Friday, January 25, 2008

Sundance: Take 2

Success! Monday we were able to see the German film Die Welle (The Wave) that we didn't get into Sunday. It tells the story of a high school lesson on autocracy gettting way out of control, exploring group behavior and politics in a modern interpretation of a true story. The movie is based on a novel that is required reading in German schools, about a teacher in Palo Alto in 1967 who taught the students about fascism by starting a movement. The true story is fascinating and the movie was incredibly well done, with great performances from the high school kids. According to the director they were very true to the actual events, other than to make it realistic for current times and the German context. Telling much more would be too much because I recommend seeing this movie. They have distribution in several countries and hopefully this will include the U.S. by the end of Sundance.

As I mentioned before, the story of this film brought to mind the Stanford Prison Experiment, mostly in the way they both expose a frightening aspect of human behavior: that you and I are capable of doing baser things than we ever would have thought possible. The prison experiment happened just a few years after the historical events that inspired The Wave, in the same city actually, and also got TOTALLY out of control. Stanford students volunteered and were assigned the role of either prison guard or prisoner to take on for two weeks. They totally embodied these roles and within just a few days this had done so much harm to them that the experiment was cancelled, though participants dealt with the effects for a long time. (That's the uberabbreviated summary. Learn more at the official site or trust wiki.) Because this story has also been made into a film in Germany, I had to ask the director of The Wave, Dennis Gansel, about it after the screening. He seemed to think it wasn't coincidental, but that in Germany they are especially interested in group behavior/social psychology particularly because of political implications. Given the history of their country this makes sense. So Das Experiment will be coming on my Netflix soon. The historical footage of the experiment, which many of us have probably seen in college, can be purchased for $100, which I may have to do one day since as a psychologist it should probably be part of my library....

And a big anyway, this is the producer and director during the Q&A after the screening.Apparently if you are a young foreign filmmaker you have to be adorable (the financiers are excempt from this rule). As we also saw later this week. More on that to come.

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