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Empire Me is worth watching

Empire Me is worth watching Austrian director Paul Poet’s new documentary is about so-called Micronations – communities that have declared themselves independent but without being recognized by the United Nations or any government. Maybe you have heard of the pirate radio station on Sealand or Christiania in Copenhagen. There are more than 500 other communities like this across the world and the number is growing.
We sat down with Paul Poet to talk about the film.

First of all: Congratulation to your great movie. I really liked it. But I cannot get rid of one thought. Financing must have been hell right?

Well it ate up eight years of my life all in all. Exposing myself to the then widely unknown phenomenon of counter worlds. Researching and getting closer and more intimate with this ideologically different and vastly paranoid subculture and then scratching the money together. The last one sure ate up most of the time. Far more than filming itself! Now it has developed into a whopper with three production companies from three different European countries plus some TV-stations. And the more the so-called “big ones” are involved, the more hassles you have to wade through to deliver a personal, uncompromising vision on the silver screen. And I think I did!

There are a several hundred so-called micro nations all over the world. Was it hard to select just six?

Yes. There are a vast wave of these subcultures pulling together. I always name it a positive or creative corrosion of the western industrial world order. And these people aren’t dropping out like it was imagined around 1968 with their sovereign enclaves, the islands far beyond civilization. Today there is no “innocent” or “unspoiled” land, that isn’t taken and used by global powers and rules. The interesting thing is to claim it for yourself and secede from the known system. Be it by claiming your own kingdom, principality, eco-village, squat, commune or pirate raft. Whatever! All you need by international rule is to fulfill the convention of Montevideo from the 1930s which defines the state as a clear territory with borders, a clear mass of factual inhabitants which may be one, a set of legal or social rules and the will to exchange with the outer world and other countries. That’s all! Meaning anybody can claim to be his own state, even on his own couch or in his apartment or house with garden.

I didn’t know about that. It must have been hard to have only a limited amount of time to feature such a broad variation of Micronations.

No, the selection of stories for the movie was easy. I had personally met over 40 of these counter-societies. Afterwards the mindset was clear: To show the diversity of this protest movement which very much like Occupy and Company incorporates people from all ideologies and ages. 80 year old grannies to 15 year old hooligans from the extreme left to the extreme right with a whole lot of the disoriented political middle class in-between, I wanted to dive into this whole range of diversity without having a biased view. It turned out to be a very complex baroque mindfuck and at the same time very light-footed, sensual and pop-cultured. I was always interested in the combination of pop and serious political issues.

Are the rumors about your next project true? I heard you are working on Minus-Mann.

True, true! I’ve currently finished two scripts, which are financing; a portrait of the troubles and decompositions that Europa will face this year with a special eye on creative civil disobedience. This baby is called Revolt! And I am producing it with Allegro Film (We feed the World!, Dead in 3 Days) and have written it with famed political journalist Corinna Milborn, known for her books on the fortress Europe and human slave trading. Der Minus-Mann, or Unman as the international version will be called, is supposed to be my feature film debut which is currently financing and settling co-production deals on an international level. It is the cinema version of one of the most bedeviled, infamous and best–sold novels ever to come out of Austria. A merciless autobiography of an alcoholic and deeply troubled pimp, who was known as the most psychopathic and cruelest guy dealing with forced prostitution on Vienna’s red-light-district of the 1960s and 1970s.

This last question is kinda inevitable. How was working with Christoph Schlingensief on his project Foreigners out?

Big guess. It was incredible! Very loose and very free cause things were moving very fast then. You know, the whole idea of opposing the extreme right-wing drift of Austria’s government in 2000 when Haider came into mainstream power by creating a public concentration camp that worked like a Big Brother-Entertainment machine to throw asylum seekers out of the country, was created only few weeks before it happened and kept secret. Christoph who had known me for creating the first online film festival in Europe way back then, had asked me if it was possible to create the event also on the net to have a virtual container as part of the system. And regarding that, I worked quite freely as birds of a feather where I directed the whole live-stream transmission, where six surveillance cameras and two film teams where edited live into one stream, wrote almost all online texts and invented press releases and the daily short movie résumés of the mayhem. It was good!

Published January 26, 2012.