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Time capsuling Berlin

INTERVIEW. Underground Berlin: The energy and allure that attracts flocks of people to Berlin is so tricky to describe. Writer and filmmaker Yony Leyser hopes to capture the craziness on a large scale for the first time.

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Photo by Alexa Vachon

The energy and allure that attracts flocks of people to Berlin that is so tricky to describe. Documentary filmmaker Yony Leyser is already well known for his biopic of William S. Burroughs. With his latest project, Desire Will Set You Free, a fictional full-length movie based on his experiences as a part of the Berlin underground scene the past few years, the artist is attempting to achieve something that many before him have failed: formulating a vision of the general aesthetic of Berlin underground arts scene. In the last week of the crowdfunding campaign, Fridey Mickel met with him to find of what is at the heart of his desire in making it.

How did the idea for film come about?

It was clear that people wanted this film to come out for years. Peaches herself said she didn’t know how many dozens of times people said they were going to make this film and no one followed through.

I was going through my journals and thinking about writing a fictionalized film about my life in Berlin. Then in September 2012, I had a visitor from Russia. It was an intense time – he came out as a woman and was experiencing this fierce scene in Berlin. Witnessing this extremely oppressed outsider, drowning in shock, who never had been in this kind of environment, opened my eyes to the world that I was living in. I told the story through my perspective and their perspective.

The great thing about film is that it really preserves something. Change is necessary, we all need change, utopia is no longer utopia if you feel stuck in something. Without change there wouldn’t be any experience worth having, but it’s nice to preserve something. Film is a great way to preserve.

Is this your typical “gay” film, whatever that may mean?

The thread is a ‘quote-unquote’ gay narrative of the film, but I think that it’s post gay – the gay or the trans or whatever narrative is just in the background. In the 1990s, if there was a film with gay content, it would be marketed only to gay people or whatever. Now, 20 years later, I don’t think it needs to be that way, the marketed audience is anyone who’s ever felt like an outsider or a weirdo, or been to Berlin.

Seeing the trailer and reading the script, you have an uncanny talent for formulating the aesthetic of Berlin’s underground scene. How were you able to do this, what was the process like?

It kind of came naturally, it’s the world I’ve been in for the past four years, my friends. Somehow, since I was a little kid, I’ve always gotten thrown into extreme situations. Coming here to Berlin, within my first few months, I was existing within a crazy, weird-artist squad, hanging out with the weirdest people in the city. That’s the origin for a good story, but you have to be a good writer on top of that to formulate it. That I did with my friend Paula. We combined various experiences and turned it into a movie.

The underground scene here is maybe the biggest in the world – that’s why there’s material. I told the story with Berlin icons like Peaches. I think the icons work like heroes, movers and shakers, but there’s also a lot of interesting activists included, like the weird guy that bikes around shouting into the bullhorn that everyone here knows – people you recognize when you live here: when you see them in the film, you freak out. I tried to integrate real people that are like in the city to put a realistic and fair texture and background. We reference the scene’s historical tradition, like with songs from the punk years and songs from the cabaret and Weimar, little references here and there.

Is there a unifying factor of Berlin’s underground scene?

I think the one trait that unites all of us as being outsiders is not being accepted in whatever dumbfuck town or city that we’re from. I think they come to a place to be weird, instead of trying to fit in and amalgamize with the environment they were placed in, they rebel against it and live life on the edge…