INTERACTIVE: A former airfield, now one of the world’s largest urban parks, Tempelhof Field acts as one of the city’s most vibrant and juxtaposing locations.
Astra Zoldnere
Zoldnere is a Latvian film director, curator and publicist. She is a regular contributor to Modern Times Review.
Published date: December 13, 2019

Berlin’s Tempelhof Field is a powerful example of how civil society can make changes. A former airport, now one of the largest city parks in the world, it was originally planned to be a new area for developers and real estate magnates. Locals, however, wanted to keep it for their own recreational activities and creative expression. After the 2014 referendum, the Tempelhof Field was decreed to stay as it is. Now, it has turned into a creative urban space where experimental and utopian models of living and innovative human expressions are practiced.

In the interactive online documentary Field Trip , the viewer is invited to take a virtual journey through Tempelhof Field where users create their own walking routes while switching between conversation partners.

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Field Trip, an interactive documentary

Tempelhof Field and Gezi Park

Tempelhof Field succeeded where Istanbul’s Gezi Park failed. The initiatives to save both took place around the same time. In Berlin, everything went peacefully, whereas in Istanbul the protesters met violent opposition. In both cities, the parks mean more than a simple green area. The movements supported human rights and freedom of expression.

Taking into account the similarities of both events, it seems logical that one of the characters in Field Trip is Mustafa Altioklar, a Turkish filmmaker and political oppositionist in exile. In one of the 14 episodes, he suggests shooting a film about the Gezi protests in Tempelhof Field. The idea seems similar to the approach Jean-Luc Godard took when making his film about the war in Vietnam. The French New Wave filmmaker proved that one doesn’t need to visit the actual place to be able to reflect on it. Godard’s Camera-Eye is a part of the omnibus film Far From Vietnam (1967). Instead of invading Vietnam with his camera, Godard offers a space for Vietnam in Paris. A French filmmaker’s struggles against «economist and aesthetic imperialism of American cinema» are juxtaposed with the Vietnamese fighting against American soldiers.

Also, the Tempelhof Field is only safe for now. In the German capital, like in many other world metropolises, some of the greatest challenges are rising rental and property prices. Investors keep insisting that it’s impractical to waste such a huge area for recreation when many people are in need of living space.

Unfinished society

Despite being available to the larger public, Field Trip is still unfinished. If the filmmakers manage to attract additional financing, new episodes will be added to the project. The word «unfinished» also relates to the field itself. One of the film’s characters, a feminist author Kübra Gümüsay, argues that normally in large cities every spot is thought-out and finished. But society is unfinished and needs space for developing new ideas and new forms of co-existence. In Tempelhof Field, this is true for urban gardeners, refugees, artists, activists, and other park visitors.

Berlin’s Templehof Field is a powerful example of how civil society can make changes.

The fences and strong regulations that dominated the airfield in the past counterpoint the new openness. In Nazi times, the space hosted forced laborers. In the Cold War era, it was a military airport surrounded by fences. The fences also appear in the short documentary Tempelhof, which Eva Stotz released in 2004. In that film, the director captured the local residents who would spend hours upon hours watching airplanes coming and leaving. For her characters, the airports were related to dreams and unreachable destinations.

Stotz re-uses this material in Field Trip but, together with her chief technologist Joscha Jäger and creative team, goes even further – suggesting that everybody can use shots from the online documentary as they see fit. Most of the film is available as Creative Commons material.

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Field Trip, an interactive documentary

A neverending story

Dialogue, innovation, and participation were all a part of the filmmaking process here. In collaboration with the book exchange initiative, the Field Trip team also installed a former phone booth on the field. It was transformed into a «StoryboXX» where everybody can leave a story about Tempelhof Field. We hear a sex worker whose client canceled an appointment, a scriptwriter looking for inspiration, and a woman waiting for the rain to stop. We are also faced with the childhood memories of a post-war child who thought the angels were flying in the sky.

These stories invite the audience to share their own experiences and thoughts. That’s why it is surprising that the creators of Field Trip have not provided an option to add custom stories on its web site. Co-author and interactive producer Frédéric Dubois argues that the audience usually isn’t particularly active in adding content to interactive documentaries. Even so, Field Trip is definitely an invitation to discuss both – new ways of organizing society and creating innovative forms of documentary film.

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