Society, Politics, Current Affairs
52′ | 70′
Anemon Productions (Greece) in co-production with Seppia (France) & Underground (Ireland)
Angeliki Aristomenopoulou & Andreas Apostolidis
As a wave of Eurosceptic feeling spreads across the continent, few voices are extolling the educational and cultural benefits of the European Union. At this critical time, Once in a Lifetime explores the continent through the lens of the Erasmus mobility program, to offer a timely portrait of our past, present and future.
The 70‘ and 52‘ documentary captures the journey of five Europeans who leave the comfort zone of their country, to prove to themselves that they can survive in a foreign environment, overcoming their fears and adapting to different educational systems, cultures and mentalities. In parallel, we meet the first generation of Erasmus graduates (1987-1997) who help us understand how Europe has evolved in the last 30 years.
The film’s young characters come from diverse socio-economic backgrounds across Europe and they study, work or volunteer in the arts, farming, industry, education and refugee relief work. Their stories are set against the current European crisis of legitimacy and identity, fueled by unprecedented youth unemployment. The contrast between the two generations gives us the context to understand how trust in the EU and its institutions has declined in the last decade, but also offers a bird’s-eye view of a continent in transition, giving a sense of what the future holds.
Once in a Lifetime captures the lives of a group of young Europeans who leave their hometown to take part in the Erasmus program. Their experience is juxtaposed with an “old guard” of Europeans who participated in Erasmus in the 1980’s and 90’s. Sharing old photos, films, videos and letters, these characters also explore how Europe has changed in the past 30 years.
The contrast between the two generations gives us the depth and context to understand the process of becoming ‘more European’, and offers a bird’s-eye view of a continent in transition. From the Cold War and a divided Europe, to today’s borderless Schengen zone and the immigration crisis, these testimonies shed light on the transformatory power of mobility and integration.
The film’s characters currently taking part in the Erasmus programme, come from diverse socio-economic backgrounds in France, Germany, Italy, the UK and Turkey.
We follow them across a period of 2-8 months, as their ideas, identity and values are challenged. Their destination of choice is Greece, Ireland, Finland, Poland, the Czech Republic and Spain (options still being researched). They study, work or volunteer in different fields (education, technology, architecture, refugee relief work, and crafts).
The camera discretely observes them, from their family home to the stages of their selection, travel and new life: the decision-making process including their personal doubts and dilemmas, their journey by boat, train, bus or airplane, the unexpected incidents they face in a new country and the solutions they seek. Filming is mostly observational, but also includes short interviews to clarify what they think or feel and highlight moments of their journey.
The first generation of Erasmus participants recalls how travelling to other European countries was an ordeal: there was no Euro, there were still border controls, Eastern Europe was divided, there were no low-cost airplanes or online services to help find cheap accommodation and no internet, let alone social media.
These characters reveal how intuition, curiosity, improvisation and a sense of adventure mobilised and connected them. Through challenges and life-changing experiences, they remember a new sense of belonging and how, from reluctant peers, they became the first generation of “Europeans”. They also remind us how much has changed since then: how the freedom to live and work across the entire EU community radically altered their lives, but also the cities they lived in.
The film is set against the current European crisis, fueled by nationalism and unprecedented youth unemployment (as of August 2017, youth unemployment in Greece is at 43,3%, Spain 38,7%, Italy 35,1% and France 23%).
Additional short interviews with historians and economists provide critical analysis about issues shaping Europe, such as transnational identity, globalization, populism and unemployment.
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