Geel is a small flemish town in the north of belgium with a unique feature: the town is home to no fewer than 550 ‘village idiots’. Instead of being locked away in an institution, they live amongst the locals. Geel is a documentary about this exceptional, centuries-old tradition in which people with mental disorders are adopted by ordinary families. 

For twelve months, from christmas to christmas, documentary directors arnout houben and mikhaël cops documented the lives of four psychiatric patients and their guest families in geel, a town in the province of antwerp. The result is a wonderful and gripping documentary about a world where the boundaries between the normal and the abnormal are blurred.

Geel chronicles a lost age and a lost sense of time in a lost model of society. For a little while, the viewer escapes our hyperfast modern society, where inertia and anything out of the ordinary have been outlawed. The documentary paints the characters in simple, frontal tableaux, taken from real life. The ‘patients’ decide when they want to try or abandon this approach.

The film was broadcast by public tv station canvas in 2006 and the following year, it was updated and edited into a four-part series.

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