Sheffield screening of The Great European Disaster Movie

On Monday 9th May (Europe Day) the Geography Society and I hosted a screening of The Great European Disaster Movie.

The movie:

examines the identity crisis of current-day Europe and the complex challenges that are mounting against the Union's survival. Beset by growing nationalism, seven years of economic crisis [as of 2014] and an increasing dissatisfaction with its undemocratic political structure will Europe sleepwalk into catastrophe as it did one hundred years ago?

I wanted to screen the film to raise awareness of the benefits of the European Union, especially in the lead up to the EU Referendum in the UK on 23 June. I firmly wish for the UK to remain in the EU - despite its problems - and worry that if the UK leaves my young son and his generation will grow up in a nation cast out from the world like a political pariah, without the benefits and social safeguards that we have enjoyed up to now.

The movie has a fictional narrative that runs through the film which introduces key concepts and serves as a launching point for relevant documentary footage.

We held the screening in a theatre in the Diamond and following the screening we held a short discussion about the themes highlighted in the movie.

Are you optimistic or pessimistic about the future of Europe?
People were rather quiet when asked this question directly, perhaps indicating they were unsure how they felt about Europe's chances, or that they were pessimistic but perhaps didn't want to admit it. The question also implicitly assumes that people think the European Union should be saved, which may not have been the case. When pressed, most of the audience thought there were both things to be optimistic about, but also things to be pessimistic about so the response was unsure.
Is the European worth saving?
About a third of the audience felt that the EU is worth saving, with the remaining two-thirds unsure. No-one answered directly that it isn't worth saving. I anticipate that this may be because people still did not know what the European Union does, which is something that was teased out in later questions.
If you could make it happen tomorrow, what change would you most like to see in the EU?
People were slightly reluctant to open discussion with this question, so I began by sharing my own desire to see inequalities reduced across the European Union. My own domain of research is health inequalities, which is strongly linked with income and social inequality, so I would like to see all forms of inequality addressed. Having kicked off discussion, other members of the audience felt that large corporate entities, such as the financial centres in the major world cities, needed reforming and to pay appropriate taxes. This would certainly contribute to reducing various forms of inequality.
Audience members were critical about the lack of visible democracy and transparency in the European Union: they felt the decision-making processes of the EU were too far removed from them. If this issue was addressed it could help counter many of the arguments of the leave campaign. E-democracy or e-voting might be helpful but it's only a tool and to rely on it to ‘fix’ democracy in the European Union is falling into the trap of technological determinism. Instead they could be implemented as part of a wider reform of democratic process and accountability in the EU.
Do you feel European?
One member of the audience said she felt global, rather than European. Others felt European alongside their national or regional identities, and their two (or more) geographical identities were not mutually exclusive. The freedom of movement afforded to EU citizens help many audience members to feel like they were part of a wider network of people. None of the audience felt exclusively European.

Overall, as I tried to wrap up, I felt hopeful that there were people who felt the European Union was worth saving, both as a political institution and as a sharing of cultures and ideals. We recognised that some things in the European Union did need to change and there were numerous challenges to the future of the European Union, not least the forthcoming referendum in the UK. But most of us felt like we had a European or even global identity alongside our national and regional identities. I think the strength of the European Union lies in its multiple national cultures working together, building something that is stronger and better as a result of that diversity.

You can stream The Great European Disaster Movie if you want to watch it for yourself, or find out more #WakeUpEurope, the movement behind the documentary, including screenings and other events.