The Great European Disaster Movie: how a nightmarish vision led to a campaign of European awakening

euro-disaster-moviePaola Buonadonna, Campaigns Director at the Wake Up Foundation, tells the story of The Great European Disaster Movie and what the Wake Up Europe! Campaign which followed is seeking to achieve. UCL is hosting a free screening of this film at the European Institute on 11 November 2015 followed by a critical debate with Annalisa Piras (director, producer and writer of the film) and Bill Emmott (executive producer and former editor of The Economist). They will be joined by Jan Kubik (Director of the UCL School of Slavonic and East European Studies) and Antonios Tzanakopoulous (Professor of Public International Law at Oxford).

When Italian director Annalisa Piras started shooting The Great European Disaster Movie, the hard-hitting documentary drama exploring the crises besieging Europe, all was not well in Europe.  But she is definitely not surprised by how much the situation has deteriorated since.

“We made the film because we could already see the edge of the cliff that we are now walking on approaching on the horizon,” she said.  “When the film came out some thought it was too dark. We were accused of exaggerating, of scaremongering but our nightmarish vision of a Europe sleepwalking towards disaster now appears rather prescient.”

The film looks back from a dystopian future, in which the European Union has ceased to exist, on a continent besieged by economic, political and social crises. The film pairs insightful, cross-national analysis from high level experts with the views of ordinary Europeans on how and why things went wrong.

The film’s central argument is that whilst the EU is in need of major reform, with economic woes and popular anger pushing Europe towards disintegration, it is well worth saving. Such a thesis enraged eurosceptics when the documentary was first aired by the BBC in the UK in March 2015.

The film, which has been broadcast in 12 countries and viewed by more than two million people, is now the centrepiece for a new campaign of transnational grassroots debate and engagement on the future of Europe.

Wake Up Europe! was launched by Annalisa Piras and Bill Emmott through their educational charity The Wake Up Foundation to sound the alarm about the risks we run if we fail to communicate adequately the challenges facing Europeans today.

Europe’s growing crises, from economic stagnation to the Eurozone’s problems and the refugee emergency, have been increasingly centre stage but rarely properly explained by the political elites and the ever more fragmented and inward-looking national media, with social media often adding to the noise.

This has resulted in a growing sense of hopelessness and chaos amongst European populations which has fuelled populism and, in some cases, belligerent nationalism. This hampers the search for collaborative solutions to what are collective problems, as we have seen most recently and most dramatically in the ongoing refugee situation.

The toxicity of the Europe question also does not bode well for the referendum debate in this country. An evidence-based referendum debate is hampered by the fact that Eurosceptics have attempted to cast any organisation highlighting the advantages of staying in  as an EU-funded propaganda outfit.

In an open letter published in Politico to announce the Wake Up Europe! Campaign, Bill Emmott pulled no punches about the failures of the European media in this respect:  “Too often, today’s European media — and the British are the worst culprits, but not the only ones — have been pandering to narrow, national interests and prejudices, and failed to explain the true nature of what has been going on. Worse still, some of the media — and here the British are true pioneers — have been conniving in the efforts of nationalists and anti-Europeans to close down the debate, to muzzle honest reporting by discrediting inconvenient views, and thereby choking off that most European, and quintessentially British, value of freedom of information and expression.”

Wake Up Europe! is unique in its mission to go beyond the received wisdom of the intellectual elites on the one hand and the empty click-activism of online petitions on the others, to create a new kind to engagement which begins online but develops out in the world.

It seeks to empower ordinary Europeans, wherever they live, to organise their own debates about the crises facing Europe and meet face to face at events centred around the free screenings of the film, sharing their insights with our growing community.

Annalisa Piras said: “We are asking people to think, talk, and act. Our aim is to facilitate events all over Europe, large and small, and help connect individuals, groups and associations who want to go further, to become a voice that can cut through the noise and remind leaders of what Europe people want.”

Paola Buonadonna is Campaigns Director at the Wake Up Foundation.

Note: The views expressed in this post are those of the author, and not of the UCL European Institute, nor of UCL.

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