Living without Money: a timely new doc from Germany

0 Posted by - May 6, 2009 - Conversations, Features, Screen
Heidemarie Schwermer goes penniless in "Living without Money"

Heidemarie Schwermer goes penniless in "Living without Money"

The new documentary by director Line Halvorsen, Living without Money (LWM), couldn’t have come at a better time. It won’t be released until Feburary 2010 but one assumes we won’t be out of this current global economic mess we are in now. And if I can be sure of one thing, it’s that radically alternative visions and philosophies of the planet’s economic system will still be shut out of the public discussion when LWM is relesaed. Turn on the news or pick up a paper and it’s the same: we need to get back on track, we need to stimulate the economy, get people shopping again, get manufacturing moving at break neck speed, etc, etc. With this myopic worldview of economics has come massive bail-outs for the corporate crust at the top of humanity’s cake. And as was said by Mary Walsh on This Hour has 22 Minutes some years earlier, “everyone knows the upper crust is really a bunch of crumbs held together with dough.”

Considering there has been little to no discussion in the mainstream media on the topic of alternative ways of constructing an economy (and you’d think this would be a rich moment for such alternative, radical and incendiary ideas to be given space), it is a delight to learn of a documentary that charts one woman’s 13 year odyssey of living without money. In the trailer, which you can watch on the film’s site, Sixty-seven year-old Heidemarie Schwermer is shown surviving withoug money by trading work for food, work for lodging, and work for even her own funeral. What is starkly apparent in this short introduction to the film, is that Schwermer is confronted by total hostility from so many people. It seems that challenging the very foundation of the organization of human society—in Germany, and the “world system”—that is, capitalism, is not met with open arms and open minds.

The film looks like it will be fascinating, and so I sent filmmaker Halvorsen a few questions to pique our interests while we wait for the release.

[Art Threat] How did you find out about Heidemarie Schwermer?

[Line Halvorsen] One day the producer, Paolo Pallavidino, showed  an article about Heidemarie from an Italian newspaper to me. It was written after the release of her book in Italian. We found her story intriguing, and after a while we decided to try to find her. We met in Munich the first time and she made a great impression on us. We stayed in touch by mail and telephone for about a year. Then one day we asked if she would be interested in participating in a documentary film, and she agreed.

How long has the film taken to make? What is the film about?

The film is not finished yet, We started in December 2008 and plan to have it ready by February 2010. ”Living Without Money” is about Heidemarie Schwermer (67), a German woman who has chosen to live without money and who has done so for the past 13 years. Instead of using money she exchanges favors and helps people. In the film we follow Heidemarie in her day-to-day life, experience how she goes about to find work, food and a place to stay. In addition to the day-to-day challenges she meets from living without money, the film will also go deeper into explaining Heidemarie’s life philosophy and why she has chosen to live this way. The film will reflect around themes of materialism and over-consumption – how money influences our way of thinking, living and acting – and the consequences this has on our life, health and the environment.

Living without Money poster

Living without Money poster

Assuming the film has cost money to make, have you ever felt this tension between making a film with a budget about someone who doesn’t use money?

Being around Heidemarie makes you feel very aware of how you spend your money. And she doesn’t like for us to pay for her. Heidemarie herself might not understand why we are so concerned about the fund raising issue for the film. For her the whole process of professional filmmaking is a new experience, and she is always looking for ways we can save money during the production. For example she is always helping out with suggestions for free housing and food through her vast network of contacts. From potential financiers and others we often hear the joke ” can’t you just make the film without money?”.  In one way, it could have been interesting to try to make a film on this issue totally based on exchanging favors, but I think it would have taken us years to make the film that way.

How do you feel your film could contribute to a global discussion about capitalism, especially given the current economic situation?

The current economic crisis has changed everyday life for many. An economic recession combined with rising unemployment, will force many to change their lifestyle and their consuming habits. Through the film “Living Without Money” and the meeting with Heidemarie Schwermer and her philosophy, we will look at the value of social networks and solidarity between people. The film will reflect about our attitudes to materialism and over-consumption and open up a discussion about how money affects our way to think, live and act – and the consequences this has on our lives, health and environment. The film is not seeking to demonize our consumer society, but rather wants to provoke the viewers to reflect upon their own lives and attitudes.

Why do you feel there is so much resistance to Schwermer’s philosophy and life-practice from other people she meets?

I think for many it is a self-defense mechanism. She is doing something extreme, and it challenges our lifestyle and way of thinking. Of course her way of living is not sustainable as such – everyone could not live exactly like her, but that is not her idea either. If we were to create a different society, it would mean that we would have to give up a lot of the habits we have today, and many don’t like that idea. She would like to see a warmer society with different values, where a person’s worth is not judged after how much money he/she has. A society where people look after and take care of each other. I think that many who are unhappy with their own jobs and lives are provoked by her way of living, traveling, not working and enjoying life.

Have you ever tried to live without money? Would you?

No, but for years I have been an independent documentary filmmaker with a low income.  I am not a very materialistic person, and having an interesting and fulfilling job and life means more to me than earning and spending money. I don’t think I would like to live completely without money, but I find the idea to exchange favors and help each other a very good one. I have learned a lot from Heidemarie, and have become even more aware of my own role as a consumer.

How can North Americans see this film when it is ready?

We are currently looking for tv-stations and distributors who could be interested in the film.

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