Our story

History Cinemaximiliaan 2015-2024

Cinemaximiliaan is a socio-cultural organisation that has been screening films for a highly diverse audience since 2015 and created short films with and by newcomers. With the years, Cinemaximiliaan’s gaze has also broadened to other art forms, such as music (live orchestra to accompany the silent film series SILENT FILM LIVE MUSIC in co-production with Concertgebouw Brugge, Ancienne Belgique, Buda Kortrijk, among others), photography (tou.te.s migrant.e.s exhibited in Kanal Centre Pompidou, among others), literature and visual arts (Brussels City of Stories in collaboration with Muntpunt), dance (Ultima Vez Atelier Quartier) and storytelling performance (Passa Porta Festival). Cinemaximiliaan’s operation remains unique, as it is always about the individual development of the participant within a collective artistic expression.

Founding : Cinemaximiliaan brings light to the day and night

During the height of the Belgian refugee crisis in 2015, Gwendolyn Lootens and Gawan Fagard went to the improvised refugee camp in the Brussels’ Maximiliaan Park near North Station, with a roll-up screen, and a projector under their arms and set up an outdoor Cinema Shelter to bring comfort to the new arrivals. People immediately attended in large numbers and began to help organise screenings for others. The need for social cohesion and entertainment was so great that CINEMAXIMILIAAN soon became a household name and space was needed to expand the gatherings. In 2016, they founded the non-profit organisation, which has since become a professionally organised platform with and by newcomers, with a diversity of projects and events, volunteers, staff, residents, sympathisers and visitors, donors, funds, cultural partners and grants. Founders Gwendolyn and Gawan dedicated themselves to developing their own successful vision and approach to socio-cultural activities for adults. For this, the project was awarded the ULTIMA for socio-cultural adult work.

In 2021 Annabelle Van Nieuwenhuyse took over the torch of solidarity and connection to keep the fire of humanising intercultural encounters going. With the support of this broad entourage and a new team Cinemaximiliaan can build a fundamental bridge to newcomers with a focus on social and cultural inclusion and emancipation.

Cinemaximiliaan project house

Cinemaximiliaan’s project house at 36 Manchesterstraat in Molenbeek’s Canal Zone has quickly become the beating heart of the dynamics around Cinemaximiliaan. Volunteers and visitors stay overnight around events, share meals and work together there, people meet and collaborations take place. Musicians spent time rehearsing intensively for the film concert that can now be seen in many theatres, cinemas and concert halls across the country. The premiere of Silent Films Concert, featuring the screening of 7 short films and accompanied by 15 live musicians of all origins, took place in the main hall of the Concertgebouw in Bruges. More major concerts will follow in early 2024, with the first date being 28 January at Ancienne Belgique. Other co-producers/performers include Kunstencentrum Viernulvier Gent, Buda Kortrijk, Opera Ballet Vlaanderen Antwerp.

The social fragility of their new existence offers newcomers little guidance in building a future. At Cinemaximiliaan, they find a place where they can come home again, where they find their strength, are appreciated for who they are, a place where their creativity is awakened and their rich cultural baggage is given attention. At Cinemaximiliaan opportunities develop through encounters on an equal basis and support newcomers in their search for a new future. The open and inviting nature of Cinemaximiliaan makes it a warm place for people with ideas and initiatives. The activities and exchanges take place in the intimacy of a living and breathing house, creating a special experience that makes a impactful difference to many people.

Through collaborations with numerous partners, whether from the cultural, social, welfare or socio-economic sector, Cinemaximiliaan forms a bridge between the often socially isolated newcomers and the wider civil society. In this way, we try to provide an answer to the urgent issue of integration of newcomers, and do so in a holistic way.

At Cinemaximiliaan attention is paid to everyone’s need for a safer haven, a place to be themselves. People find themselves back through volunteer work in their new homeland, and sometimes grow into internships and freelance assignments within the organisation.

The asylum visits remain important to broaden and renew our community. Their underlying ambition is to counter the (often dehumanising) public perception of newcomers. We give space to both newcomers’ own cultural expression and/or human stories and the spontaneous questions of citizens who come into contact with them or their work. Dialogue and co-creation are central to this.