In his notes for Who We Were director Bauder stresses how, as a species, we seem to be powerless participants in our own demise, as we observe the effects of globalization and unsustainable growth. “Instead of witnessing a broad social awakening, there seems to be mostly resignation and helplessness,” he writes.
He further quotes German author and academic Roger Willemsen who observed how “we teach ourselves to plead ignorance in the face of knowledge, acting as if we don‘t know, even though we do.”
Bauder seeks to counter this sense of willing acquiescence by creating a documentary scenario (and a highly cinematic one at that) whereby we are invited to look back at the current state of the world through the eyes of an astronaut (the highly lauded German astronaut Alexander Gerst) and to ask ourselves, in the spirit of Willemsen, whether future generations will despair of us when we are long gone. He describe the film as “a cinematic essay in the style of a contemporary Koyaanisqatsi going beyond a mere desolate description of our world.”
That said, the doc isn’t a doom-laden and hopeless treatise on the inevitable demise of us as a species and the planet we inhabit. Rather, it strikes a clear note of optimism as it introduces us to five other charismatic and articulate scientists, thinkers and researchers who are all seeking solutions that can put the world to rights. Together with astronaut Gerst these are Sylvia Earle (deep sea researcher), Mathieu Ricard (buddhist monk), Dennis Snower (economist), Felwine Sarr (philosopher) and Janina Loh (critical post-humanist)
Through these “luminaries” the film seeks to examine the roots of human behaviour and observes that our current situation is neither inevitable nor immutable, Bauder says. “For history has shown on several occasions that the possibilities that seem the most improbable are the ones that become reality. Because each and every one of us has many more creative possibilities than we generally can imagine or concede.”
He adds: “We may think that we’re simply not capable of understanding the increasingly complex problems of our planet, but for these charismatic scientists, that’s not enough. Whether it’s on the top of the world, in the depths of the ocean, inside the human brain, at the G-20 summit, or in the heart of the International Space Station ISS, they are searching for practical ways to save our world.”
Bauder tells of some audience reactions to his European Film Award-winning Master of the Universe (2013). “People were sitting and commenting on the [excesses of] bankers and the world of finance and how bad they are, but made no connection with their own habits. They were pointing at a disconnection,” he says. “I want to say we have to be aware of our own habits and how they are connected with the habits of others. Everything connects. That is the [premise] of the film. It’s not about whether it is bad or good, it is about the awareness of the connectivity.”
“It is not a question of information, we know everything, we have all the information,” he continues. “It’s a question of connecting information, putting it together. So my focus of this film is to show people on the move, people already doing and connecting and trying to bring people together from different perspectives, to show on one hand that there is an old world of finance guys, white angry men, and on the other that there is a plurality of genders, of nations, of races and cultures.
“And that it is more important to give the audiences an insight into the plurality of possibilities than doing another film about Trump.”