Category Archives: Blog

The most recent posts of this blog will feature a guest blog by Frank Hitman & Jeanmarie Bevort about the newest theatre tour of The Dwarf in China. Read bottom posts first to read it in the right order.
The older posts are about the making of the documentary: The Dwarf in China – ‘La vie fait très bien les choses’. It will also provide some background information on the people that are part of the movie, subjects and makers. I recommend reading it in chronological order, so scroll to the bottom post and enjoy reading!

Ben Arend Reisman

A Journey Of Notes

‘Shanghai China’, it says just above the small keys. As small as this red toy piano is, as majestic is it’s sound. When I close my eyes and listen to the short theme that Jeanmarie always plays on it at the beginning of his show, it offers me comfort and at the same time the promise of adventure. I invite you to listen to the tune below, close your eyes and check what it does to you: 

This tiny piano and theme song were the main source of inspiration for Olivier Milchberg and his talented musician friends Sofia Miguélez & Justin Wilman to create the music for The Dwarf in China. The music they made exceeded my highest expectations. The first time I heard it, I was so impressed that I feared the film was never going to be as good as the music. 

I’m amazed by how a Chinese toy piano was the inspiration for a theme song of a theater performance in Europe, that eventually became the foundation for the music of a film about this same performance taking place in China. I love to think that this has always been the purpose of this little piano, but to be fair I’m a hopeless romantic. 

Pictures of the piano and Jeanmarie playing it by Hans van Eijsden and Marion Scalongne

But not only China, the piano, the performance and the film have an intricate relationship. Olivier became the producer of the music for a film about a man that changed his life. I’m very honored and extremely grateful that Olivier agreed to compose and produce the music for the film. Read the guest blog below by Olivier to find out how he met Jeanmarie:   

Guest Blog Olivier Milchberg

I met Jean Marie Bevort more then twenty years ago. He was living next to the village of Eourres (France) when I moved there. We didn’t know each other well, but I felt from the beginning that we were from the same artist family. I watched his show “Fratelli Fiasco” for the first time somewhere in France in 1990!

Then, Jean Marie started the creation of his new performance “The Dwarf”, and at every step, he would test it in front of the people of the village. I can truly say I was a witness of the birth of the Dwarf and I’ve been following his growth during all these years. I’m amazed by the persistence of Jean Marie, working day after day, year after year, on tiny details, never ceasing to improve his act, with his imagination and his body.
In 2007 I made a tour with him as an assistant, helping him setting up the decor of the show, driving through Holland and Belgium…That time was a rough time for me personally and professionally, I had the feeling I was losing everything. I accepted to work with Jean Marie just to do something different to step out of my depression.
I remember the beginning of the tour:  waking up very early and working hard everyday was not so easy, and Jean Marie was stressed and very demanding…  We got to know each other much better and it confirmed the strength of our friendship.

Jeanmarie & Olivier in Macau, China.


Then something very important happened to me. 
Jean Marie was so involved in his performance that he was creating an alchemy, a fascination on his public. I was playing the barrel organ in front of hundreds of children day after day, while Jean Marie was performing, and I started to feel something changing deep inside myself. I realized soon that receiving the energy of children’s laughs had a big impact on me. I ended the tour transformed, nourished and full of new energy. 
When I came back home, I noticed that I was hired by Cirque du Soleil as a musician for a new show in Macau, China, which was a new start in my life. 

Olivier Milchberg in action


Since a few years I help Jean Marie with the music of his show, arranging and composing for the barrel organ. I love this collaboration. Today, I’m back from China… and I’m very excited to have produced the music for “The Dwarf in China”!
Olivier Milchberg
Check out one of the beautiful songs he composed for the movie right here: The Gypsy Dwarf

Be sure to check out Olivier’s website to find more of his music! 

1 + 1 = 3

Even though I’m somewhat of a control freak when it comes to creating things, there’s no such thing as making a film on your own. It has been a big lesson for me to learn to accept other peoples’ help, or even, going one step further, asking for it. To be honest it’s something I can still struggle with sometimes, but in general I can say that collaborating with others has greatly benefited my creative process. Having said that, not every collaboration is of the same standard.
Sometimes when you work with someone there seems to be an instant connection and ideas suddenly start flowing freely. It’s like you tap into a different source that only starts flowing when you’re both connected to it, making you aware of a trail that otherwise wouldn’t become even slightly visible.

In 2007 I applied for a talent programme at BNN. After a few selection rounds they invited the last seventy applicants to come to BNN somewhere in December that year. I remember feeling really confident about it, since their head office building was situated in the Arendstraat. Arend was the name of my late grandfather and it is also my second name. It’s a bit silly of course, but it just made me feel like it was all meant to be. Eventually someone at BNN decided I should be in a team with Anne Sophie. A great decision, because when we are creating something together one plus one really seems to be three.
Anne Sophie is genuinely original when coming up with ideas and when we’re working on a project and I don’t know what to do anymore, she will, or the other way around. It’s always a pleasure working together with her because when it comes to making either film or any kind of visual styling she’s very talented. (you’ll find lots of proof of that on her website)
We were both really happy to be accepted into the BNN programme and we worked together on several fun projects. I still view my period there as a great learning experience, but in the great scheme of things I’d like to believe that I was there to meet Anne Sophie. Besides working together we also became very good friends.

An extremely detailed and realistic drawing of what we currently look like

In the summer of 2012 I decided that I was going to make my first documentary. And even though I couldn’t have been more sure of the fact that I was going to do it, I didn’t have the faintest idea of how I was going to do it. The only thing I knew for sure was that I only had two months to prepare for something I didn’t know how to prepare for.
The fact that I didn’t have the proper filming gear or a filming permit for filming in China, didn’t really boost my confidence. I also knew that it was going to be really hard, if not impossible, to do everything by myself and I knew that I wasn’t going to be able to pay someone to come with me. After a quick glance at my bank account I even reached a point where I felt that maybe I was suffering from delusions of grandeur.

In that same period I met with Anne Sophie because we were talking about creating a new website for Jeanmarie about the dwarf. I told her about my crazy plans to make a film about him and about the many obstacles I would have to overcome to actually make it happen. Expecting no as an answer,  I asked her if she would like to come along. Luckily, Anne Sophie is also a bit crazy and she almost instantly offered to come with me. A few days later we were both booking our tickets to China.
As comforting as it might seem that I didn’t have to do it all by myself, it was pretty stressful. The chain of thoughts I had when the tickets were booked was somewhere along the lines of : “YES, Woohoo!!! Shit, this is for real… I’m not the only one anymore that has invested money in this crazy idea of mine….this better be good…Fuck, I’m broke and we’re leaving in two months, I need more money…we need to buy better gear…HELP!”
In the weeks that followed somehow the assignments kept coming in and we both worked frantically to be able to buy everything we needed. Two months later we landed in Kunming.

Filming in the rural area’s of Yunnan, China

I’m extremely thankful that Anne Sophie was brave enough to take this leap of faith and join me on this insane but enriching journey. As expected Anne Sophie and I were, and still are, a great team. We believe that in the past few months we have been creating a unique story together. Combined with Anne Sophies’ extraordinary talent for making beautiful images – you’ll know what I mean when you’ll see the footage – we can already sense that the film will turn out to be everything that we could have hoped for! And in the great scheme of things…

Anne Sophie and Frank are now a very happy couple! 🙂

Anne Sophie & Frank in Yunnan, China.
A postcard of me as Cupid, made by Anne Sophie


To Be Frank

One of Frank’s many qualities is that his intuition is the captain of his ship. In combination with his frankness (this word must have been based on him) he opens many doors, and any obstacle on his way seems to magically evaporate into thin air. Somewhat like a giant child who always gets what he wants because he doesn’t allow himself to be confined to certain adult ideas of how someone should act or behave. If I had to describe him in one sentence it would be: “Don’t worry about it, let’s just do it!”
Frank ‘just doing it’ on a 20 meters high ‘bridge’ across the red river.
(picture by Anne Sophie Markus,
Jeanmarie & Frank working on the decor
Around the same time that Andi and Tim met for the first time, Frank was touring with Jeanmarie in The Netherlands and Belgium. In some ways Frank and Jeanmarie are cast in the same mould. Both addicted to working with children, both interested in indigenous cultures, both fascinated by nature, both restless in a nomadic way and both very persistent when it comes to realizing their dreams. Or as Jeanmarie would put it: “We are obviously chasing the same stars.”
Frank had travelled to several Asian countries in the year before and, as he and Jeanmarie were touring Belgium, Frank was already making new travel plans. His previous journey turned out to be kind of an adolescent, coming-of-age, touristy, backpacking event with yours truly. That’s why this time he really wanted to go to Asia to fully immerse into a culture. While building up the stage for Jeanmarie’s performance somewhere in a small Belgian village, Frank realized that it actually might not be a bad idea to acquire some knowledge at a University. Like learning a language, for instance.
Eventually Frank ended up in Ghent for three years studying Japanese, Asian studies and International Politics. And although nobody can deny his boundless enthusiasm, Frank and the Belgian education system have never really been a good fit. During his last year Frank had sort of an epiphany: “I shouldn’t be in Ghent to learn Japanese, I should go to Japan!”.  It didn’t take him long to give up his apartment and head for Japan. While planning his journey, Tim convinced him to stop by in Kunming for a short visit. Another link in the chain of decisions I described in my earlier blog. The short visit turned out to be quite a long one. Frank never made it to Japan.
Frank & his Chinese friends

At first he didn’t really have a purpose: it would have been just as weird to learn Japanese in China as it was to do it in Belgium. Luckily Tim gave him some invaluable advice about how to learn a language first hand, and he introduced him to many of his friends.  Frank’s ideas about using plenty of cigarettes and alcohol to celebrate life perfectly matched those of his newly acquired Chinese friends.  Besides this leading to some rough mornings, it also led to him learning Mandarin Chinese as fast as he could have possibly learnt it.

Frank found work as an English teacher in Kunming pretty quickly and his experience of working with Jeanmarie paid off: Frank developed his own clown-teaching method. In these hilarious classes – the most fun English classes I’ve ever had the privilege of witnessing –  Frank acts out ordinary life events (e.g. taking the bus, going to the forest) and lets the children decide the course of events by shouting out the correct english words or phrases. In the past few years Clown Frank, or “Fulanke” as the children call him, became notoriously successful in the classrooms of Kunming and he became a sought-after teacher.
Frank giving one of his captivating and highly effective English classes
Slowly but steadily Frank turned away from the unhealthy habits that had helped him to learn Mandarin so fast. He swapped his motorcycle for a bicycle and forced himself to get up early in the morning. Frank started discovering the beauty of Yunnan’s natural surroundings on his bicycle as he was  looking for a new challenge. The more mountains and hidden valleys he discovered while cycling, hiking or hitchhiking, the more he thought he should find a way to make a living out of this. Not thinking about it too long, he enthusiastically made a website offering outdoor adventure tours to remote corners of the province. (Really worth checking out!) Not surprisingly, the idea took off like a rocket.
A short visual impression of Frank’s magnificent tours into the heart of Yunnan.
(pictures by Anne Sophie Markus,

With pain in his heart, he had to find substitute teachers for his positions in the kindergartens. But, although the touring was his dream job, he couldn’t completely let go of his role in the Chinese education system. He designed workshops to teach Chinese kindergarten teachers to work more with feeling and humor and he started thinking about how he could combine his work with children, with exploring the cultural and natural beauties of Yunnan. Not much later he invited an old friend to come to China. A man who is obviously chasing the same stars. 

Next Blog: about Anne Sophie Markus, the bright young lady who filmed all our stunning footage and who is working with me to make this documentary become reality.  

The Chinese Dream

While waiting in line of the emigration counter he thought of how hundreds of years ago people would  move from Europe to the “new lands” of North America, leaving everything behind. In search of happiness, wealth or maybe just for the adventure. Now it was his turn to cross half the planet and make a new life for himself in an exotic country. A truly exciting prospect.

Seven years ago Jeanmarie‘s son, Tim, emigrated to China. He’s always been a traveler. He traveled for years on end through Europe, South America and Asia. On one of those travels in Spain, Jeremy, a French Horn player from the United States, crossed his path. They became good friends and they always kept in touch.

A recent picture of Jeanmarie & Tim in Shibidom, China.

At that time Tim would make a habit of coming back to the Netherlands every few months just to earn some money and then quickly leave again to travel further. Even though he was almost always gone, Tim is one of my best friends. An I-haven’t-seen-you-in-ages, but-nothing-really-changed kind of relationship.

Tim has a quality for setting goals and reaching them. In the past few years he worked himself up to be a successful manager and entrepreneur in the international flower business, although he would be far too modest to call himself successful. And I don’t really know why, but he somehow has an impeccable record of making the right decisions at the right time.
In 2005 Jeremy convinced Tim to pay him a visit as he was doing voluntary work on a school in a remote, poverty struck area of Western Yunnan. Tim decided to travel the Trans-Siberian Railway and entered China for the first time by crossing the Mongolian-Chinese border. As he arrived in Beijing he made a quick decision to head for Yunnan directly.
Tim & Jeremy
As he got out of the bus in Shangri-La, Jeremy was already waiting for him. It was pretty late, so they decided to spend the night there, before heading to the school in the mountains where Jeremy was volunteering. That night they met Andi, an Austrian tour guide who was already living in Yunnan for five years. They had a few beers, as you do with Austrians, and after that went on with their journey. After spending a week with Jeremy in the mountains near the school, Tim headed for Kunming where he wanted to catch a bus to Vietnam.
Upon arrival in Kunming the vibe of endless possibilities was almost tangible. On his last day, as he was wandering through the crowded streets, he coincidentally bumped into Andi again.
Tim in front of the Trans-Siberian train that travels from
Moscow to Beijing.

I’m not sure if they had beers this time, but Tim told Andi that he was really excited about Kunming and China. They talked about the enormous developments and the great opportunities that might lie ahead. Andi’s reassuring words added fuel to Tim’s fire. He decided that he wanted to enroll for a Chinese course directly. Andi, being gründlich, didn’t hesitate for a second and immediately took Tim to a good University, which was within walking distance. After finishing the enrollment for a course for  the next semester and saying good bye, Tim quickly headed for the bus station to catch his bus to Vietnam.

Eventually, Tim came back to Holland to prepare everything for his emigration. A few months later he went to the city hall to have himself removed from the register of dutch citizens. As he was joining the end of the line he was unknowingly making one of his right decisions at the right time.

Next Blog: About Tim’s roommate, Frank – the person that convinced Jeanmarie to go perform in China. 

The Classroom

I believe that the moment you almost forget what you really want, someone crossing your path will remind you of what you were meant to do in the first place. It’s up to yourself to be open to it and, if you really want to, do something with it.

About one and a half year ago I spoke to Jeanmarie in his classroom. Jeanmarie lives in an old high school where the classrooms are rented out for people to live in. I think it’s funny how someone that has inspired me to follow my heart after I’d stopped studying, ends up living in an old school, so every time I visit him we’re sitting in a classroom.

I was sitting in his most comfortable chair, which he always offers me, and we were talking about what was going on in our lives. Ever since I worked with him nine years ago we always kept in touch and we developed a good friendship. 

As I was sprawling in his comfortable chair, he casually mentioned his excitement about the fact that he was going to tour in China. As I heard him saying it, I instantly got this romantic vision of him traveling through Chinese cities and mountain villages with the Dwarf performance. I was sitting up straight within half a second and it felt like every cell in my body woke up from a long period of hibernation.

“Maybe I could come with you?!” I said.

I probably used the words ‘maybe’ and ‘could’ out of some form of politeness, because internally I said to myself: “This is it! This is what you’ve been waiting for! If you don’t go now, you’ll regret it for the rest of your life…”

I’ve been wanting to make a documentary portrait of Jeanmarie ever since I started working as a freelancer in film. But from the moment this wish declared itself to my heart I came up with all these rational reasons why it wouldn’t be possible: It would cost too much money, I don’t have the right camera, I don’t have time,  I don’t have enough experience and this list could go on for miles. They all seem legitimate reasons, but they were in fact all rationalizations born out of fear: What if I’m not good enough? What if I will fail? And then what would I be if I would fail at my attempt of achieving my dream?

What actually happened in that classroom was that my burning desire, which I had rationalized into a dozing pilot light, was ignited by the fact that Jeanmarie told me that he was going to perform in China. Right there and then my dream was so furiously sparked that not one rational thought could have stopped me from the idea that I was going to China to film it. 

Even though sometimes I’m really scared that this film will turn out to be my biggest failure – I’m investing a lot of time and money in it with no guarantees on returns whatsoever and in the past year I’ve had nights that I truly couldn’t sleep from anxiety – I take a lot of comfort in the fact that all the people involved in this journey took similar kind of risks. Creating a chain of decisions that are as beautiful as they are irrational. Starting seven years ago with Tim, Jeanmarie’s son, who made a similar instantaneous decision to immigrate to China…


Claim to fame

I figured it is time to tell you a little bit about myself and how I got into the business of film making. This is by no means an ordinary story, so enjoy!

After dropping out of university for the second time, I decided it was time to follow my dream and try something else:

I was going to be famous!  The whole world would love me unconditionally and I would get lots and lots of girls. People would chant my name in the streets whilst smiling and crying tears of joy, because they’d caught a glimpse of me in real life. “Ben Reisman! Ben Reisman! We love you!! One picture…please!! Oh thank you, you’re my hero!”

Ok, maybe I got carried away a bit, but to be honest I came pretty close. Because on the 17th of August in the year 2007 I became the first and – as far as I know – only Dutch Office Chair Racing Champion in the history of man kind! Quite an achievement and of course my defining moment up until today. 🙂
If you’re interested to see how it went watch the video below. (If you’re short on time: the good stuff starts around 3:10 – also make sure you watch the intro)

You can imagine how proud my parents must have been….
I was able to experience this unprecedented heroic moment because I was part of a talent program at a dutch broadcasting company called BNN. Here we learnt how to make television for a young audience and one of the formats we came up with was that I had to become Dutch champion in something…in anything really.
To achieve this goal I participated in all different kinds of weird championships. Also worth mentioning is my proud third place in the Dutch Championships Air Guitar where I performed Red Hot Chili Peppers in a packed Paradiso. I’ve uploaded all the episodes on my youtube-account for those interested.

Me playing air guitar

As you can imagine I really had a blast and besides that I learnt a lot about making television.
But of course as happens to most people I got older and with that much more boring. Besides, I got way too fat for the orange leotard. I decided I wanted to make stuff that really meant something.  The dream of becoming famous was replaced by the dream of becoming a documentary maker…

….and famous 🙂

Step 1: How to find a Dwarf

So how do you find a European theatre performer who plays a Dwarf in rural China and on top of that agrees to having it all filmed? I guess you could probably try and Google it, but I wouldn’t know where you would end up when doing so. Might be interesting to give it a try though 🙂

But that’s not how it went. This Dwarf isn’t just any Dwarf. This Dwarf is special, and more importantly: the person who performs the Dwarf, Jeanmarie Bevort, is one of the most inspiring people I’ve met in my life.

Jeanmarie Bevort

I met him nine years ago when my life wasn’t looking as bright as it does now. After high school I had started studying history. A year later I’d quit my study because I couldn’t stand the idea of reading books and making group assignments for three years in a row.

Cartoon by David Horsey
Some might argue that I chose the easy way out, but to quit my study wasn’t an easy decision. Almost everyone I knew told me it was a stupid idea, or that I at least should start another study. I decided to be stubborn, follow my gut feeling and quit studying anyway. At first they turned out to be right.
To earn my rent I had to do a job at a call-center. I was sitting in a cubicle for 40 hours a week, earning minimum wage just to be able to make ends meet. It seemed completely pointless to me and to be honest I couldn’t have felt more depressed.
But as I often experienced throughout my life, life can be incredibly generous when you follow your gut feeling in stead of other people’s fears. Because at this all-time low in my life I “coincidentally” got a call from one of my mates, that his father needed an assistant for his theatre performance. I had never met him but seeing the circumstances it sounded like a great plan.

At the time I had no idea what I was in for but it turned out to be a great adventure, with some great life lessons along the way. Lessons you can’t learn at University.

Kick off

Exactly one year ago I experienced one of the most profound moments in my life. During a theater performance of a dwarf in a small Chinese mountain town my heart suddenly opened up like a vast lake breaking through a dam. A sense of joy and meaning I had never felt before flooded to regions of my soul that I never knew existed. Today I realize it had everything to do with golden eggs and hatching them. For in that sunny moment, a few deeply cherished wishes finally came through.

It is hard to describe exactly how it felt or what it meant. Luckily, I can hide behind the fact that words don’t always do justice to explain certain occurences. Moreover, we were filming everything because I was working on my first documentary. Something I dreamt of doing for years and was now finally my reality.
In a way this moment felt like a finish line and a kick off at the same time. Therefore, it seems to me that today is the right day to finish keeping my mouth shut and kicking off my endeavor of making this film by sharing my progress and contemplations with you.

So if you’re interested in following why I’m making this film and how it will come about, please feel free to subscribe to this blog at the top right corner of this page or like the Facebook-page.