FREEDOM – A MULTI-FACETED ANNUAL TOPIC
By Kenneth Hujer and Janina Käppel
FOR MANY YEARS THE LICHTER FILMFESTIVAL HAS BEEN LED BY AN ANNUAL TOPIC, ALWAYS POIGNANTLY SUMMARISED IN A SINGLE WORD. WE HAVE TRIED OUR HAND AT MANY, CERTAINLY BIG TOPICS. ONE OF THE BIGGEST HOWEVER HAS BEEN SAVED UP UNTIL NOW. PERHAPS IT TOOK OUR 15. FESTIVAL ANNIVERSARY. MOST CERTAINLY, AS IN PREVIOUS YEARS, IT IS THE PRESENT ITSELF WHICH INFORMS OUR TOPIC. FOR THIS YEAR, THAT MEANS “FREEDOM“!
“Come with me to my free world,” sings Tocotronic on their current album “No More War”. Unfortunately, the album’s title and its urgency experience a topicality that is unimaginable for us in Europe. The daily pictures of the war in the Ukraine are shocking to us all. An attack on a country that desires for itself the principles of the free Western world is taking place. The people in Ukraine can no longer act freely. They are forced to fight to protect the freedom of their country or to leave their homes and flee to protect their lives and that of their children.
It would be natural to condemn the other side as a whole. However, that would be doing an injustice to many people. Russia and Belarus, too, are experiencing massive restrictions on their right to freedom. Not every citizen supports the aggressive war. But free elections, freedom of speech, and freedom of the press do not exist there. For their participation in peaceful protests against the war, people are imprisoned and the press is not allowed to report on “war”. For a long time the opposition has been prevented from exercising their democratic rights and protests have been suppressed; as seen, for example, in the documentary film “Courage” by the Belarusian director Aliaksei Paluyan, who studied at the Kunsthochschule Kassel. In Germany, the most famous example is the Russian oppositionist politician Alexei Nawalny who survived a poison attack and was sentenced to several years in prison.
Here, there may be an agreement in society on how the concept of freedom is to be interpreted. Until recently, however, it was not so simple. The Covid pandemic, along with the political actions to curb it, divided Western society and became a true challenge to freedom. Some also interpreted Covid-19 as a “narcissistic insult“ to freedom. Loud voices insisted on their personal right to freedom, others said, “There is no me without others,” like Tocotronic, who indirectly criticised the egotistical, unsupportive concept of freedom of the Querdenker. For personal rights of freedom can be enjoyed only on the foundation of a secure political community.
The motto at the birth of our free democracy means nothing else: Freedom, Equality, Brotherhood – or in modern terms: Freedom, Equality, Siblinghood. Everybody has a right to life and physical integrity, the freedom of each must be exercised in solidarity with the freedom of all others. Freedom is not egoism! This is how Kant’s often quoted categorical imperative could be paraphrased as a slogan. And through the pandemic, this suddenly meant: Restrictions of many individual rights of freedom, including the cherished visit to the cinema to protect those endangered by Covid.
Of course, it remains to be questioned whether safety and freedom have always been in the right balance in these measures. Authoritarian regimes like China, on their way to becoming a global power, do not have to face this constant weighing of freedom and safety. Freedom as a human right is not at the centre of the political action there, on the contrary: All political organisations, the media and the civil society must submit to government goals and are strictly regulated. Further: with their social credit system, the Chinese government elevates itself to an omnipresent supervisory body. Factually, it signifies the end of all freedom. By sealing off cities with millions of inhabitants, strict isolation and rigid entry barriers, everyday life in China could return quickly. But what does the success of the determinedly anti-freedom crisis management in China mean for the future of our freedom? “Is technical autocracy superior to Western democracy?”, a major German newspaper already asked suggestively.
Besides the war in the Ukraine and the pandemic, other major topics of our time such as the climate crisis and the development of artificial intelligence are directly linked to questions of freedom and equally question rights of freedom. Should we continue travelling and consuming as often and as much as we like, if we can afford it, in the face of the devastating consequences of global warming? More than a few would answer this question with a “No” by now. But the demands here have long moved past only restricting freedom of consumption or freedom of travel. Even if the birth rate is not the all-important factor in CO2 emissions: Some are already thinking out loud about a birth rate controlled by the government. The possibilities of artificial intelligence also suggest a strong restriction of human freedom of action – notably for our own safety. A remake of “Easy Rider” with self-driving motorcycles – is that what we want?
The term freedom seems to have a generally positive connotation. It is brought into play from all sides of the domestic political spectrum, even from the far right. Even the Russian ruler uses it to legitimise the war against Ukraine by pretending to free the oppressed Russian-speaking population and denazify the country. In 2004, 55 years after its founding, the Chinese state apparatus, too, incorporated human rights and with it the political freedoms of freedom of expression, freedom of assembly and freedom of the press into its constitution. Thus, freedom becomes a rather hazy concept. Whoever uses it enjoys, if you will, a fool’s liberty.
For its 15th anniversary, this year’s LICHTER Filmfestival takes the liberty of illuminating freedom, its annual topic, in many of its facets and contemporary questions. Freedom as an ideal, freedom as a promise, freedom as a madness, freedom as a threat, threatened and lost freedom, freedom as lack of freedom – along with these motifs, the international LICHTER long film competition will be curated and a large discourse programme is to be presented alongside. In this context, the freedom of art is not to go unmentioned, which also affects the LICHTER FILMFEST directly. In many European countries a reactionary backlash is taking hold: culture- and filmmakers feel threatened in their work, the discussion of certain topics such as sexual self-determination suddenly becomes grounds to be denied funding. The Kongress Zukunft Europäischer Film will discuss this as part of the discourse programme and lead to a renewed position paper. Thus, the LICHTER Filmfestival hopes to help reframe freedom as a collective term of diverse freedoms and pose the defining question: How free do we want to live, how can we live freely? And do we even have the freedom of choice to answer?