What if Europe succumbs to the worst instincts of the xenophobia and Euroscepticism that are sweeping across the continent? This anxiety lies at the heart of Annalisa Piras‘ latest film, The Great European Disaster Movie. She shows the viewer a worst-case-scenario of a collapsed European Project. Piras was kind enough to answer some of our questions about the film, its controversy and her hopes for an alternative Europe.
As a filmmaker, you’re no stranger to controversy. How was the response to The Great European Disaster Movie different to the response to Girlfriend in a Coma?
So far it has been remarkably similar, even if of course the subject of the two films are very different, and TGEDM has just come out so we are at the very beginning of the journey. What has been similar is the contrast between the reluctance of the establishment in engaging with the provocative thesis of the films and the enthusiasm of younger viewers, especially students, to jump on the opportunity to debate big themes which affect our daily life and our future. The premiere of Girlfriend in a Coma in Italy was stopped by the authorities, and in Britain the BBC had a very hard time putting the film on its schedule. Film documentaries have the potential to communicate complex issues in a way that engage not only our brain but our heart, and younger generations seem to be much more able to understand the value of this form of art in fostering understanding and civic participation.
Writing for the Guardian, you suggested that Britain may be incapable of a constructive debate on Europe. Have you seen exceptions to this in the wake of your film?
There have been exceptions but unfortunately amongst the already “converted”, i.e. the many Britons who are already engaged in some forms of commitment to the European project.
Our hope is that our film could become an attempt to bring the EU debate to a wider audience, convincing those who understand the importance of a more informed conversation on Europe to do more to bring in people who at present think that it is not relevant to them. In this sense we are very happy that many young people have decide to take on our invite to host a special screening of the film with a debate all across Europe for Europe Day on May the 9th. The idea is that afterwards we could all join in the conversation across Europe, simultaneously in a sort of cross national community moment about our shared future.
The electoral success of Euro-sceptic and anti-immigrant parties has emboldened similar movements in other countries and influenced the focus of mainstream political parties. To what extent do you think that parties like Syriza and Podemos may themselves change the course of Europe with their thus far successful anti-austerity political platform?
The political landscape in Europe is changing very rapidly and the rise of the so-called “insurgent” parties is inevitably bound to change the course of Europe. There are great differences of course amongst them, even if all of them seem to be a bottom up response to a very wide and deep discontent with many things, but especially where Europe is at the moment. At best they might bring about a more responsible answer from European leaders, both at a national and at a EU level. At worst, and this is the fear that inspired our film, they might, possibly, even involuntarily, accelerate a demise of the EU which cannot survive unless it is solidly supported by the European people.
If at least half of the British population are in favour of EU membership, is the media responsible for distorting the debate and is the media guilty of scaremongering about the EU? And if so, is producing a film called The Great European Disaster Movie an ironic response?
Indeed there is irony in the film, but not everybody got it. The idea was to provoke a reflection on the lack of awareness of what could be the worst case scenario if we keep on the current path. While we witness anti-EU parties talk constantly, and in my view irresponsibly, about leaving the EU, it is very rare to hear in the mainstream media voices who explain clearly what we could lose and what the unintended consequences of the implosion of the EU could look like. The British media certainly have a responsibility in this, but the main responsibility lies squarely with national politicians who for far too long have played a double game: supporting the EU in Brussels and then opportunistically blaming it for all the evils in the world at home. They have neglected public opinion on the EU for decades and, especially in Britain, it is very difficult now to reverse the mainly negative image propagated by certain media, especially those owned by tycoons who might have a vested interest in undermining the European project.
What can Europeans both in and out of the halls of power do to help avert the Great European Disaster?
It’s incredibly urgent, in my view, to mobilise public opinion in a cross-national debate about the EU. We need and want to face the many pressing global challenges that are mounting. Almost all of them require a strong, unified response at a European level.
From global warming to nuclear proliferation, the crisis of the European welfare system, the change of the economic model, lack of research and innovation, Islamic radicalisation, mass migration and the aging of the population: effective solutions are linked to more European cooperation, not less. We need to step up the awareness of what is at stake and create a critical mass amongst European citizens to demand action from our leaders. For too long, and certainly since the beginning of the Euro crisis, EU leaders have done too little too late. It is now obvious that it is unlikely they will take the initiative. On the whole, they think that Europe is not a vote winner issue. If we could move the conversation on Europe from the elites circles to a wider public this could hopefully change. It’s a huge task.
Our film would like to be part of an attempt to engage a wider share of European citizens in understanding that the status quo is not an option if we want to avert disaster and why we need a better, stronger reformed Europe as a matter of urgency. We hope that starting on Europe day on May the 9th the independent screenings of TGEDM could provide an opportunity to help us Europeans talk more together about what we can change. The call to action is “adopt a euro-indifferent: show him/her TGEDM” and talk about it.
A film might seem an unlikely tool to help a European Spring but you have to start somewhere…