Sometimes it takes the perspective of children to remind us how pointless labels are. While adults can engineer the situation – creating groundbreaking schooling in which kids of all abilities and disabilities learn together – it’s the children who make it work.
12 years ago Class 5D of the Fläming School in Berlin showed us just this in the documentary KLASSENLEBEN ('Class Life'). Their eagerness to help one another, to trust, to be kind and loving, shone through, and it was clear that working out who was or was not ‘disabled’ didn’t enter their heads. Now, 12 years later, the six protagonists are on the cusp of of adulthood. In CHILDREN OF UTOPIA, their careers and identities are forming, with all the pain and joy these can bring – but as they meet up to reflect on school life and where they are now, the respect they learnt in Class 5D is just as evident.
Initial nervousness melts away as the six discover the new lives their classmates have made for themselves. They watch clips from school life: the pupils join hands to dance around their classmate Lena, who is laughing in her wheelchair; they walk in a conga line, eyes closed, learning to trust. The old footage has poignant lessons for some. Christian watches his younger self, cautious and insecure, get a question wrong during a presentation. The pain and confusion on the child’s face is hard to watch, and we see his nervousness reflected in the young man he has become – but Christian has recently come out as gay, and talks with Dennis of his new-found confidence and acceptance within himself.
Class joker Dennis has taken to the stage, seeking musical theatre fame but also maturing into a thoughtful young man; Natalie takes pride in her work as a cook and hopes to leave home soon. Johanna refuses the labels once put upon her and pursues nursing, and a relationship, with quiet determination. Luca studies while harbouring dreams of going to sea, and Marvin helps people with disabilities while delighting in his new-found love of church.
These young people have a huge capacity for acceptance and love, and it’s hard to separate that from their school experience. Inclusion “was the basic foundation of the school system,” Christian remembers. “It was accepted that people had different learning speeds - you are just weaker in some area, better in others.”
CHILDREN OF UTOPIA is not pushing a political point – instead it shows how inclusion happens as a matter of course. The kindness and compassion learnt in Class 5D, these six young people show, lasts a lifetime. Differences never mattered, and it is what they have in common which prevails.
80 minutes, Germany 2019. Produced by SUMO Film. 2K DCP 5.1.
World premiere at Munich Doc/Fest 2019 (information in German).
Nationwide day of action on 15 May 2019 across 170 cinema screens, more than 100 further events since (map on this page in German).
English case study of the campaign (by Film & Campaign Ltd.)