‘Measures of Men’ Director Lars Kraume Prepares Prison Drama, Expresses Exasperation at Germany’s Refusal to Face Colonial Past
Lars Kraume, who explores Germany’s 19th-century, bloody colonization of Southwest Africa (present-day Namibia) in his latest work, “Measures of Men,” has lined up his next project, a feature film inspired by a California prison program that brings together young inmates with aging prisoners suffering from dementia.
Developed at the California Men’s Colony State Prison in San Luis Obispo, the Gold Coat program selects inmates, known as Gold Coats, to assist severely cognitively impaired inmates.
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Kraume’s story is set in a Berlin prison with a multi-ethnic population, where a young man signs up for the program in an effort to get early parole only to realize that he has for the first time in his life started to love and care for someone.
“It’s a beautiful story,” said Kraume, but adds that original screenplays are becoming increasingly difficult to get financed.
Kraume had similar challenges with “Measures of Men,” particularly for its dark story of moral degeneration amid Germany’s brutal colonization of Southwest Africa and atrocities against the indigenous Herero and Nama people. Sold by Picture Tree Intl., “Measures of Men” screens in Berlinale Special.
No stranger to dark periods of German history, Kraume’s works include such acclaimed titles as “The People vs. Fritz Bauer” and “The Silent Revolution.”
“Measures of Men” is Germany’s first feature film to examine the country’s violent colonial past, something very few Germans are even aware even existed. While the German government has made some small gestures in recognition of atrocities and genocide committed by the Imperial German Army in the late 1800s and early 1900s, it has yet to fully confront its history, Kraume said.
In 2018, Germany returned the remains of Herero and Nama men and women killed during the colonial era.
While the ongoing discussion about restitution of human remains and artifacts and about reparation payments for the genocide were on Kraume’s mind as he developed the film, the project’s actual origins date back to 1991, when a young Kraume first visited Namibia right after its independence from South Africa.
“Although I had history as a major in school I had never heard of our colonial past. The colonial past in Germany is completely denied,” he said. In Namibia “you realize how strong the impact still is, of German culture in this southern African country — I just never forgot.”
In making a period film, Kraume aimed to tell a story that was relevant and important to the present day. “It’s not only about telling what happened 120 years ago, it’s about what it tells us of today.”
The film follows a young naïve ethnologist who begins to reject the racial theories of the era that were largely based on physical differences among people, namely the size and shapes of skulls. On an expedition to Southwest Africa, he is ordered by his professor to collect indigenous skulls for his university in Berlin.
“The thing that I really found unbelievable is that we still have thousands of skulls in Germany, in ethnological museums, and I simply cannot understand why these human remains have not been given back entirely,” said Kraume. He therefore put the “this symbol of the injustice into the center of the story.”
“Why in the first place did German scientists collect skulls? Why did they bring them from colonies? And then, why don’t we give them back is basically the question. That brings us to the present.”
Kraume expressed exasperation at the fact that it’s been more than three decades since Namibia gained its independence and Germany has yet to officially apologize for the genocide, for the atrocities, for the theft of human remains and cultural artifacts.
“If you think that this is more than 30 years now, and that we still haven’t signed an agreement on reparations, that still our president has not traveled to Namibia and apologized, and still there are again artifacts and human remains in German museums, I have to say, 30 years is a long time. When is it going to happen?”
The film is also a reminder that the pseudo-scientific theories of inferior races espoused at the time were later embraced by Germany’s Nazi regime for the policies that led to the Holocaust.
“Measures of Men” likewise examines how people in important and powerful positions are willing to ignore truth, facts, even history, for purely political reasons, in support of government policy and the establishment — something that remains very relevant today.
That is made clear to the film’s idealistic young protagonist when his professor explains to him the necessity of understanding power, Kraume said.
While heroes can always be found in cinema, “most people when they get older adjust to power and to the facts of life.” The actions of characters in the film reflect those of Europe as a whole, he added. “They run away, and that is what we have been constantly doing with Africa and its problems. Europe has constantly run away and has not faced the terror that it brought to Africa, all over Africa.”
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