Europoly “Let’s browse this”

First test shooting of the film project in London entitled
First test shooting of the film project in London entitled Touched by Murder (Photo: Georgina Cammalleri) | Photo: Georgina Cammalleri

Germany has one of Europe’s strongest economies yet Germans suffer the most from insomnia. In Turkey, according to statistics, things are the other way around and people there sleep the best. Curator und filmmaker Dorothee Wenner spoke with us about such surprising data and the films for the Goethe project Europoly.

Is Europoly a board game about the euro crisis?

No, Europoly is bringing together film, theatre and web in a special, maybe even playful manner. But the financial crisis does form the backdrop. The former director of the Goethe-Institut in Vilnius, Johanna Keller, came up with the idea. It was based on her impression that most of Europe has a completely false image of Lithuania that does not match the way she perceived the country. European debates are characterized by lots of misunderstandings and prejudices. When we are all affected by the euro crisis. It’s ludicrous to pretend that it matters only to Greece or Portugal.

What are the films being made in this project about?

They start with statistics comparing everyday life and realities in Europe’s nations. From various sources we filtered out ten particularly surprising results on subjects like murder rates, women in management positions and dog ownership. Then we juxtaposed the two countries with the extreme contrasts. The primary criteria are that the data refute common prejudices and can be used to tell stories. Then we cast one “artist duo” per statistic who come from the relevant countries and work together on a film. What they make of the subject matter is their artistic choice. It was clear to everyone involved from the outset that Europoly was not commissioning any “TV news style reports.” We want to produce unusual, personal films.

Who are the artists?

Matthias Lilienthal and Anna Mülter are curating the performances for Europoly that will be premiered in February at the Münchener Kammerspiele: five artists’ collectives from five countries. For the Europoly films the producer Meike Martens and I brought together directors and protagonists. The protagonists are artists and activists from various fields – writers, musicians, actors, etcetera. Each of the filmmakers comes from the country with the unexpected statistics, the protagonists from the country with the reverse data. They did not know each other beforehand and are open for experimentation and new formats.

Can you give us an example?

Curator and filmmaker Wenner Curator and filmmaker Wenner | Photo: Svenja Harten The British filmmaker Marc Isaacs and the Latvian actor Mārtiņš Meiers are exploring the question why in the country with the most perceived crime stories – England – the statistics show that far fewer people are murdered than in Latvia. Or take Denmark. Usually our northern neighbours are far ahead of the rest when it comes to fair living conditions. But who would have thought that Denmark has the lowest percentage of women in management positions? Lithuania has the highest. The director Giedrė Žickytė comes from there and developed a treatment with the Danish television host and performer Emil Thorup on this issue. We chose Emil because he is known in Denmark for, among other things, his provoking media confrontation with “male identities.” This film, Amazons has almost finished shooting.

All fifteen teams have their own sub-site on the Europoly website, called “LABs.” What are those?

As a filmmaker I know that documentary films are often developed like this: I find a theme I like, do research, meet people and sift through material and gradually the narrative of the film develops out of this. The work process is like that of a stonemason. In the end there’s lots of interesting material that won’t be used in the film. Things also rarely go as planned during shooting and production. We want to make this process of research and work visible in the LAB.

How does it work? The artists openly communicate their thoughts, ideas, approaches and problems on our platform. They chat, post links or finished sequences and even publish their email or skype exchanges. But even we curators or interested users can get involved on the platform. Later, the finished films will be posted on the website. When the project is completed, we will turn the website into a virtual archive that can be used, for example, in educational work. Then people can use tags like “women” or “Lithuania” to find all kinds of entries that also create connecting lines between the fifteen projects.

The users are part of the artistic process?

Yes, they can take part in the discussions directly via the LAB. Whether and how their suggestions are used is ultimately the decision of the artists. We hope that Europoly will enable lots of interesting associations. And we believe we can connect the dry statistics in this manner with everyday life so that lots of people say, “Let’s browse this.” Basically, we are addressing an Internet savvy audience between the ages of 18 and 30 but we are also trying to reach the followers and fans of the artists and people interested in the topics of Europe and the financial crisis who can, of course, be older, too.

What is the project schedule?

We began with the idea and choice of themes and artists in April 2014. The website and the LABs went online this July. The films are scheduled to be finished by the end of this year at the latest, the five theatre projects will be performed at the Münchener Kammerspiele in the spring of 2016.

What do the film and theatre projects have in common? The theme: all of the projects deal with the financial crisis and its aftermath. The website works as a bridge to reveal interconnections in the contents. Since the work processes in theatre and film are different, the performance collectives will surely use the labs in a very different way. Stage rehearsals and preparing for film shoots have very different dynamics. At the moment – the rehearsal for the performances haven’t begun yet – we imagine that the theatre LABs will be like virtual playbills providing background knowledge about the topics and characters and arousing interest in the productions in advance. For example, in one of the plays ten amateur actresses will form a choir of cashiers. The LAB could tell us who these actresses are and how the director discovered them.

What aims are you pursuing with Europoly?

The broadcasting slots in television for documentary films are becoming ever fewer and it is also more and more difficult to place documentary films in cinemas. For these and other reasons many filmmakers are presently experimenting with crossover formats between film and web. Europoly does this as well but unlike, say, crowdfunding we are trying to reach our audience in an entirely new way, in the early phase of treatment development. We also want to encourage discourses that develop a European idea that is not defined solely through the economy. What I am most pleased about is that two of the filmmakers are so captivated by their topic that they later want to make long versions of their short films.

The interview was conducted by David Weyand