"THE UTOPIA CAN BECOME REALITY ON THE INTERNET!'
Filmmaker Jean Mach on his cyber thriller "8th Wonderland," social networks and virtual politics
By Rudiger Suchsland
[With much money and dynamism, "8th Wonderland" [1} by the French filmmakers Jean Mach and Nicholas Alberny tells the story of a virtual state that opposes global exploitation with political actions and protests. Their actions radicalize and turn against them. The film is an entertaining political thriller and at the same time a stimulating reflection on contemporary political questions. This interview published 8/13/2010 on the German-English cyber journal Telepolis is translated from the German on the Internet.]
ENOUGH OF OUR BEING EXPOSED TO THE TELEVISION AND ITS "INFORMATION" WITHOUT BEING ABLE TO REACT
Your film develops some excellent ideas about virtual democracy. How did they arise? How did the project unfold?
Jean Mach: The project arose out of a common drive to make a feature film. In discussing together, we noticed the same things in the cinema interested us and that we had the same credentials. The films that delight us are those that mix entertainment with deeper reflection. Such films arose especially in the 1970s. But the project was borne out of a contradiction.
We had enough of having to accept being exposed to television and its "information" without being able to react. The only possible reaction is to change the channel. Certain people would gladly break out of this passivity and take the initiative.
The Internet helps those dissatisfied with the present system as an instrument for collecting thoughts. Thus the idea arose of establishing a country.
How does narration function when virtual worlds are involved? What does storytelling mean in relation to cyberspace? How does this change the work of a filmmaker?
Jean Mach: The great difference whether one tells a story in cyberspace or in some other space is that one must find a way to illustrate the Internet. We have to invent some things because they do not exist in a form suitable for film. We invented a form of a modern video-conference...
There are certain aesthetic clichés as to virtual worlds. What do you think about that? How do you avoid them?
Jean Mach: From the beginning, we wanted to avoid the cliché about computers in which people are perched before the screen. This seems extremely boring and produces an isolation that completely contradicts what we wanted to show - community spirit. We wanted interaction between persons who communicate, discuss and live together.
THE INTERNET MAY BE THE LAST SPACE OF FREEDOM OF SPEECH
Is the "8th Wonderland" a social network, a radical version of Facebook or something completely different?
Jean Mach: "8th Wonderland" strongly resembles Facebook. For example, parties are already organized in France with the help of this Internet site. Suddenly there are a thousand volunteers a week. What happens when politics is central, not parties? Then volunteers are found, not thousands but enough. Then we will be in the thick of the "8th Wonderland."
What do you think of the "Declaration of Independence of Cyberspace" by John Perry Barlow?
Jean Mach: In our time, the Internet may be the last space of freedom of speech. Therefore it is very welcome that certain persons like John Perry Barlow fight to preserve this freedom. Television changes all news into a "format." Governments feel uneasy that such regimentation does not exist on the Internet. Their power drifts away on the Internet.
Violence begins where hope disappears, as soon as one says violence can solve problems. Violence is always a synonym for hopelessness.
In the case of the "8th Wonderland," violence appears nature since a lawless space is involved even though the citizens of this virtual state give themselves a charter. The way that leads to violence is unfortunately a simpler way. For this reason, there is so much violence. What country has no depressing periods in its history? That is the question raised by citizens of the "8th Wonderland" at the end. They try to rebuild their country after considering its mistakes. As to the question of justification, violence cannot be justified for us.
WE WANTED TO CREATE AN OPTIMISTIC VISION OF THE INTERNET
Do you see your film as part of the anti-globalization movement?
Jean Mach: When one does not agree with the current economic situation, one automatically becomes part of alternative solutions. But this does not mean rejecting globalization as such. It only means a different globalization is desired. In our case we would be much more convinced of globalization if the economy were not the only essential criterion for its occurrence, if we did not only measure success by the size of the bank account as now and in the last 15 years.
Your film develops a political alternative. Is that a utopia?
Jean Mach: We wanted to create an optimistic vision of the Internet without veiling the dangers and weaknesses of this system. Many people have the tendency to demonize the Internet - but its daily uses cannot be kept secret.
This medium is a great source of knowledge and information. We were determined that the film should end on a point of hope. I don't know whether such a positive future is possible but I'd like to believe it. Many political movements are described as utopian to delegitimate them. Their first goal is to help the people. This is very hard in practice.
On the other hand, everything possible that happens today appeared utopian a few years ago. Facebook is one example. I am convinced the word "utopian" does not exist.
What should we think of the last scene?
Jean Mach: One has to see the ending of the "8th Wonderland." This virtual country survived a dark period of its history and changed.
"21ST Century Enlightenment"