Reservoir Docs has acquired world rights to “The End of Innocence,” director Pauline Beugnies’ documentary about a string of shocking crimes that rattled Belgium in the 1990s, ahead of its world premiere in the International Spectrum competition section at Hot Docs.
“The End of Innocence” recounts an infamous series of child abductions, rapes and murders by the serial predator Marc Dutroux and his accomplices – a tragedy compounded by the egregious judicial errors that hampered the investigation.
The “Dutroux Affair,” as it came to be known, shocked the nation, culminating in the “White March” of 1996, where more than 350,000 demonstrators marched in silent protest through the streets of Brussels after Dutroux’s arrest.
The story is told through the testimonies of the survivors, now fully grown, shedding light on how their memories are altered by time, distorted by media coverage and limited by their youth and inexperience. Together, they tell an intimate version of their story in what becomes a piece of collective memory.
Beugnies, who was just 13 years old when the tragic events unfolded, said that the Dutroux affair left an indelible mark on her family. “Our life changed radically at that time. It is one of the stories that built the person I am today,” she said in a statement. “It’s very hard to tackle the Dutroux case. It’s a huge taboo. It took me a long time to find the right form.”
“The Age of Innocence” uses a combination of home videos and archival news footage to reveal the ways in which TV news coverage shaped collective remembrance of the case, while also disrupting and intruding on private life at the time.
“What interests me is the trace that the media narrative of the Dutroux affair has left on our generation,” said Beugnies. “The film is about how stories define us, how the stories we are told as children allow us to build the adults we are today. It’s a story we’ve been told, re-told, but always in the same way, from the same point of view. I just want to try to tell the story differently.”
The director said she was also determined to shift the narrative around how such crimes are talked about today.
“In my daughter’s class one in five children is potentially sexually abused. How is this possible? For me, it’s unbearable,” she said. “We put a monster in prison, and the idea that Dutroux will be released one day drives us crazy, but pedocriminality continues to be ultra-taboo. The victims are still made to feel guilty.
“Everything has been thrown in our faces, we watched TV reports with our families where they talked about sexual abuse in detail, but today the word of a victim is still inaudible,” Beugnies continued. “I want to participate in putting this in the public arena, to try to get people to take hold of the film, to make it a subject that can be talked about.”
Anaïs Clanet, partner and head of sales and acquisitions for Reservoir Docs, said that “The Age of Innocence” also resonated with her on a deep personal level.
“I was a young child [at the time of the Dutroux affair], oblivious to the horrors of pedophilia and sexual predators. Nobody explained anything to us kids, when we saw it all on TV,” she said. “The collective trauma the Dutroux affair caused resonates today. It’s applicable to the damage social networks and the like do to young children who don’t know better, and this reign of silence needs to stop. The film really shows how communication is the key here, and how we cannot take for granted everything the media say.”
“The Age of Innocence” is produced by Laurence Buelens for Rayuela Productions, in co-production with Dipolodokus, with the support of the Cinema and Audiovisual Center of the Wallonia-Brussels Federation, the SCAM, the Belgian Journalism Funds and the Belgian Tax Shelter.