“The more digital the world the more analog the dreams.” – Doc
An Impossible Project tells the story of the people who saved the last Polaroid factory in the world. It is an ambitious feature documentary, started in 2013, filmed over a period of several years, and not on a digital format, but on 35mm film. It could be the last documentary shot this way.
At its core, it tells the story of the self-professed crazy, charming, dogged and visionary Austrian, Dr. Florian Kaps — the world knows him simply as Doc — and his crusade for everything analog, instant photography especially. Doc decided to save the last Polaroid factory in the world, and started a wonderfully incongruous company called The Impossible Project.
What once was a massive worldwide brand – Polaroid – has now become a hip Berlin start-up, run by a group of young people around an inspired engineer called Oskar, who’s not yet thirty years old. Their quest is taking on the impossible, a David vs. Goliath challenge of reinventing the near-extinct 20th icon Polaroid for the digital generation.
Why would you do this? That’s what I want to explore with this film. Polaroid is synonymous with the good we are in danger of losing as the world around us turns corporate and digital. Unless we put up a fight.
Each Polaroid is unique, and unique is something people seem deeply in need of. It is a powerful theme: People seem to yearn for something “else”: something warm, emotional, individual. This is about the choices we make in our lives. ‘Authenticity’ is the keyword of a generation. Things you can touch. And that touch you.
The main characters
Doc and Oskar. Their vision, dreams, their failures, their determination and motivation to keep something seemingly obsolete alive take us through the story. There was the day they found out that, yes, they had saved the factory and persuaded 25 former staff to return — but that the formula for Polaroid had been lost. Irrevocably. Impossible had to start from scratch, and eight years later they are still trying to recreate that formula.
At its inception Doc’s Impossible Project was a retro dream. But for Oskar and his crew of cosmopolitan Berliners, Impossible is about creative tools for today, not about saving the past. They have just launched the world’s first all-new Polaroid camera since the 1980’s, the I-1. Developed by Oskar, this is a beautiful and functional analog camera which interacts digitally with an app.
Meanwhile, Doc is in Vienna — specifically in a converted a 19th-century Doge’s Palace into what he calls “the world’s first analog delicatessen”; a one-of-a-kind experimental department store where you can record direct-to-disc LPs, programme smells with memories, or use their message-in-a-bottle machine. Supersense is an analog wonderland with a purpose – to keep the flag flying, to be a hub for disciples of the cause, and to show that there is a future in analog.
Like Impossible, Supersense is inspiring a movement. It is David vs. Goliath, the classic underdog story of the passionate analog good guys vs. the sterile world order of the digital corporations.
The film will take us to two cities, Berlin and Vienna, which have become antipodes in the digital/analog spectrum. Berlin is the young, hip, fast start-up hub of Europe; Vienna proudly considers itself the “Analog Capital of the World”, slow, old, conscientious. Nonetheless, it’s a global story, so we will also be filming in Holland, London and New York.
The Polaroid/Impossible narrative will serve as the anchor as the film launches from there into a wider encounter with analog lifestyles and people who made a decision not to take the digital deluge lying down.
There are many fascinating variations to this story of authenticity and values — art, music, photography, science, fame. From New55 to Ferrania to 20×24 Studio to ARRI to Kodak to Slow Food and even Slow Cities. Carefully composed cinematography visuals and great archive footage run through the documentary, galvanized by a sprinkling of celebrity. Jack White is an analog entrepreneur with ‘Third Man Records’. Lady Gaga was Polaroid’s spokeswoman, with a twist. Quentin Tarantino is saving 35mm movies and Benedict Cumberbatch invented a hugely popular charity show, ‘Letters Live’, which revolves around reading out real people’s letters. Anyone who was been anyone seems to show-up with – or on – a Polaroid – from Andy Warhol to Fidel Castro to Patti Smith.
Why this film and why 35mm?
There was no way this story could be filmed on a digital format.
When Doc discovered the Polaroid universe, already reeling from the digital revolution, the bug bit him and he dedicated his life to saving the old brand. When I met Doc, that too, was a contagious moment. Doc embodies this magnificent, irresistible analog stubbornness — a bit Don Quixotish, but filled with optimism and passion — that simply won’t let us yield to the digital corporate giants just yet. Doc believes that the more digital our world gets, the more analog our dreams become.
Filming on 35mm today is a riff on the challenges and opportunities of the analog approach: it is more expensive and has limitations to be taken into account but the thinking and focus required is almost liberation from the tyranny of “just-let-it-roll”-digital. Finding solutions for the filmmaking on 35mm is an extension of what the documentary itself is about.
Head over to An Impossible Project‘s Kickstarter page if you, too, want to find out more, be infected, join in, make your mark for the last remaining analog things and help us tell their indelible story.
by Jens Meurer
(The filmmaker. My name is Jens Meurer and I am what they like to call “an award-winning director and producer” in the blurb on the back of DVD boxes. More realistically, my day job is producing feature films. But my nighttime passion has always been documentaries, ever since I got my start at the Leningrad Documentary Film Studio in 1990.
You might know some of my films — Public Enemy, Russian Ark, Carlos, Rush — and I did win at least one gong (European Film Award for Documentary 1995). What you probably don’t know is that — somewhat tellingly — I bought four identical /8 Mercedes cars back in 1985 so that I would never, ever, until the end of my life, have to drive anything that beeps at me electronically. I still run them today.
To make sure this doesn’t get too weird, there is a wonderful team of filmmakers joining me on this Impossible journey. Co-writer Franziska Kramer, two fascinating, film-savvy DoPs, Bernd Fischer and Torsten Lippstock, Alex Berner and Zenon Kristen in the editing room and many others.)