I have been waiting for ASTRA Film Festival 2018 with great impatience because… well, obviously, because I love the festival but since I missed the last year’s edition due to reasons independent from me, my impatience grew even stronger.
And here it was, 25 years since the first edition, the fourth one for me and the atmosphere remained as amazing as always. This year the weather was unusually warm (Climate Change, anyone?), you could roam in Sibiu’s lovely streets and maybe even forget for a second that you came here to watch documentaries. But make no mistake, ASTRA Film is everywhere and reminds you of the mind blowing films and events that are waiting for you.
After a few relaxing strolls I jumped right into one this year’s categories – Far Right Near Us. I’m not going to lie to you, it felt like ice-cold water to my comfortable state of mind. “Get out of your comfort zone if you want to experience life”, they say… So, I did.
Below, I will discuss three films from the category ‘Far Right Near Us’: Meuthen’s Party, Long Live Bulgaria and Golden Dawn Girls.
See the film trailer here.
Jörg Meuthen is a German middle-aged, German politician and a professor who agreed to his students to be filmed during the 2017 election campaign in Germany. He is the top candidate of his party, ‘Alternative For Germany’ (AfD) and the film shows his speeches at several events, behind the curtain discussions and takes a closer look at a new worldwide trend – right wing populism.
First of all, I would like to mention the amazing quality of filming and a very coherent story that it tells us. I was looking at Mr. Meuthen and listening to his well-thought speeches; how he was trying to hit the exactly right points where German citizens would think themselves: “Yes, I do have a right to want safety, prosperity and everything this man says. Why should I be denied to be proud of who I am? Yes, I am proud of being German”. The ironic fact about racists and ultra-nationalists is that nobody ever admits to being any of those. In this film, Mr. Meuthen represents himself as an ordinary “good guy”, a professor who feels people’s troubles and will take care of their problems like nobody else can. They will be protected from the “vicious crimes” of immigrants and everything will be “great again”. At the same time, he claims that he has nothing to do with racism or hate because real racists are violent and look at him, he is this smiling kind man, how could he be a racist or a Nazi?
I am watching this eye-opening film and I am thinking to myself how great it is that ASTRA Film Festival gives us the opportunity to also look at ultra-nationalist world and try to understand it better. I strongly believe that demonizing far-right activists and supporters makes no sense because they are among us and all we can do is try to have a dialogue. Then I start thinking about the political believes of ASTRA Film Festival attenders: “I’m quite sure, most of the people that come here annually are inclined to leftist ideology… I wonder if there is anybody… even one person who genuinely enjoys the category ‘Far-right near us’ and agrees to the ideas represented in these documentaries…”. And just as I think that, I hear someone behind me quietly singing along to the German anthem from the film (there’s a scene where the party supporters start to sing the German anthem). I don’t pay much attention, I could have done the same if I would hear the Georgian anthem. Then the Q&A session starts and the young producer, Theresa Bacza is ready to answer our question. To my surprise, an elderly person behind me (the one that was singing before) raises his hand and expresses his deep gratitude for screening this film since he is one of the AfD voters and he thinks that everybody should see it to understand how great the party actually is. There’s an awkward silence, I exchange an ironic smile with a volunteer and the Q&A continues. Far right near us… in this case, literally.
The film shows young activists of ultra-nationalist Bulgarian movement who organize different events, marches and gatherings where they share their far-right aspirations and explain their reasoning to the audience. We get the chance to “attend” a classroom lesson where even younger students express their nationalist beliefs and some teachers encourage their way of thinking. The film leaves us with a million questions of what the future holds for Europe.
While the film ‘Meuthen’s Party’ left me with a feeling that maybe the older generation in Germany finds it difficult to get accustomed to all the immigrants due to the refugee crisis and maybe on some level, I could understand their reluctance to a different way of living (even though, in reality, the majority AfD supporters are from 30 to 59 years old), in ‘Long Live Bulgaria’ we observe young people of the approximate age range of 4-20 who are completely convinced that Bulgaria is the greatest country of all and that Roma people, Turks or any other ethnic minority who lives in Bulgaria cannot be considered as one of them. What is even more scary, is that even a director of a theater in their small city and some teachers encourage young people for their “patriotic aspirations”.
The scene that affected me the most was when one of the students says that Roma people should not celebrate the National Day of Bulgarian Freedom and only ethnic Bulgarians are allowed to do so. The shocking fact was that while the boy was saying these words, camera shows us two shy, sad girls who were of Roma ethnic minority (confirmed during the Q&A session with the director) . So, it’s not like there is a huge wall between these children. At least, not a physical one but we clearly see an artificial wall inspired by adults and it is a sad picture to look at. I wonder, what will these children grow into? Will they ever realize that they went too far? Or will they create successful careers as right-wing politicians?
Watch trailer here
Golden Dawn Girls are the women behind the male leaders of Greece’s ultra-nationalist party ‘Golden Dawn’ that is known for extremely aggressive statements and behavior against everything that is not purely Greek. Once the party’s men are imprisoned, their mothers, wives and daughters take the leadership. The film takes a very close look at the daily lives of the girls and even shows what the girls would rather hide from the audience.
What was striking for me in this film was how deeply convinced the women of ‘Golden Dawn’ sounded when they were repeatedly saying that they are not violent, aggressive or racist while being confronted with the videos of their members physically and verbally abusing immigrants and anyone who didn’t share their views.
The film manages to represent two different images; one, that the subjects of the film want us to see: harmless, caring girls who like animals, children and have nothing to do with any type of violence and the second one, where they aggressively protect the innocence of their fathers, husbands and sons while stating that the Greeks are being wiped out in Greece and the media is after them for no reason at all. The director did not cut the scenes where girls tell him what to film and what not to, even when they were whispering to each other in Greek for the director not to understand… everything is there and it gives us a very clear, scary picture of what people can convince themselves of. The ironic fact is that Ourania Michaloliakou, daughter of the party’s leader is an educated psychologist…
We live in an era where you can have a racist discourse all the time and still blame media for spreading fake news. It is impossible not to be impressed by how virtuously the Golden Dawn Girls manage to deal with their cognitive dissonance and preserve an innocent self-image of nice, loving people.
As heavy as it was to watch the category of ‘Far Right Near Us’, I think it is what brings us closer to solving the problem: trying to understand the problem at its core. However, for me, it still continues to be just an attempt. I realize that some people look for an identity and they find one behind the glorious, national pride… Others find themselves surrounded by nationalistic society and develop to have similar aspirations, others have personal, maybe traumatic experiences that push them to hate everyone who is different. However, the real question is: How do we, as a society keep people with ultra-nationalistic ideas from committing hate crimes and violent acts? We better hurry up to answer the question because it is not some kind of myth that has nothing to do with us; these ideas are born right next to us and by alienating the people who spread the ideas, we might be the source of the problem itself.
One thing is for sure: documentaries give food for thought, create discussions and ultimately lead to what might solve the problems, at least partially.