Si, Podemos!

INTERVIEW! Podemos is among us! Hundreds of young Spaniards are organising from Berlin to change politics in their home country. Filmmaker Michelangelo Severgnini's crowdfunded doc on the Hauptstadt's chapter premieres May 15 at Moviemento.

Image for Si, Podemos!
Photo by Maria Runarsdottir
Michelangelo Severgnini’s crowdfunded Linea de Fuga, a documentary capturing the efforts, failures and hope of Podemos supporters in Berlin, finally premieres May 15 at Moviemento. Check out our interview with Severgnini during the film’s crowdfunding campaign (as well as a few follow-up questions in advance of the screening).  As an Italian living in Berlin, documentary filmmaker Michelangelo Severgnini has been watching the political rise of Podemos in awe. Since 2011, Spain’s youngest political party has grown at lightning speed and shocked the world with its popularity. And the radical leftist group might see its politics come into real play with the upcoming Spanish general election happening on June 26. But the battle for election isn’t just being waged in Spain. In fact, the party’s biggest international branch is right in Berlin.With 300 members, Podemos Berlin’s main mission is to convince the Spanish community here to support the party from abroad. This is where Severgnini comes in. He’s shooting a documentary, hopefully made possible by a crowdfunding campaign, chronicling the Podemos phenomenon in Berlin and depicting how Spanish immigrants are coming together to spur change back home. What makes an Italian decide to make a film about a Spanish political party in Berlin? I have always been interested in how political organisation happens. For example, I made a film in Istanbul about the demonstrations in Gezi Park. I met some of the Podemos guys at a film festival and I found out they were living in Berlin, and I thought it would be a project I wanted to follow. Of course, there is also the fact I’m a citizen of southern Europe. My own identity has changed as the region has changed, and I have tried to understand the movements that have come out of these experiences – things like the 15-M anti-austerity demonstration in Madrid. I always wondered why similar demonstrations didn’t happen in Italy, and because I’m carrying around these questions and I had this chance in Berlin, I wanted to make the film. What kind of work is Podemos doing in Berlin? It’s a very big group, and it changes as new people from Spain come to Berlin or move elsewhere. But the members of Podemos here have organised to raise awareness and try to change the policies back home. For example, last Sunday in Mauerpark, they organised La Paella de la Confluencia (an outreach event with paella). After that, they also held an open-air meeting to talk about the campaign. But more importantly, they do things like give flyers to Spanish tourists in Berlin and explain, “Look, I’m Spanish like you, but I’m living in Berlin – please understand we need a change. You can vote for Podemos so we can go back home.” We follow these conversations in the film. What are Podemos’ motivations? They want change in Spain, but what exactly does that mean? It’s actually a sad story. I realised that when we were cutting the documentary. Spanish people are very joyful and there are very humorous moments in the film, but there’s also so much disappointment. With my generation, and the generation after mine, we were told about this great project called Europe, but now we are witnessing it has nothing to do with what we are thinking of. In Podemos of Berlin, there are members who have the highest level of education, who had to leave their country because they can’t put into practice what they struggled and studied for. The disappointment these young people feel is really profound. The situation and the stories in the film we tell are difficult, because the people are far away from home, losing friends and contact with parents. But there is also a lot of humour, and one woman in the trailer says she knows her situation is not as tragic as, for example, a refugee. Still, the disappointment is there because they see this failed political project of Europe not only giving them problems, but giving problems around the world to others.  Why are there so many members of Podemos living here? I think for many different reasons – they are attracted to how Berlin is a place for the arts and has many people from all over the world. And it’s a place where you can settle down for a while.  Has Berlin embraced both Podemos and your crowdfunding project? Actually, no. Not really. The main disconnect is that there is a false belief that when a citizen leaves his own country, he is out of the game. People have a really hard time understanding that just because members of Podemos left their country doesn’t mean they are not still actively involved in creating change. It’s a new phenomenon, I think. Second, they find it hard to understand that Spanish citizens in Berlin can develop ideas just from being here and being in daily contact with people in other countries – that’s something that you don’t do in Spain because it’s not as international. It’s been hard to explain exactly what the film is trying to capture, since the story is still unfolding.
We caught up with Severgnini just before the film’s May 15 premiere for the low-down on Podemos since we last spoke, and on his hopes for what the screening will bring about.     What’s changed with Podemos since we last spoke with you? Podemos’ case is interesting, because recently there has been some drama within the Socialist Party (the PSOE), who Podemos is specifically battling on the left. The PSOE fractured in October, voting to allow the conservatives to rule as a minority government – which, by the way, only further proves this idea that the political elite are more concerned with following an agenda than listening to its constituents. The PSOE are losing traction, bit by bit. This might open things up for Podemos. What about Podemos in Berlin? Well, in terms of organization, Podemos Berlin has seen the same confluence taken up by the main party: that with the left-wing coalition Izquierda Unida. Spanish expats from both factions have been meeting to discuss the government absurdity back home – the corruption, the unjust laws – and to keep the fire of the citizen’s movement stoked, which is all about getting the word out. The tendency once you move away is to sort of tune out the noise back home – it’s probably why you left. So fighting that tendency has, and will continue to be, the main focus for Podemos Berlin, which means, specifically, making sure that the noise is heard, that Spanish citizens here know what the deal is back home, what the developments are. Is there a significance to the premiere date on May 15? May 15 is the sixth anniversary of the protests at Plaza del Sol in Madrid. The hope is, we can build off the spirit that sowed its seeds there, not just with this screening, but with the discussion that will follow. I would like to see a conversation about the current EU situation – like, for example, the election just now in France, its implications – that draws from a variety of voices. I invited pretty much all of the communities living in Berlin that are involved in some kind of political activity: parties from Poland, Italy – from all over, really – alongside local German activists. It should end up being an engaging and productive night. Linea de Fuga premiere, Mon, May 15, 20:00 | Moviemento, Kottbusser Damm 22, Kreuzberg, U-Bhf Schönleinstr.