For the fifth anniversary of the Atheist Film Festival, we’re diving a little deeper into several of our films by talking to our directors in detail. This week, we’re especially excited to bring you a Q&A with Sylvia Broeckx (say “Brooks”), the director of Hug an Atheist, who will be present for her film’s world premiere at our festival. Here’s what Sylvia had to say about her experience making a film that shows the human side of atheists.
What initially inspired you to make this film?
After being brought up as a Catholic (the default Christian denomination in Belgium), I became an atheist during my teens. Sure, not everyone agreed with my point of view, but I never had to hide from anyone: not from family, not from neighbours, not from potential employers. Being an atheist for me did not involve many battles, just great discussions.
I’ve always enjoyed traveling, especially to the US, and I have many friends in most of the states. A few of those friends are atheists and tend to post things on their Facebook pages about atheism in the US. These posts revealed to me quite how badly atheists are treated in the US, as well as how many untruths, misrepresentations and straight-out lies about atheism and atheists were being circulated. I found this both disturbing and upsetting, and quite frankly it made me angry. I knew I wanted to help and change these ridiculous notions, but it was my husband who said to me: “Want to make a difference? You’re a filmmaker! Make a documentary about the subject.” And so I did.
How did your motivation change as you progressed through the project, if at all?
I wouldn’t say my motivation changed. It did, however, grow stronger and stronger. I became more determined as people continued sending me emails with their personal stories and letting me know how much they would like to be able to show their family what atheists are actually about rather than being portrayed as hateful.
At the same time, I was personally–for the very first time–being confronted with abuse because of my non-belief. There were not only the short emails from strangers saying I would burn in hell, but also messages from people I not only knew but considered close friends. Apparently, they didn’t mind that I was an atheist as long as I kept it quiet, but making this documentary was apparently going a step too far.
On a more positive note, I’d also like to add that some Christians got in touch (and donated to the crowdfunding project) to say they’d love to find out how atheists deal with moments in life they think they couldn’t face without their faith.