Breaking free from container town

„Beschränkung“ (Restriction) is a short film directed by Denijen Pauljević. It shows how a young man experiences coming to germany as a refugee and finding himself confronted with many limitations. The film was made more than 20 years ago, but its message still holds significant relevance today.

von Malak AlSayyad

„Beschränkung“ (Restriction) is a short film that Denijen Pauljevic wrote and directed in 1995 together with Matthias Weinzierl. The two of them were getting to know each other over coffee one day in Munich, when they realized they have a common interest in filmmaking and Matthias immediately suggested they make a film together; Denijen would write the script for a short and they would meet again two weeks later. “I thought to myself, well, I just met this guy five minutes ago and he’s suddenly offering to produce a film with me.”, Denijen shares laughingly, “then I asked myself, ‘Why not?’ Just write it and see what happens” And indeed, two weeks later, Matthias came back, and the two of them edited the script together. The, in a matter of two months, Matthias managed to raise the funds necessary and put together a small film crew, as well. They completed the film in six weeks and started showing it in cinemas as a pre-screening and at universities around Germany and beyond.

When Denijen first encountered Matthias at that coffee shop in Munich, it was only his second day at the Refugee camp, after living in hiding for an entire year since his arrival in Germany. At only 18 years old, he had to flee from Belgrade to escape the Yugoslav wars. He came to Munich through Prague, where he wanted to study film directing, but unfortunately the program was prohibitively expensive for foreign students, so he got an internship in Czech television instead. Then, he crossed into Germany illegally and arrived in Munich, where he has been living for the past 25 years.

Denijen explains how at the time, between 1992 and 94, there was a comparable “crisis” of refugees like in recent years, though not at the same scale. Almost 300,000 refugees came to Germany in one year, mainly from Bosnia and Herzegovina. People at the time also protested, claiming “the boat is full!”. And refugees were met with animosity, discrimination and even violence as the first infamous attacks on refugee camps occurred during that period. Denijen was able to surround himself with people who were accepting and welcoming to refugees and other migrants. “But still, the xenophobia was present in Munich,” he recalls, “especially while dealing with the bureaucratic processes of getting my residence permit renewed every three months. I could really feel the rejection and hostility there.”

The word “Beschränkung” (Restriction) described the life he and many others were expected to lead as asylum seekers in Germany; They were not allowed to work, nor to study, nor to move freely beyond the city of Munich. “It is as if they expected me just to sit in the containers and wait.”, he explains,” but of course, I didn’t do that. […] I tried to make the best of my situation. If they would have deported me the next morning, at least I would know I didn’t just sit in the corner waiting passively.” Denijen worked illegally, formed a band with whom he performed at many concerts and of course, travelled to various cities to screen and present his film. Today, he feels like the pressure, the suspense, the fear, and his desire to make the best out of it all, gave him a sensation of living very intensely, an intensity that he is yet to experience again in his life. When Denijen wrote the script for the film years ago, the words came to him intuitively and spontaneously, but now looking back, he realizes how the fragility of his life and the threat to his existence, due to the war and the danger of being sent back, was symbolized in the film through his use of the motif of glass and frailty.

Watching the film today is an experience that makes Denijen feel like he has been transported back in time, back to that time. “But it’s not that I can’t remember it. I just don’t feel it anymore.” Today, Denijen is active as a consultant for asylum seekers. He explains that when he speaks to recent refugees at work, he feels like he is on the other side, even though he experienced something similar and had a very hard time living in fear and precarity for those two or three years. “But when I watch the film again every once in a while, these feelings of fear and uncertainty, which used to weigh me down so much, come back to me momentarily.”

Denijen worked hard and fought for his freedom from the constraints in which he lived. For approximately the past 20 years, he has enjoyed the same freedoms as other Germans, including, most recently, a German citizenship, which he was granted in April 2017. And yet, “restrictions” often find their way back into his life. Except, he does not feel acutely confined from the outside, like he did in the past. Nowadays he feels responsible for his own day-to-day constraints.

He hopes that his film can inspire people who are going through what he once went through to break out of their constraints and out of situations that they do not approve of for themselves. He hopes to show the importance of staying active and not waiting for help from someone else, because for him, what is most important is trying to make the best out of your own situation with your own actions.

25 years later, Denijen enjoys watching this short film he made in his youth, an amateur production with limited technical possibilities, because despite everything, it has its own “raw power”.

“It is a little bit rough and a little bit wild.”

Malak AlSayyad was born in 1996 and comes from Cairo, Egypt. She studied at the German School in Cairo and graduated from the United World College in Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina. She is working towards a bachelor in Cinema and Media Studies with a concentration in production at Wellesley College, MA, USA, where she enrolled in 2015. She came to Germany in September 2017 as part of a Study Abroad semester at Bard College Berlin and is currently an intern on the editorial team of Wir Machen Das.