OW doc Beyond Wriezen delivers gripping portrait of post-prison lives of three young Germans

'Beyond Wriezen', photo: HFF Potsdam

Beyond Wriezen, a gripping portrayal of three troubled young men as they attempt – with varying degrees of success – to build new lives after being released from a prison near Berlin, is among the 14 films in competition at the One World festival of human rights documentaries, which is currently running in Prague. I discussed the idea behind Beyond Wriezen with its Dutch director Daniel Abma, who in the past was a counsellor at Wriezen.

'Beyond Wriezen',  photo: HFF Potsdam
“I used to work in that prison and the people working there always told me that, yeah, 80 percent of the people who get released are back in prison again in about a year.

“I couldn’t believe that. I was, like, hey, they’re young people with good ideas, with power, with capacities. I just didn’t believe those statistics.

“I wanted to find out whether it’s true or not, so I started filming three guys from the day of their release to look at how their resocialisation process works, or doesn’t work, in Germany.”

For these guys, what’s the hardest part of, as you say, resocialisation?

“Everything is really hard. Because they don’t have a clue about what’s going to happen.

“With one of the guys, there was no monitoring at all. He was all alone in Berlin, the big city, and he didn’t even know how the subway system functioned. He was really all on his own.

“If you are just being released from prison and you don’t know how everything works, you won’t make it in society, I guess.”

I was shocked as a viewer by one or two scenes, and by one or two things that I heard. Was that also your experience making the film?

“All the time [laughs]. I had never seen somebody taking drugs in the way that they do it…”

Or cooking up drugs in front of their baby.

'Beyond Wriezen',  photo: HFF Potsdam
“Exactly. When we watched the material after recording…sometimes at the moment when we were recording I didn’t see it. Because it all went so normally.

“It was just daily life for them. It was not, oh, I’m doing something secretly. Not at all.”

There’s one scene where in the next room one of these guys hits his girlfriend. You can hear that. Were you at all inclined to intervene at that moment?

“This guy had his microphone still on. He didn’t know we were recording. And I wasn’t listening either. So we couldn’t intervene because we didn’t know it happened.”

What has been the reaction to the film at screenings in Germany?

“Very positive. But also very…one of the protagonists is very famous in Germany, in a negative way…”

Because he killed somebody in a terrible way.

“Exactly. And all Germany knows about this case. The reactions from the audience are sometimes with distance towards this person, which I can totally understand.

“But he is also a human being, and I just want to show his life as well, without judging. I guess the film shows a lot about his life right now – and also shows that he maybe didn’t change his ideology…”

Daniel Abma,  photo: archive of the One World festival
He was a Nazi.

“He was a Nazi. And there is still something left in him, I would say. And that’s what the audience sees.

“Sometimes I get some critical voices saying, are you giving a platform to a Nazi here? I don’t agree with this at all. I just show his life. It’s not about the past, it’s about the future.

“He says his opinion, he says he’s changed. But if you read between his lines, you see that he didn’t change that much, unfortunately.”