Nathan - Free as a Bird

Belgian director Roel Nollet follows Nancy Verhelst’s life with his camera for three years. Nancy is a 41-year-old Belgian woman, who has lead a painful and discomforting existence due to her sexual ambiguity, and now hopes to find peace and love, by getting rid of her womanly shell to reveal her true nature: that of a man. After three years of painful and traumatic surgeries to adjust to a man’s features, Nancy, who has since then become Nathan Verhelst, believes to have succeeded. But it isn’t so. As Nathan, she still finds herself unable to find the peace, serenity and love she had been seeking, in vain, as Nancy.
She still feels deprived from her own distinctive identity until, having lost all hope of finding her place in the world, she decides to permanently get rid of a body that still doesn’t belong to her. The days leading up to the euthanasia appear to be Nathan’s most peaceful ones. Neither friends nor family members or doctors can change Nathan’s mind. They can just be on his side, on September 30th 2013, as he drives to his final destination, heading toward finally feeling FREE AS a BIRD.

  • Roel Nollet
  • Roel Nollet
  • Roel Nollet
  • Project Type:
  • Genres:
    Gay, Euthanasia, Human Rights, LGBT, Social issues, Bio, Portrait
  • Runtime:
    1 hour 12 minutes
  • Completion Date:
    November 16, 2014
  • Country of Origin:
  • Country of Filming:
  • Language:
  • Shooting Format:
  • Aspect Ratio:
  • Film Color:
  • First-time Filmmaker:
  • Student Project:
  • IDFA - International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam
    Amsterdam, NL
    November 16, 2014
  • Doc Point Helsinki
    Helsinki, FI
    February 1, 2015
  • MIFO Lgbt FIlm Festival
    Miami, Florida, USA
    May 2, 2015
  • Seoul Human Rights Film Festival
    Seoul, Corea
    May 17, 2015
Director Biography - Roel Nollet

ROEL NOLLET is a documentary maker based in Antwerp, Belgium. Studied PHILOSOPHY and Took a postgraduating year in JOURNALISM in Brussels and was picked up as a videoreporter by production house Havana in 2005.
Goes out every day since to do reporting work for television. Did that for regional station TV OOST and national stations VRT and VTM, as a journalist and documentary maker. HAD HIS WORKS BROADCASTED ON TV OOST, AVS, CANVAS, VRT, VTM, ABS-CBN, CBC, and AL JAZEERA, theaters in Belgium, the Philippines, Canada and the US.
Roel founded the documentary makers collective REDHORSE in 2009, when he returned from shooting a documentary about political killings and disappearances in the Philippines, called TAXI FILIPPINO. This documentary was nominated for the ‘Concentra Award’, an international Award for ‘Outstanding videojournalism’.

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Director Statement

“When I first met Nathan four years ago, he had just begun the process to become a man. He just started his hormone treatment, had his breasts amputated and was going to let the surgeons remove his womb and ovaries. At that moment I was convinced I was making a documentary about a woman who wanted to become a man. Although he mentioned there were only two options for him left: either become a man, or end his life, I never thought it would come that far, because Nathan was really self-confident at the time. He often said he never felt more certain of a decision. He was excited when he received his male identity card, and he seemed really happy in general too. But that changed.
The chest reconstruction wasn’t what Nathan was hoping for and the penis reconstruction totally failed. He sank into a deep depression. There were times when I called him he said he was so depressed he had locked himself up and didn’t want to talk to anyone. I suggested to give him a small camera, so Nathan could record himself on the moments he needed to talk to someone the most, and noone was there. He agreed.
Early August 2013 he called me while I was on a vacation, he left me a voicemail to say he applied for euthanasia and he wanted me to document it, because he trusted me and we knew each other for a long time. At first I didn’t know what to do. I was afraid I might be documenting a planned suicide without knowing it. I called him back a few days later, and he convinced me it was his choice to do this, it was legal and he wanted the world to know about his story.
I decided to make this documentary in the most respectful way. In my opinion this documentary let’s people decide for themselves what to think about a very sensitive topic like euthanasia. At the same time it tells a very human story through the eyes of Nathan himself. When we look through his eyes, we can get a glimpse of his mind too. Away from all the pro and contra lobbies, we can only try to understand what made him decide to do this, and why - for him - this was the only option at that given moment in time.

“I have been crying for help for so many years,” he said, “noone listened. I tried everything. Now I stop crying for help.” When it appeared in all the newspapers worldwide, Nathan’s story ignited the euthanasia debate. I felt like his voice was being heared for the first time. On the day he died, I found a short note in my camera bag. He thanked me for listening to him.
This documentary is not only about Nathan. It’s about life, death, gender, identity and the quest for being loved. It’s about loneliness, determinism, faith, and caring for one another. Free will and the perception of the right for existence. And about birds too.”