Bianca-Olivia Nita
Bianca is a freelance journalist and documentary critic. She is a regular contributor to Modern Times Review.

A reality TV show aims to create an utopian society, but instead becomes a dystopian experience for its participants

Last Year in Utopia (Letztes Jahr in Utopia)

Jana Magdalena Keuchel & Katharina Knust

Germany, 2017 72 minutes

Fifteen people left their lives behind to start all over again, building a home and a garden together and creating a new society in the middle of a forest away from civilization. Or this is what they set out to do when they applied to be part of a so-called “media experiment” that required participants to do all of the above over the period of one year. Tatiana, Hans, Auri and L. are four of the fifteen participants that were selected from 9000 applications, but what promised to be one year of adventure creating an idyllic community soon turned out to be a nightmare.

The Experiment

The very idea of an idyllic society suggests peace and a supportive community based on understanding, but all this is the very opposite of what a reality show can be. It doesn’t become clear from the very beginning of the film, but the so-called “media experiment” was one in front of millions of viewers: a TV show that was supposed to last one year, but ended sooner after the participants realized they were guinea pigs and not builders of a community. Some of them decided to leave the show no matter what.

«By definition, every reality TV show is based on conflict.»

By definition every reality TV show is based on conflict. Good behaviours, collaboration and smooth understanding are not encouraged because the audiences are not arrested by shows in which everything goes perfectly well. If that were to happen there would actually be no story. Something has to happen and if nothing happens, the producers will manipulate facts and recordings to either cause something to happen or to make it seem like it does. The entertainment version of Utopia therefore cannot exist.

Last Year in Utopia by Jana Magdalena Keuchel & Katharina Knus

Yet Tatiana, Hans, Auri and L. seem to have entered the project with genuine hopes of fulfilment. A year later now, they reunite in the space where the whole setting used to be. The place was cleaned up so well and nature reclaimed the land so fast, that hardly any traces were left of the TV setting where the lights never went off and 160 cameras kept watch 24/7, making a “zum” sound at every detected move.

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