Heddy Honigmann (1951-2022), an internationally acclaimed instructor who found his way on foot

That was not the intention no hay camino, where she looked back on her life and career, would be her last film, she was still full of ideas. Peruvian-Dutch documentary filmmaker Heddy Honigmann died on Saturday at the age of 70.

Marjolijn de Cocq

It was her birthday present to the public and to herself, Heddy Honigmann said when the documentary was released no hay camino around her seventieth birthday on October 1 last year. The title, which means ‘there is no road’, is taken from a poem by the Spanish poet Antonio Machado: ‘Walker, there is no road / you make the road as you go.’

A reference to the open mind with which she started the film, with the only fact: she was the main character. She knew the film would start with music – a constant in the life and work of a documentary filmmaker who worked improvised and intuitively. She tried to know as little as possible about the people she had to talk to for her films, to meet them with an open mind. She often knew within a minute if there was the click she was looking for.

But the poem is also a reference to the path she chose to follow in her life. Honigmann (Lima, 1951) grew up in Peru as the daughter of a Polish mother of Jewish descent and an Austrian father, traumatized by her camp past. Overprotective and authoritarian, he had taken her passport and plane ticket when she announced she wanted out into the world.

She did not let herself be stopped and traveled to Rome to study film at the Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia. In Rome she also met the Dutch filmmaker Frans van de Staak, with whom she traveled to the Netherlands in 1978 and was married until her death in 2001. Their son Stefan would later also choose the film industry and was behind one of the cameras from No hay camino.

Memory and nostalgia

The themes of memory and nostalgia, as in no hay camino play a prominent role has always been central concepts in Honigmann’s oeuvre – from the Bernlef film chimeras (1988) via famous documentaries such as Metal and melancholy (1994) and El olvido (2008). Of crazy (2000) and forever (2006) she won a golden calf for best film documentary. In 2013 she received the Living Legend Award at Idfa, which is awarded very sporadically, and in 2016 she received a work award from the Prins Bernhard Cultuurfonds.

She made more than forty films, most of them produced in the Netherlands, but with great international success. The Museum of Modern Art in New York (2003), the Center Pompidou in Paris (2010) and the International Documentary Film Festival Munich (2020) have, among other things, devoted retrospectives to her work.

She was driven by an unshakable curiosity. To no hay camino It was not meant to be her last film. Although she was terminally ill and fragile – in the film sometimes confined to a wheelchair – around the commercial last year, she stressed that she was still full of ideas. Author Kristien Hemmerechts tells her in the film (and Honigmann agrees): “I feel like you keep working, because then you forget the pain and the illness.”

She had found it scary, the first days of filming, to be the center of her own film. She found the ‘solution’ by still talking to others – friends like Hemmerechts, family, people she had worked with. And she had not disappointed herself in the cutting room, she said in an interview with this newspaper. “Sometimes I was surprised at myself – what I said or why I said something at a certain time or a certain attitude. I met myself in a new way. ”


If she could have started again, she said in 2014, then the documentary Around the world in 50 concerts about the Concertgebouw Orchestra’s anniversary tour, she had wanted to become a musician. The music with which no hay camino begins: the adagio from Bachs Concerto for oboe and violin in C minor† It was played for Honigmann by Liviu Prunaru and Valentina Svyatlovskaya, concertmaster and first violinist in the Concertgebouw Orchestra.

It was one of the first scenes to be filmed, and then Honigmann realized: I need gifts. She decided to enjoy the upcoming things that she did when she was filming other people. And then the woman, who is considered to be one of the greatest Dutch documentary filmmakers, has not only made and received a film as a gift – but also erected a monument imbued with melancholy for herself.

Honigmann died on Saturday in Amsterdam after a long battle with cancer and MS, which was diagnosed more than forty years ago. She leaves behind her husband Gert Timmermans, son and stepson.

Heddy Honigmann: ‘No hay camino is a gift for myself’

IN no hay camino Heddy Honigmann looks back on her life and career. The documentary is her gift to the public and a gift to herself. Read the interview here.

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