flowful meets... The Utopianale - Documentary film festival in Hannover, Germany

Today, flowful meets… Felix Kostrzewa from Wissenschaftsladen Hannover e.V., who has been organizing the documentary film festival Utopianale in Hannover-Linden since 2013. We talk about how he came up with the idea of the film festival, the theory of change of the project, and about current challenges. We explore how community is achievable in cities and how to start local initiatives together with your neighbours.

This portrait is available as a podcast (in German):

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Flowful and the Utopianale

All those who know Lars and me, know why the Utopianale and the Wissenschaftsladen are so close to our hearts: As a former Lindener (and in your heart you probably always will be), the Utopianale is a project from our neighborhood that somehow represents our "two worlds". The festival's wonderful slogan is "Because there is a tomorrow" and it deals with how to lead a more sustainable life and presents ideas and possible solutions. And secondly, the festival links us back to our roots, Hannover, and its beautiful district Linden. Well, and furthermore our wonderful friends Uta and Gunnar are members of the Utopianale team. 

flowful meets... Utopianale Hannover Linden

Film screenings, workshops and more activities frame every Utopianale

Felix, formerly a member of Hannover Transition Town, was asked by film distributors if there is a demand for documentaries in Hannover. They had the idea to show interesting documentaries in Hannover and were looking for people to multiply these films. Felix liked the films and idea. He invited people to the screenings and felt that even more people should see these films. So the idea for the festival was born: showing several films in one day should be more attractive for people to attend, coming even from other city districts as well. Film screenings together with workshops, a market of possibilities and more activities frame the main structure of every Utopianale.

In the meantime, the team organizing the Utopianale has grown. This year, the team, mainly volunteers, is organizing the 6th Utopianale already. How do we want to live? & How do we succeed in democracy (in the district)? is this year's topics. You should definitely make a note of November 10th and 11th and join this annual event! 

Workshops and exchanges are always framing the Utopianale.  Photo: Lea König

Workshops and exchanges are always framing the Utopianale. Photo: Lea König

Lively discussions and sharings between screenings.  Photo: Lea König

Lively discussions and sharings between screenings. Photo: Lea König

6 years of Utopianale

Felix: We started six years ago. The first Utopianale was one day. That was a great day, not so many people joined the first time, but very exciting people. Now, we're doing two full days plus a school project day. This year, for the second time, we'll invite schools to think together with us about the topic of sustainability. We want to inspire students, take them on a journey and organize workshops for them. In total, we have now reached 3 days. Throughout the year we also organize single film screenings. During these events, we screen some documentaries we feel are worth sharing, but don't fit in the theme of this year’s Utopianale. If we are able to invite interesting and related guest we also do some smaller events in between.

We decided that the most important thing is to make sure that we get back to the workshops and conversations in the spirit of the original.

The concept of the film festival

One thing unites all previous years of the Utopianale: the main purpose is to ask questions and to encourage reflection. How do we want to live, learn? How do we want to move, how do we want to feed ourselves? But what is so special about the Utopianale is that it gives answers and presents ideas and excites curiosity and hope.

Felix: The Utopianale is a documentary film festival; we call it a constructive documentary film festival. We show films that demonstrate something that already works sustainably somewhere in the world. We show films that have a constructive perspective and don't just show difficulties, highlight the problems and take away hope. I like to say: we will run out of sand, we will have no rare earths anymore and so on. Focusing on sustainability; we have enough problems to document of course. However, we present films that constructively approach the issues. Explaining, here and there we have seen something; there are people at work doing something cool. The films are surrounded by a lot of breaks; that is very important for us. People have the chance to talk to each other about the documentaries and share what pops up in their minds. We also organize some workshops framing the weekend. People and organizations invite others and show or do something around sustainability. 

The market of possibilites links global solutions and local initatives

Felix: One of our annual highlight and a special format is the market of possibilities. The great thing is that all the movies we are showing are from around the globe, and even their examples are sometimes from all over the world. There are even some great movies traveling around the world showcasing solutions with the message, you can also do it! The market of possibilities links the movies to our local reality and local initiatives. We provide the chance for the audience to become active locally. We have people here that are already active and available to talk to. It's like a small trade fair, with 15 to 20 initiatives, partly linked to the main theme of the year, but partly simply fundamental. Food sharing initiatives or other groups with similar approaches... Meaning you can get involved right away if you want to become active locally. 

Breaks during the Utopianale are used for self-education and connection.  Photo: Lea König

Breaks during the Utopianale are used for self-education and connection. Photo: Lea König

The theme of the Utopianale in 2017: How do we want to learn?  Photo: Lea König

The theme of the Utopianale in 2017: How do we want to learn? Photo: Lea König

Everyone can contribute to a bigger change: Joanna Macy’s great turning

And that's exactly what it's all about! Encouraging and showing that we are not alone and that we can contribute to the bigger change! In deep ecology, Joanna Macy speaks of different perspectives you can take with regard to life and our present situation: the first one is to simply nothing to question and to do business as usual. The second one is based on the progressing decay process of the earth, the great unraveling, and mainly creates disaster scenarios. As Felix says, our resources are exhausted and we are now running out of the sand and rare earths.

The third decisive point for both, the Utopianale and flowful is the so called great turning. This perspective, or story, is told by those groups and initiatives that are committed to a new socially just and ecologically sustainable culture in a wide variety of areas. Exactly this gives courage and shows that many small changes can work together and initiate the great turning. We are not alone, we can write a common history.

The Utopianale bridges a gap

Felix: I think we have already a lot of knowledge; there is a lot of what we can observe about these documentaries. A lot of things are circulating around the internet. But it's hard for the individual to bridge the gap between what just has been consumed on the internet and whether one could do the same here. One of the essential formats, or part of the format, is that we give the chance in workshops and that we give the chance in breaks to look around and see if there might be people you could do something with. And if you don't have an idea yourself, then go to the market of possibilities and see if there are like-minded people. Bridging the gap between what’s possible and already having a lot of knowledge about island solutions, to the point of becoming active ourselves; that's what the Utopianale is designed for. Before starting something on your own it is more fun and better to do it together.

Community in contempt of cities

Felix has the dream to bring this form of community, solidarity, and courage into urban spaces.

Felix: I keep calling it community despite the city. I want to live in the city, I love living in the city, but I realize more and more the difficulties of sustaining community experience and a community feeling in urban life. Back in the days, the TV that isolated us, today it stretches all over the public space. We're always connected to all the information in the world, I almost said, but this means that we're always looking at individual pieces of information and it's probably a big coincidence that we've both shared the same information right now.

I would like to see a little more interaction between each other and, among other things, to experience more together again. Watching a film, a documentary, a stimulating film is an experience and then being able to reflect this experience together so that we can draw our own conclusions from it. My dream is community despite the city and despite everything that is possible today. 

Still under discussion: vegan or vegetarian diet during the Utopianale.  Photo: Lea König

Still under discussion: vegan or vegetarian diet during the Utopianale. Photo: Lea König

Sharing and discussing throughout the Utopianale weekend.  Photo: Lea König

Sharing and discussing throughout the Utopianale weekend. Photo: Lea König

The vision of the festival

Felix: The vision of the Utopianale is to make it independent from my person and to make the neighbours claim it. To make the Utopianale being organized by people for people without outside support.

We want to achieve that the people in their districts decide to organize such an event once a year at least, or even more often. Once a year we allow ourselves to do this and we create spaces where we can have a look at what is possible, what makes sense, what needs to be discussed and finally debated, what can be integrated into our community.

Why joining the Utopianale team?

Felix creates spaces, also internally. The Utopianale team is always open for interested people wishing to participate while showcasing that project management can be different, e.g. with Dragon Dreaming. The philosophy of Dragon Dreaming is inspired by the indigenous wisdom of the Aborigines of Western Australia and is based on three equally important objectives: Protecting and enriching our planet, promoting community, and enhancing personal development. Dragon Dreaming can be used for both small and large projects, but it can also be used individually. If you want to know more, just have a look at dragondreaming.org

Felix: We are always open for people to join. It is a part of what I personally strive for and actually do. The team itself and the way we work together is an essential part of what the Utopianale wants to be and wants to do. I believe that we are building up a lot of competences within the team the way we are working together as a team. After joining the Utopianale team, the people who took part could also set up other projects of their own. They learn a lot about project management. We are goal-oriented but we also use alternative project management tools and we make it experiential by working together. This is one of the reasons why I am always very much in favor of people getting a taste of it. This helps us to build up capacity and tell people what we do and how we do it.

Utopianale. A pioneer project?

The Utopianale also leaves its marks throughout the neighborhood, even if Felix expresses it with more modesty.

Felix: On the one hand we don't ask people after the event. So we do not know what actually started or changed because of the Utopianale. I perceive a wider positioning in our district when it comes to activities, though. There are different people and organizations involved in these issues. However, I don't know if this is due to the Utopianale or to what extent the Utopianale supported this development. 6 years ago, our Wissenschaftsladen was the nearly the only one here with a cargo bicycle. When you walk through Linden today, you see one cargo bicycle next to the other. What or who might be the reason for that and how much impact came because of the 4th Utopianale focusing on mobility. I don’t know.   

I hope that the Utopianale is a kind of a lighthouse for the people. Maybe people from outside with different perspectives will also see that there are alternatives to the mainstream approaches.   

Pioneer project... When I refer to my small knowledge in permaculture, yes, one of the first to grow somewhere that fits the concept of our Utopianale. I hope someday it won't be weeded away. 

Encouraging the audience to participate and share ideas, visions and new ways of thinking.  Photo: Lea König

Encouraging the audience to participate and share ideas, visions and new ways of thinking. Photo: Lea König

Lessons learned

This comparison to pioneer plants is, of course, extremely pleasing to me. This makes me think straight away of a permaculture principle that is incredibly important to me: apply self-regulation and accept feedback. Within six years, a project like the Utopianale and the team has grown steadily. They have to reinvent continuously in order to sustain their success. What Felix has learned is to use one’s network. 

Felix: The Utopianale, as already mentioned 1 or 2 times, is a baby that I created and that I have put into reality and where people now participate. It's nice and also flatters my ego, it's gorgeous and now I'm sitting here doing an interview, but the whole project is even better if it's broader and if different network partners make it their child.

The individual is extremely important in a community. However, to connect early to the systemic forces around you is essential. I think the fine art of building networks opens many doors without having to enter them or hit them with your head.  

If we would have had such a strong and reliable partner like the Freizeitheim Linden from the very beginning things would have been much easier. This partner supports the project as such and is very different from the grassroots idea and the Transition Town movement. This is a city-operated cultural center, well financed, with a lot of space and rooms. Therefore, you have to be able to deal with their different organizational habits and different planning rhythms. But if they are with you, in your network, you are able to reach out to different kinds of people and organizations. Networking is key. Without a network, I wouldn't be able to do a school project day. Only because partners are organizing this day and all we have to do is to think and participate. But we’re not responsible. That’s why we can offer this additional format. 

Film as an opportunity for dialogues

The audience of the Utopianale is mixed. People coming from activist backgrounds who have been there for some time and mostly people who come around because of their interest in the subject or because they feel attracted by individual films.

Most of the people are between 30-40 years old. But the team around the Utopianale would also like to reach the younger generation, and that's why they offer the school project days now. For Felix, a film is always an opportunity for dialogue.

Felix: Film works as a chance for us to finally see the same things. When we try to reach out to such a wide audience, let’s say for example a 15-year-old has just started to explore the concept of sustainability and that our current system of exploration of our world resources cannot work forever. If such a young guy meets someone who has been working for associations for more than 55 years, a film creates the possibility for both to be credible. These two people have very different horizons of experience and therefore struggle to enter a dialogue. But if they have seen a film or a documentary together and are able to say what they found very exciting about it, then the other person can remember it as well and they start sharing their experiences. 

As a result, it is an objective dialogue that is free to enter for everyone. That is one of the basic ideas and that's why I like to talk to people about films because then it's no longer important where we come from, but what we have received together. Then the opinion of the 15-year-old can exist along the opinion of the 70-year-old and the 45-year-old can also listen to both and add his own opinion. And yet we have a common basis that we can talk about.

Create continous structures to increase impact

Meanwhile, the Utopianale is an established and popular film festival in Hannover. Especially for the dialogue opportunities that the Utopianale creates. But in order to also strengthen its impact, Felix wants to link the festival more closely with community.

Felix: We can and should increase the impact by creating continuing structures. We are currently discussing if we should initiate a form of monthly regulars' circle. Low-threshold so that people can stay tuned and be part of the community through the year. Where you can talk about what’s going on or even ask very specifically: I wanna do this and that, is someone interested in joining?

Let’s say like the Utopianale lunch break throughout the year. I can imagine that that would increase the impact because it simply increases the team spirit and solidarity.

One of our expectation is, of course, to link those people who just wanted to watch a documentary to the exisiting sustainable groups and them to say "I'll join you here and now".

Time for reflection and action.  Photo: Lea König

Time for reflection and action. Photo: Lea König

Food & fermentation workshop.  Photo: Lea König

Food & fermentation workshop. Photo: Lea König

Democracy and community in action

Participation is important for Felix and the Utopianale. That's why sometimes the audience is also involved in the planning process.

Felix: At the last Utopianale we offered an experimental format where we dismantled a film with the permission of the producers because it seemed too long to us. In different rooms we showed parts of the film and we asked the audience to choose. Which part is important for you? Which chapter do you want to watch? That was such an important trial for me. Sometimes I have the feeling that we’re overloading ourselves with information. Well, we did that and it was great. It was great because people complained that they wanted to see the full movie. Of course, you could have figured it out before. Then we decided together with 60 wildly mixed people, on a Sunday morning, how to deal with the fact that there are different interests in the room. I think we managed to get people to admit that we decided together how to deal with it. It was a great experience because it was democracy and community in action. I am also proud of the fact that we managed it without any disputes and I hope that one or the other will think about it again afterwards. 

One of the effects of the Utopianale or the desired effects is also to have the impression, especially on this weekend, that we are quite a few and there are already many exciting solutions and ideas in existence. Relevant global solutions meet many local people. And if we in respectful interaction figure out, that we can't do everything at the same time, we have a great chance to do something very practical together.

The theory of change

I guess you know the feeling. Despite the flood of information and events in the city, at the end of the day you feel somehow isolated from what's going on outside your own front door. It's no wonder that participate in an online petition but somehow just don't manage to get involved in neighbourhood decisions and activities.  

And that's where the vision of the Utopianale comes in. Community despite city. Or maybe even because of the city. The Utopianale wants to create an interconnected get-together that pushes towards sustainability as an urban community. Self-determined and self-driven. 

In order to achieve this, the Utopianale creates spaces in which people meet and realize that they are not alone. Spaces in which they can network and launch local sustainability initiatives or support existing formats. 

What’s next?

The Utopianale is so much more than just watching documentaries about sustainable topics in community. It is a time for discussions and it creates opportunities for exchange. Global solutions will be shown, but above all local alternatives are presented which invite and encourage participation. 

The Utopianale will take place on 10 & 11 November at Freizeitheim Linden. The programme and all other important information can be found at www.utopianale.de. Here, you will also find the contact to Felix and his team if you want to participate, get active or maybe even support financially.

Information about the Utopianale:

Other links: