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Foreigners Out! Schlingensief's Container

FOREIGNERS OUT! SCHLINGENSIEF'S CONTAINER (Ausländer Raus! Schlingensiefs Container) Paul Poet, A 2002, 90 min

"Absolutely the best film about me!" (Christoph Schlingensief)

FOREIGNERS OUT! SCHLINGENSIEFS CONTAINER is a thrilling, insightful, funny chronicle and reflection of one of he biggest public pranks and acts of art terrorism ever committed. Austria 2000: Right after the FPÖ under Jörg Haider had become part of the government, the first time an extreme right wing party became state officials after WW2, infamous German shock director Christoph Schlingensief showed a very unique form of protest. Realising public xenophobia and the new hate politics in the most drastic ways possible, he installed a public concentration camp right in the middle of Vienna´s touristic heart, right beside the pittoresque opera where hundreds of tourists and locals pass by daily.
And it was no concentration camp you had ever feared to return from the old times, but one that cynically reflected our new multimedia culture. Satirising reality TV shows, “Big Brother” especially, a dozen asylum seekers were surveilled by a multitude of cameras, could be fed and watched by passer-by´s and two were thrown out of country through web-voting per day. The way fascism looks in the 21st century: Bright. Sensational. Interactive. Funny…and frightening. Austria freaked out. Thousands of screaming people gathered. Attacks with knifes, beatings, acid occurred. Political intrigues. Headlines all over Europe. 800.000 worldwide joined via internet. An incredibly heated week, capturing the European right-wing drift in real time. Democracy the hard way.

With Luc Bondy, Daniel Cohn-Bendit, Einstürzende Neubauten, Gregor Gysi, Elfriede Jelinek, Peter Sellars, Peter Sloterdijk u.a.

Container newspaper still online!

Interview with Paul Poet

Paul Poet's film Foreigners Out! (Schlingensief's Container) has been one of the most talked about films on the Australian festival circuit. It documents an actual event in which saw real asylum seekers sealed in a container, with the public asked to vote "Big Brother" style for who they wanted to stay. It's a film with deep resonances with what's happening with asylum seekers in Austria. We caught up with the director and spoke with him about the film.

The Blurb: You worked with Christoph Schlingensief on the original TV series "Please Love Austria", on which this film is based. How did you manage to combine making both the TV series and the film at the same time?

Paul Poet: It was not so much a TV series, but part of my experiments in the webworld before the new economy bubble blasted off into oblivion. I was working for European Internet-TV broadcaster and had already had a couple of extremely successful projects up my sleeve like the first interactive filmfestival in Europe rubbing shoulders with the digital revolution. So I got free reign to let "Please love Austria!" off the hook, which would have not been trusted otherwise by all webbrokers in the background. I had known Schlingensief before, who is a very well known shock director in the German spoken area, and he called me up in spring 2000, if it´s possible to also work out this politsatire mocking the Big Brother-phenomenon for interactive digitalia. So I took up that part completely and worked sovereign on creating this monster of a website, that packed up neonazi-estethics with conservative politpages and Reality TV-fun'n'games. Having 5 minute-films for what happened daily in and outside the container was part of this, so there were cameras up all the time: Six fixed ones inside the camp connected to a simultaneous live edit streaming and one flexible camerateam as well as two Mini-DV´s catching up with the mayhem on the streets. This formed the basic material for the film, though it was not planned then to make it into a feature.

TB: Did you feels a particular empathy Schlingensief's action, or did you approach it from more of an objective or observational point of view?

PP: On this I still have to request what is objectivity but a virtual construct or a McGuffin to blindfold the audience from the fact, that they are manipulated in any case. I think, it´s best to put up your personal values and ethics in the foreground, so you as viewer can judge yourself on the way the view offered is distorted. Like a good critic is only useful when you already know about the critic´s taste and can relate to yourself on that basis. The classic neutral documentary never ever existed and the idea of it is a bold lie. The new trend Michael Moore or Nick Broomfield are following in featuring themselves extensively as neutralisation of the way the distort the "real" picture is also kind of doubtful, but it sure is a better, more honest approach. FOREIGNERS OUT! in any case is special since it´s completely somewhere between mockumentary, plain look of the observer and selfinvolved art statement. I prefer to call it the film version of the whole event, since it is also part of Schlingensiefs principles to involve the enemy like I also interviewed the FPÖ-politicians. And the film clearly manipulates the live proceedings, either by restructuring the chronology of the material to fit the story that is told (and bizarrely reprise the mood and insights far better that way) or inserting obvious artistic manipulations like a very Kubrick-like commentary musical soundtrack or speeding up Int-partners during talk. Or for those who recognise it, the very ironic copy of Antonioni´s opening shots of Zabriskie Point during the Sloterdijk-scene to make a sardonic comment on the oldened Gen 68.

TB: The TV series was undoubtedly successful, and from all accounts led to Austrian society being galvanised into action on the issue of asylum-seekers. Do you feel that its success was due to its subject-matter, its "reality TV" format, or a combination of the two?

PP: The main attractor sure was playing out the pig in a safe and cosy environment like your home PC workplace. Sipping up a Coke while pulverising some blackies out of the beloved borders. Life itself can get very ironic that way. You don´t have to make some humanistic and so-called thought provoking comments on the self-cannibalising and morally bankrupt multimedia generation. Even a film like "Battle Royale" ends up being pathetic blaring its message thru the megaphone. Just take the most extreme taboo and realise it in a common environment everyone can reach. And the society machine will put up its own movie. Like FOREIGNERS OUT! is. You still can ask afterwards: Is this, what you want??? Every commercially successful narrative like the "reality TV shows" were and to a degree still are are public experiments, that fit a need of the masses, be it just to learn by play. I don´t understand people who turn their head from that, cause so much insight lies in these shows and their structures. But normally media network tends to drain these narratives of any content towards pure escapism and shopping ecstacy. With "Please love Austria" Christoph and I used to reverse this narrative to a non-escapist spectacle of political value without the hammer of instant moral bludgeoning your brains. And yes, this proved overwhelmingly successful as well as revelatory.

TB: Conversely, do you think that by using a "reality TV" format, the issue might have been trivialised?

PP: Can you trivialise anything that is in its brain, gestures and arguments as bottom-of-the-barrel trivial as extreme right wing or anti-humanistic politics. Well, not to be misunderstood I don´t want to condemn all right wing thinkers straight-faced, though I am obviously coming from a leftist, punk movement background. Many rightwingers got true problems and understandable sentiments leading them to their thoughts, while a lot of leftwingers follow technocratic and humanbashing slogans that connect in no way with real life and hard experiences. But it is a big problem, if not the biggest, that the common basis of communication in our society has converted to a completely ethicfree functionalisation. It is no big revelation, that moneythinkers and soulless controllers rule the world. But that everyday communication, especially now that the closing down of globalised monoculture is getting nearer and nearer, has picked up their exact ways of reflecting life and coexistence exclusively as a parasitic game of numbers, investments and maximisations as well as placing the human being as waste product only valid in its sale value, that is the frightening phenomenon. The ugly sides of foreigner politics are only a teenie-wheenie little part of these common social movement. If you can catch this by the groin with a "reality TV" format, what is the trivial thing about it?

TB: What do you think the film reveals about Austrians' attitude to asylum-seekers?

PP: The truth hidden behind popular public conduct: Subordination. Xenophobia. The lack of civil courage. The lack of deconstruction of the self. The hysteria when forced to face any kind of critique. But this is no Austrian special, though it was a very pleasing experience that Austria was such a perfect time and place to put the stick deep into the wound and see all the gooey sentiments erupt, no one would have admitted to exist before. But the feelings and sentiments it targets, the desire for a strong political hand, the scapegoat racehate towards foreigners and asylumseekers, the erasing of responsibility for public spectacle are of a very common symbolic value to absolute any place in the world, Australia as well, I reckon. There are very unnice things happening in your land concerning this problem as far as I´ve heard and also very paradox ones since there evidently are new people needed for several parts inside Australia. But what can I judge from the distance? Austria was a perfect mirror for the whole of Europe during the big right wing drift and the beginning slopes of recession. And things have gone even more downhill since then.

TB: What has happened in Austria on the asylum-seekers issue since the TV series and the film were made?

PP: Since our reigning coalition tending towards the extreme right still sits on the ruling rudder despite an interim collapse of the government and reelections, the biggest tax increase in history and the obvious and proven corruption of some leaders, it has become even more strict and disgusting. Just a few days ago we had a kind of Rodney King case, where a black asylum seeker died during police interference. A homevideo shows, how the policemen beat up the guy as well as the medics just binding him to the floor, keeping him down with their feet and missing out on reanimation. He had a heart disease and whoops, there goes another one. Collateral damage. Who asks for them anyway? Another victim of economisation with an unlucky number. Protests remain low so far. The asylum petitions in general have decreased dramatically over the course of the last year and I can only say, the people are right under given conditions. So everybody stays in their place. What a happy world to be in …

TB: Ironically, both asylum-seekers and "reality TV" are hot topics here in Australia at the moment (and have been since August 2001). Is the film's message easily translated to an Australian audience?

PP: Not ironically, but fittingly. Global phenomenons as well as the needs that stand behind them reach every part in the world. I was very thrilled how the film would adapt to non-German speaking audiences, but it´s amazing as well as frightening me how well it works out. I have previously been at Mar del Plata festival in beautiful Argentinia with my film, exspecting an overall different mindset and cultural history with a handful of people watching out for an exotic Euro-obscurity. But the screenings were jampacked and featuring a far more active audience than any back home in Austria. Really long and intense, heated discussions, which were revelatory itself. Like old people declaring the greatness of my film and the whole project, but these problems wouldn´t exist in Argentinia. Then another person standing up, revealing that these problems only don´t exist in public consciousness because there are two classes of asylum-seekers made, the good money-heavy ones coming from the US and Europe and the potential "scum" from cheap neighbour countries only fit to clean the domestic toilets. Sounds familiar? Story and issues will translate perfectly. I don´t really know if a message is there. Potentially that life exists only as a constant ambiguity, that has to be approached with absolute respect. And in sequitur, that there never are simple solutions to anything.

TB: Are there any plans for the film to be released commercially in Australia after its film festival commitments are over?

PP: I guess, the interest will and should be there. My arms are open to anything to spread it. So far it was a great success in German and Austrian cinemas as well as worldwide festivals, has won a prize at Houston Woldfest, the biggest US-Indie festival after Sundance, and should be released on DVD in Germany and in the US (on the famous cult imprint Feral House) end of this year.

TB: Can a film like this make a real difference in public debate on the issues? Can a statue or pictorial stimulate people to change their lives and attitudes?

PP: I guess, a big No is the only answer. Except when there is a wish in the people already existent to interact, to learn, to exspand their horizons. It is very important to have cultural artefacts, Films, books, pictures, to offer these opportunities. The impact on real life is minimal to the utmost. But if it serves as an energy cell to the few willing and able to activate, as a well to public discussion, this already is a great thing happening. My exspectation is very small apart of stirring shit up. But through the stirring, the revelation of possibilities and viewpoints, positive advances may happen. And I am always into nice surprises, though most of the time only my cultural pessimism gets feedback. A wonderful thing with FOREIGNERS OUT! was that it worked itself so easily into the minds of a young popcultural audience due to its very new ways of confronting with societal ills in this playful manner.

TB: Christoph Schlingensief is quoted on the official Real Fiction Filme Web site as saying that the film is "Der absolut beste Film über mich!" [Absolutely the best film about me]. How do you react to that sentiment?

PP: Should I say, I agree? Without joking, I am myself very happy how well the film has worked out, not only being a time capsule to this unique week and event, but also as a gripping motion picture. I have talked with Christoph several times about this and it appears to be the first film from three long ones, several TV short and three TV series that is able to translate his work into this artistic form. So well, that even audiences faraway from their cultural Ground Zero can understand it. He also has invited me to document his new year-long project, the CHURCH OF FEAR, the inauguration of a terror sect roaming the HiTech-zones of Europe as neo-pagans. Filming just has begun. And that sure pleases me.

Interview @ The Blurb Magazin

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Press Coverage

Truly stimulating. (Le Monde)

Vienna strikes back. A pandemonium of human anger, you got to see to believe. (Stefan Grissemann)

Schlingensief has dragged the understanding of film far beyond the screen. He has made the step awy from the manifest artistic form, irreversibly dragging reality into the mise-en-scene and the other way around. Even the hysteria cuased by this mixture gets to be part of the artistic creation.(..) Regarding this it is surprising how much Paul Poet´s film version is really a “movie”. Instead of just having a nice seat on bein “authentic” it always utters its artistic life of its own. (…) He perfectly captures the filmic moments, that wildly spread like fungus throughout the “Aktion” and within a public, who this way only can reflect on themselves as truly deranged. He has retranslated the happening into a piece of art, which gives the “Aktion” and itself with it´s life of its own eternal relevance. (Georg Seeßlen)

A truly great and visionary film by Vienna´s all art jumping jack flash, Paul Poet. (Intro)

A Film paced like the lighting speed of agent provocateur Schlingensief talking the talk...Breaking down the barriers between stage and reality. (taz)

Awards and Festivals