Dennis Stormer, Marisa Meier • Director and producer of Youth Topia

“Initially, we were like, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if an algorithm told us what to do with our lives?'”

– We spoke to the director and producer behind this year’s Zurich People’s Choice Award winner, in which children simply refuse to grow up

Director Dennis Stormer and producer Marisa Meierwho wrote the screenplay together, welcome to all Youth Topia [+see also:
film review
interview: Dennis Stormer, Marisa Meier
film profile
– the place where your maturity is decided based on an algorithm. Some, including Wanja, are intent on tricking the system, staying young and irresponsible for as long as they can, until adulthood literally hits. The film won the Audience Award at the Zurich Film Festival (see the news).

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Cineeuropa: Even though Dennis is credited as the director, you said you worked together on the film. How?
Marisa Meier:
I’ve never been interested in directing. It was clear that we were going to write together and make all the creative decisions, but when it came to working with the actors on set and developing the acting strategy, that was all Dennis.

Dennis Stormer: We divided the tasks during the production, Marisa concentrating on the organizational part. Once we were done, we came together again, uniting for this final step and having to deal with a massive amount of footage. There were so many scenarios that didn’t make it into the final version.

You have certainly created a entire universe. It’s not quite realistic, but not far enough a way reality so that the spectator relaxes completely.
When we were in the funding process, many were thinking about dystopias and black mirror. This is how stories about algorithms are usually told. We wanted to create something more positive, while keeping that critical eye. Initially, we’d say, “Wouldn’t it be cool if an algorithm told us what to do with our lives? It was important to stay close because it’s not like these things don’t already exist.

DS: Consider Facebook Messenger. We don’t talk about them reading what we say, because it’s embarrassing, but sometimes it makes you say, “Am I living in a sci-fi movie?!

Odo character said that the weirdest thing about the algorithm East that everyone joined right away.
This phrase was coined by the actor; it was never written. We left them a lot of room for improvisation; they have smartphones and can play with them on set.

DS: This line, it really sums up the whole film. We created this universe, noted all the parameters and gave them to the actors, leaving them a lot of freedom at the same time. They imagined what could happen in this world, and everyone participated in shaping it.

There is this anarchic atmosphere in the film. The way you shot it remember Indian parties or those so-called “wild” events like Burning Man.
I admire Harmony Korine’s cinematography, but it’s not like we want to do another one spring breakers. We thought about these big commercialized youth events, about all this festival culture. That and the 1990s, because it’s also a film about the nostalgia of youth. That’s how much we regret not being “younger” when we had the chance.

Sometimes when we talk about people who refuse to grow up, “lost boys and girls”, there are element of criticism of him. But you seem to show the good sides of both choices?
It was important not to tell a black and white story and to be more complex about it. I wanted to question the notion of age in our society. To show how absurd it is that suddenly you are this “adult”, supposed to behave a certain way.

DS: The festival called our film a satire, and I disagree, but I don’t know what to call it either. We have jokes, but it’s a tragic story – utopia, dystopia, I don’t really know. Take the stage with a calf. Why do people have dogs in their homes? This is super weird – sorry all dog lovers out there. Why don’t you have a calf instead? Everyone knew we had room to have fun.

Was it difficult to find your Wanja? She had to convince as a wild child but also as a corporate chick.
When we got the funding, we knew we had to work with people from Zurich. I knew Lia von Blarer, and she was helping us, even if it was not clear if we would choose her or not. She would join us during the casting because she knew the story, and we were impressed with her once we saw the footage. She just understood the whole concept and was able to change so quickly.

MM: She brought so much creativity to the role. She really used this huge playground and loved it. I’m from Zurich, and it’s a very grown-up place, but the Swiss have that punk side too. It’s an interesting place for our world premiere. My teacher came over saying she also had this kid hiding inside. It was really touching.

DS: I think some people are questioning their everyday behavior now. Maybe you had teenage dreams that you never realized? After the screening, they say, “Maybe I should go back to dancing.” It’s great to see that cinema can do that.

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Chester T. Johnson