Review: Beyond the Sea (2020)


Directed by: Anastasija Pirozenko | 25 minutes | short film, documentary

What do cities such as Capelle aan den IJssel, Dronten, Hellevoetsluis, Emmen and Zeewolde have in common? They are planned cities, in other words, cities thought up in advance by someone and designed on the basis of construction drawings. Emmen is one of the first planned cities in the Netherlands. Filmmaker Anastasija Pirozenko used this as the starting point for a special documentary.

However, “Beyond the Sea” starts with a view of untouched nature. Hunebeds, a lake, birds chirping. And then a title card with the text that a young Soviet writer, Valentina B, traveled to Europe in 1973 to research her debut, a science fiction novel. That book never came, but 40 years later her notebook was found. On the cover were the coordinates of Emmen.

What follows is the visual design of the notes in the booklet. An English-speaking voice-over says she is surprised to have found the utopian island in the western world. As if she had read about it but didn’t believe it really existed. This wonder city is an open, green city, with a village feel, according to the voice-over. Accompanied with images of a residential area in Emmen, where someone plays basketball, a woman plays with her dogs. On a lawn, bordered by trees, is a large white screen, as if an open-air cinema was to be organized there. Such a residential area is very special.

Pirozenko elaborates on the population: many Serbian girls worked in the textile factories in the fifties and sixties and settled in one of the new residential areas. Decades later they still live in Emmen and the film maker gets them in front of the camera. Two older, Dutch, men also come into the picture, but what their involvement is exactly remains a guess. They probably had a share in the planning of the city, but the statements they make linger a bit.

And so “Beyond the Sea” is primarily a documentary that expresses a great deal of ambition. Unfortunately, the intention of the filmmaker is not entirely clear. Does she want to prove that the fact of a planned society is outdated or never had a basis for existence? Is it a failed experiment and will the residents of the Butterfly City have to make do with the remains of it? The chosen form for this short documentary, made in the context of Teledoc Campus, is certainly original, but due to the incoherence of the images, the filmmaker does not hit her target.

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