Photo by Astrid Warberg
Part-time Berliner and Canadian filmmaker Paul Donovan brings young American Christian fundamentalists on a mission in Berlin in his film Blissestrasse. How well would a group of dogmatic believers fair in Europe’s city of sin? Taking a comedic journey among the converted, Berlin is the ultimate test of faith for the unquestioning.
Donovan’s film is screening at our next installment of EXBlicks at Lichtblick Kino on Saturday, April 21, 20:00, following by your opportunity to ask your own questions of faith and devotion.
What’s the inspiration behind Blissestraße?
I’ve been living about halftime in Berlin for the last seven years, and I have an ‘einblick’ in the city. For me, it is very liberal, and that is appealing to me. At the same time, the US in particular, but other countries as well, is sinking into this religious conservatism that I find very disturbing.
So it couldn’t have been made in another city?
I think Berlin is the perfect place for it. For instance, you have this little scene with the gay skinheads in the beginning - and that’s Berlin!
You’ve said you want to make movies that excites you – what excites you about Blissestraße?
That I could go after something that Hollywood can’t do; that they’re afraid to do. That also the state financed films won’t do. It was very hard for me to finance Blissestraße, because it’s a little bit more provocative, a little more dangerous; you have to break some taboos - and I always thirst for that.
So what taboos are you breaking?
One of them is that we have a gay antagonist; and a lot of people don’t approve of that. I think that’s ridiculous. Gays don’t always have to be stereotypically positive. We have gay positive roles in the film, but that’s Berlin to me; you have both good and bad.
Filmmakers always want to portray characters that are real – but I thought Pastor Williams was totally unreal.
He is unreal in a way, but I don’t see him as a caricature. I see him as always acting, because he is troubled with his sexuality, and he’s created this pretend world – he is being something that he is not, so he is almost never real, but he’s intentionally not real – but somewhere underneath is the real person…
Is Pastor Williams, this religious freak, authentic in America?
I’m not exaggerating. When you go to Miami as a tourist, you don’t see it. But if you go to other parts of Florida and buy a bottle of milk and hand over a five-dollar bill, you get change back with a ‘Praise the Lord’, and they mean it. And they assume you’re one of them.
What are you hoping to accomplish with Blissestraße?
Well, the first thing you try to accomplish in any kind of film is just to make it fun to watch. It’s also nice to bring people into a world that is real. There are two worlds that we’re trying to bring people into, and one is a certain side of Berlin that’s not in the tourist brochures, and one is this world of very deeply fanatical American Christian fundamentalists. Trying to create both of those with authority was my goal. For instance, when Pastor Williams reads the rules in the beginning of the mission, I took those completely from the rules of an American Christian university. I thought ‘This can’t be true.’ But it is.
The idea for this story started when someone handed me a flyer that said ‘Come to our worship at Blissestraße.’
How do you imagine the response will be when it is shown in America?
Well, my ideal audience is like the Berliner type, interested in different and unusual films. But the much more interesting audience is the 18-year-old who’s just gone through this whole Christian upbringing, typically in a non-state school, but home-schooled environment, and they get a copy of this film on a DVD, they see it on the internet or someone rides to Kansas city and says “You’ve got to see this movie – it’s Pastor Bob!” And they look at this movie and say “That’s it! I suddenly see my world,” and they’re off to Las Vegas two days later.
So you want to start a revolution with the young Christian kids?
Well, de-program them a bit. [Laughs] And make a contribution to that, because I actually think it is the responsibility of people who are liberal – such as myself – to defend the liberal world that we live in, because it’s being chipped away at from a number of directions.