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EXCLUSIVE: “An Zéro” - ARTE-Film is criticized by its own director

The ARTE-NDR documentary fiction “An Zéro” introduces itself to Luxembourg after a nuclear disaster. Director Myriam Tonelotto talks about how the station twisted her work into a sensational film targeting the Grand Duchy - and about the alleged attempt to suppress her objection.

What would happen to Luxembourg in the event of a serious disaster? That was the question Myriam Tonelotto wanted to answer when she was commissioned by ARD-NDR to produce “AN Zéro”. The documentary fiction with the Luxembourgish "Capitani" star Luc Schiltz and important personalities from politics and society presents the following scenario: After an accident at the Cattenom nuclear power plant, the Grand Duchy sinks into chaos. What happens to the things that have made the Grand Duchy unique while refugees are gathering up their belongings and looking for a new place to stay? How important is language and culture in the search for a new home, and what does the Greater Region lose in value when Luxembourg practically disappears? Since it is a documentary fiction, the fictional story is supported by the input of numerous panelists.

"I have to inform you, however, that Myriam Tonelotto does not agree with the final version of the film."

Email: Invitation to the preview

This single sentence not only caught the attention of several panelists, it also got this article rolling. Why did the director who invested months in this project refuse this version of the film?

Myriam Tonelotto has been in the film industry for 30 years. She was a lecturer in film directing at the French SciencesPo (the Paris Institute for Political Studies) and has worked directly for the Franco-German state broadcaster ARTE for the last 29 years. The question of atomic energy is not alien to her. In 2016 ARTE broadcast their film “Thorium, the Far Side of Nuclear Power”. “An Zéro”, she says, shouldn't be a film that deals purely with nuclear energy, but rather that outlines the social dynamics of a great catastrophe and at the same time helps viewers to understand this peculiar miniature state of Luxembourg. To this end, Tonelotto brought important personalities from politics and society on board: Energy Minister Claude Turmes, Environment Minister Carole Dieschbourg, Economic and Social Councilor Jean-Jacques Rommes, the former Minister of Culture Erna Hennicot-Schoepges and the constitutional scientist Luc Heuschling from the University of Luxembourg.

“I wanted to make a film that shows the openness of Luxembourg, its multilingualism, its strong ties to the Schengen Agreement. If this country were hit by a major catastrophe, what would happen to all these things? ”Explains Tonelotto, who also claims that ARTE-NDR did not share her view of the cinematographic value of the production.

Heavily modified

"It started when I was asked to cut out essential parts of the existing film," says Tonelotto. The office of the NDR (Norddeutscher Rundfunk) claimed that the director was too closely connected to the Grand Duchy in which she lives. Toneletto describes her interaction with Claudia Cellarius (NDR), who dismissed her vision of the film with the words "Yes, yes, I know you like Luxembourg ...". The production team then began demanding massive changes to the film, which resulted in a complete makeover.

As a guest on the film, I saw this process firsthand and was able to compare both versions of the film. The ARTE-NDR processing removes all parts that describe the Luxembourg culture and the social fabric of the country in a positive light. References and contextualizations to the national motto “Mir wëlle bleiwe wat mir sinn” have been removed, as have passages that mention how beautiful the country is. The ARTE-NDR version draws a dark version of the nuclear disaster and instead strongly emphasizes Luxembourg's role as a financial center in Europe.

This is what the director tells him journal: “The program team made a number of things very clear. They discarded the concept of Luxembourg as an interesting country and removed the aspects that were scientifically sound. "

Scientifically questionable

For Tonelotto, the ARTE-NDR version, which is to be broadcast on television next month, will cause unnecessary panic. “One of the intentions of the film is to show that if the public overreacted, Luxembourg could suffer much more damage. At many stages of a nuclear accident, it is wise to follow official guidelines and stay inside the houses, but the scenario they are painting now will make residents believe that their only option is to escape. That made the film an unscientific anti-nuclear film. ”The director states that the motivation of the production team in this sense is ideological.

Patrick Majerus is department head of the Luxembourg unit for "Radioprotection", which designs crisis scenarios in the event of a nuclear accident. He is also interviewed in the film and confirms that journalthat he agreed to appear in the film to educate the population about the scientific realities of an accident in Cattenom. After seeing the final version, he describes the film as exaggerated and far removed from an actual crisis scenario. "The film gives the impression that in the event of an accident in Cattenom, the whole of Luxembourg would become uninhabitable, which has little to do with the truth."

In a very recent article by Dennis Normile in the “Science” magazine, the question of weighing up social stress and precautionary evacuations after the disaster in Fukushima is discussed. Exercise habits, changed eating habits, disrupted family and community life, it is said, lead to severe social stress, which can lead to a deterioration in the health of the evacuated population. “An Zéro” takes a position on a scientifically highly controversial question - and takes artistic liberties and, one could interpret this, takes sides. It was important to Myriam Tonelotto to outline that the panic created by a nuclear disaster can easily be worse than the effects of the radiation itself. The final version of the film, she says, does not reflect this.

"A cartoon of the Luxembourg economy."

Jean-Jacques Rommes, former President of the Economic and Social Council

Jean-Jacques Rommes was President of the Economic and Social Council of the Grand Duchy at the time the film was made. In conversation with the journal says Rommes that he's been a victim of misrepresentation. “I was asked what would happen if the Luxembourg economy collapsed. I explained that this would cause a big shock on the international financial markets and I illustrated this with concrete figures. ”In the ARTE-NDR contribution, a panelist explains that“ Luxembourg is no longer this tax haven, this black hole in the international financial world could be ”, whereupon Rommes explains the size of the Luxembourg financial sector.

When cut, Rommes' quote seems to confirm the previous statement, as if he would agree with it. “They make it seem like the greatest tragedy for Luxembourgers is the loss of their tax haven status.” Rommes says he had concerns about the production team: “They made me a film statistician in a cartoon of the Luxembourg financial sector . "

The “An Zéro” production team was able to change the composition of the statements made by its guests using a recording technology from Tonelotto. The guests were invited to the set one after the other in summer 2020 and interviewed in accordance with the COVID-19 regulations. On the set, they first gave their interviews and were then asked by the director to look left and right, miming approval and disapproval. All guests were transparently told that they would be cut together during production to show a coherent discussion - which is supposed to make it appear that they were all in the room together. This enabled a misleading cut that various participants allegedly became victims of. Myriam Tonelotto says her version of the film did not involve any such deception: "I have made a commitment to respect the context of the statements made by the panelists."

The journal has also received information that Prime Minister Xavier Bettel had urgently advised Environment Minister Carole Dieschbourg and Energy Minister Claude Turmes against participating in the film. When asked, Claude Turmes said that there were no such specifications from the Prime Minister. Film Fund Director Guy Daleiden says Xavier Bettel did not participate because he refuses to be shown in films funded by the Fund.

“The program team made a number of things very clear. They discarded the concept of Luxembourg as an interesting country and they removed the aspects that were scientifically sound. "

Director Myriam Tonelotto

Former Prime Minister and President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker also refused to take part in the discussion. In conversation with journal says Juncker that he refused to appear in the film because of his bad experiences with French television channels: “My experience has kept me from agreeing to participate in this film. I didn't understand what the film was about, nor did I want to go in front of the camera before consulting with the current government. ”When informed of some of the panelists' feedback on the film, Juncker is not surprised he had some negative experiences with French television at ARTE.

Director claims to have been threatened

“When I saw the final version of the film, I immediately protested at ARTE and NDR,” says Myriam Tonelotto. For her, the film was now both unscientific and ideologically directed against Luxemburg, and she asked for her name to be removed from the broadcast version. Instead, according to Tonelotto, she wanted to appear as "Alan Smithee", which points to the cinematographic distancing of the film.

Film knowledge

  • Film directors who sign a film with this pseudonym officially deny the film itself. Coined in the 1960s by the Directors Guild of America (DGA), directors who were dissatisfied with the final cut showed the audience that they did not recognize to be the owner of the project. Famous examples include the music video "Some Kind of Monster" - Metallica (2004) and The Cosby Show, "You Can't Stop the Music," episode 22 of Season 8 (1992). The Luxembourg Film Fund has already had a case where a director denied a film with "Alan Smithee" like this journal in an interview with the then communications minister (and now the EU court judge) François Biltgen revealed - "Sub-Below" (2003).

"My experience has kept me from agreeing to participate in this film."

Jean-Claude Juncker, former Prime Minister

"That has never happened to me in 30 years of directing," says Tonelotto. I was clearly told that it would be unwise to speak publicly about my rejection of the film. ”According to Tonelotto, she was warned:“ Your film career will be over. ”After an internal negotiation between the producers and Tonelotto - including the Luxembourg one Owned by the production company “SkillLab” - the director is referred to as “Myriam T.” in the final version. The new agreement also allows her to release her own version of the film online right after the premiere broadcast by ARTE and NDR. Tonelotto confirms that it intends to post this version on YouTube for free.

Former Minister of Culture Erna Hennicot-Schoepges, who also appears in the film, says Tonelotto's version is “more objective”. In conversation with the journal the retired CSV politician says it is an instructive exercise to compare both versions of the film as they become available: "It's a lesson on how films are made."

Despite the director's protest, the version she denies will be televised. The broadcast date for the film is set for April 21, as ARTE confirms on request. That would be the version with the cut that many panelists call deceptive.

The position of Film Fund Luxembourg (FFL) is delicate to say the least. The organization is led by Guy Daleiden, a confidante of Prime Minister Xavier Bettel. The ARTE-NDR cooperation is the first of its kind for the fund that supported the film itself. Faced with the choice of supporting an unknown director or giving a Luxembourg production access to a combined monthly audience of 35 million people, Daleiden apparently opted for the latter - despite the message of the film. It is possible that past events had an impact on Daleiden's decision-making. In recent years, an internal audit by the Film Fund had caused a stir, as it revealed that Daleiden was clearly involved in every decision-making process in the fund. In addition to this report, which was published by RTL was uncovered, both communication and accounting irregularities were identified at the LFF.

According to its financial records, the Film Fund Luxembourg supported 80 film projects with more than 36.5 million euros in 2019. In 2020, the fund financially supported 19 projects with a total of € 10 million. With a grant of € 1.15 million, “An Zéro” accounts for 10% of the trimestrial allocation of funds from the Film Fund. The Film Fund Luxembourg is providing almost 75% of the total budget of “An Zéro”.

The preview

On March 7th, "An Zéro" was shown for the first time at its preview at the "Luxembourg Film Festival". After the screening of the film, co-director Julien Becker reveals in a question and answer session the reason why the name "Cattenom" barely appears in the film (the actors refer to the Kraftwerk as “the Kraftwerk.”) According to the SkillLab producer and co-director, the ARTE production team was against using the word to prevent the Luxembourgers who made the film from making it possible Protect lawsuits at the request of the journal Becker confirms that ARTE believed that the electricity supplier EDF (Electricité de France) could sue the production company if Cattenom was too prominent. ARTE is a public broadcasting joint venture between the French and German states. The French state is the majority shareholder in EDF. For Myriam Tonelotto, this excuse does not hold up: “EDF would never sue a French public service broadcaster. That is pure paranoia. "

The director of the Luxembourg Film Fund, Guy Daleiden, says when asked by the journal at the preview that it was not the role or task of his organization to interfere in the creative productions it sponsored. "It is not our place to decide what is in a film that we sponsor," says Daleiden.

Claudia Cellarius from NDR (Norddeutscher Rundfunk) - which was involved in the production on the German side - declined to comment on the allegations of threat.

The journal also learned that a panelist was considering filing a complaint against the film production.

Editor's note: Some of the information in this article comes firsthand from our journalist Bill Wirtz, who plays a very brief role in this film. This is where the knowledge of the behind-the-scenes footage, the guests and the preview of the film comes from. This also allowed the journal to review and compare both versions of the film.

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