watery scenes, shot in an aquarium.”

What do you think is the purpose of this documentary?

“I find it important to make films that serve a purpose. Because MD is something so
unknown, I firstly wanted to spread awareness. But I also wanted to show what it’s like to
always feel the urge to escape, and not engage with reality. It is big part of who I am, and
how I lead my life. The film doesn’t necessarily need to provide all the answers for the
audience, but it’s helped me give answers to things I deal with on a personal level.”

Are you finished with this now, or are you interested in explore the subject further?

“After completing the film, I started receiving so many messages. Even to this day I receive
e-mails almost on a daily basis from individuals who recognise themselves in it, but also
from psychologists who are keen to watch the film so they can better understand their
patients with MD. Right now, with COVID restrictions preventing me from going anywhere
outside of the Netherlands, I’m making a short film about the grief that people can
experience after the loss of a pet. Just like with MD, there’s a lot of shame surrounding the
subject. But I’m very much keen to make a feature film or series about MD. ‘The
Daydreamers’ was only the tip of the iceberg!”

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