What has 224 legs, 336 eyes, takes 5 years to mature, and lives for 95 minutes? One of the most thought-provoking films you’ll ever see, Problema.
An aerial view of the “set” of Problema
What would happen if you rounded up thought-provoking questions from people all over the world, then gathered about a hundred thoughtful people together in a huge circle, pointed cameras at them, and asked the questions one by one? Well, a cacophonous murmur would probably ensue, until you edited the results into some kind of cohesive whole, as director Ralf Schmerberg did with his epic film project Problema. The project was inspired by the Dropping Knowledge project, a global information sharing and media project founded in 2003. On a single day in September, 2006, over a hundred individuals – artists, scientists, writers, business people, and other thinkers – took their place around a huge circle in Berlin’s Bebelplatz. This was a powerfully symbolic choice – the Bebelplatz was the location of the infamous Nazi book burnings of 1933. With digital cameras pointed at each guest, hosts Willem Dafoe and Hafsat Abiola (founder of Nigeria’s Kudirat Initiative for Democracy) asked 17 of 100 questions that had been selected from the thousands that were submitted worldwide via the Dropping Knowledge project. The guests then responded in their own time, with the cameras all running continuously, all framing the guests in a tight headshot. Guest Wim Wenders – director of the film Wings of Desire – astutely pointed out the similarity between the resulting murmur and the way the angels in his film had no choice but to hear the thoughts of humans everywhere, which created much of the lush sonic backdrop of Wings of Desire. Schmerberg – Problema’s director – managed to capture much of this live feeling of the event by interspersing compelling, sometimes tear-inducing images with a lively mixture of both concise, eyes-at-the-camera answers, and almost out-take-like moments of verité in which the attendees fumbled with their thoughts or spoke in asides to the guests sitting next to them. The result is a thought-provoking documentary unlike any you’ve seen before. If you’re a caring person who lives in the so-called “First World”, a question like “Does our wealth depend on the Third World being poor?” might make you think “Well of course, and it’s a shameful tragedy”. But you’ll suddenly be forced to ponder things like what a bogus concept the “Third World” is in the first place, or how much freedom you have if you live in a powerful western capitalist country, when a sophisticated, educated person from Colombia points out that he for instance is only able to visit a place like Berlin because of a four day visa connected with the making of the film. He otherwise is barred from our “first world” as a second-rate global citizen who “has no right to enter our paradise” as he puts it. Although you may find Problema quite watchable on your own, you might find it a lot more interesting if you watch it with some intelligent friends, so you can discuss the world of questions it is likely to raise in your heart and your head. To view the film as a particapatory event, the Problema website offers a screening page that allows you to publicize the event, but you can just download it and watch it with friends if you like – it’s free, provided in multiple file formats, and can be downloaded by bittorrent or as a direct file.