The Nexus of Pop-Culture Fandom

I Blog, Therefore I Am – A Review of “Pixelschatten”

Written by: Phoebe Raven, CC2K Staff Writer

TV Editor Phoebe Raven puts her German heritage to use by reviewing German indie movie Pixelschatten and interviewing its creator, Anil Jacob Kunnel, who has written for CC2K himself and whose script for a proposed final chapter in the Alien saga Big Ross has previously reviewed on this site.

German cinema has come a long way in the past few years, stepping up its game story-wise and budget-wise and there finally is a healthy independent movie scene developing as well. And it is well worthy to take note of, especially when it produces such innovative and clever movies as Anil Jacob Kunnel’s Pixelschatten.
(In the interest of full disclosure: although Anil has some previous connection to CC2K, I was unaware of this when I received the screener for Pixelschatten and I know him exclusively through online contact, which mainly pertained to the exchange of said screener and additional information about the movie. This should preclude any accusation of bias on my part based on this prior connection.)

The merits of this film are not only obvious in the film itself but also in where the movie originated. The prestigious German public TV network ZDF ran a competition for independent movie makers, which called for stories about online life. Anil Kunnel’s Pixelschatten (literal translation: “shadow of pixels”) was one of the best five films and received full financing and a coveted airing spot on ZDF on Monday, May 23rd as part of its series Das Kleine Fernsehspiel, a format that since 1963 is dedicated to featuring independent and experimental films of young and coming artist and filmmakers. As a public broadcasting station, the ZDF still carries a lot of prestige in its own right, making a spot on Das Kleine Fernsehspiel even more desirable, not only because it guarantees millions of viewers.
(Read more about the journey from “idea for a competition” to “full-fledged feature film” in our interview with Anil Kunnel on Page 2).

But since Pixelschatten more than any other recent movie isn’t “just a movie” but a blend of cinema and the blogosphere, of course it is also available for viewing online, in HD and even with English subtitles from Monday, May 23rd until Sunday, May 29th! So really, you have no excuse not to click over to after reading this review and experience the innovative movie for yourself!

The movie’s fairly straight-forward plot already reveals where the two mediums of film and internet meet (courtesy of the movie’s obligatory Facebook page):

Pixel (Ben Gageik) is a 22-year-old small-town blogger: Everyone can read about him and his friends online. His blog “Pixelschatten” used to be the hippest thing in town, but now the local fame has faded away. His friends go to college, have new friends and interests, and his girlfriend Suse (Zora Klostermann) is irritated by the private issues revealed on the blog. When Pixel realizes that everyone but him is moving on, he changes all their lives with just one post…

It’s a risky endeavor, though, streaming an independent movie online with English subtitles (not to mention all the work that Anil Kunnel had to put into subtitling his own movie!), because if no one clicks to view the movie online, it will discourage the ZDF from repeating their decision to make a movie available through such measures to a wider audience. As backwards-thinking as that may be on their part.

Because these days more than ever, mediums are starting to fuse together. No TV show can go without a Twitter account to go along with it – where sometimes you can get instantaneous tweet-alongs from writers, actors, judges (see The Voice) etc. – and no movie can launch without having its own website beforehand, where teaser trailers, first look images, behind the scenes specials and pre-release hyping are going on.
In the more elaborate incarnation of “the fusion of the mediums”, you get masterminds like Damon Lindelof & Co., who freely perused the internet to enhance the experience of viewing Lost, without making perusal of the internet necessary to understand the show.

So especially in the world of the small screen, the fusion of TV and internet has reached a considerable degree already, whereas in the movies, it seems to only just be taking off (see the campaign for Super 8). That’s only one side of the coin though, because what happens when a movie doesn’t just use the internet to increase its own hype, but when the subject matter of the movie actually IS the internet, like it is in Pixelschatten?

Immediately, your mind goes to the big Hollywood blockbuster of last year, The Social Network, which dealt with the global super-phenomenon of online social media, but did so in a conventional manner technically. While the story was fascinating, the cinematography was ordinary. We got a bunch of talk about Facebook, without ever seeing Facebook-like frames on screen.

This is where Pixelschatten takes a leap forward, by not only giving us an exciting story about the internet, but by giving it to us in a new way technically, in an inventive and exciting visual style that truly fuses cinema with the blogosphere.

Before any of the technical achievements of this movie even kick in, it is important to note how well Pixelschatten encapsulates the feeling and atmosphere of student life in Germany. The actors are all so natural and unforced, it is more than easy to forget they are actors at all, when they gather around a kitchen table for no particular reason at all other than to drink some beers, smoke some cigarettes and chat. It is this authenticity that makes Pixelschatten a compelling and relatable movie first and foremost, because everyone knows someone like the characters in the movie, so it never stretches your imagination beyond the limits of plausibility and taps into your empathy with ease.

The fact that central character Paul is just a normal guy with a normal life in a relatively small town, who nevertheless started a successful blog, then goes to the heart of the matter of our fascination with the internet. Within the digital world, anyone can “make it big” and no one can keep you from starting a blog to write about your perfectly ordinary life, which millions and millions of people can probably relate to, because their lives are just as ordinary.
This simple premise led to the success of the internet and to the flowering of blogs, but behind every blog there is a story like the one told by Pixelschatten.

Behind every blog is a real-life human being, who only overlaps to a certain degree with the online persona portrayed through their blog. It is this illusion and also the consequences writing about “real life” can have that Pixelschatten deals with. And the only way to do it properly is by showing both sides: what happens in real life and then how it is communicated on the blog. And both are done in an innovative way.

Paul Pixel has decided to write about his real life on his blog and so in consequence we see his real life through his eyes, meaning the camera gives us a first-person perspective, which remains almost entirely uncompromised for the entire movie, we hardly ever see Paul himself at all, although we hear him and see the world through his eyes. In those instances when Paul himself carries a camera around to document events for his blog, sometimes one of the other characters will drag him in front of that “camera within the camera” and so eventually we do catch a glimpse of him, but essentially he remains somewhat of a blur, we cannot grasp him entirely, which is precisely the point.

The other side of the story then, meaning the online persona Paul creates of himself and his friends on his blog, is portrayed in an equally inventive way, because instead of having a character merely read out his blog entries, we actually get to see them on screen, complete with all the comments made on a particular entry. Sometimes this reveals how Paul simplifies some things that happened and it also gives us insight into his thought process, when he doesn’t understand why some of his friends feel uncomfortable with the way he represents them on his blog. As viewers we are therefore one step ahead, because we know what has actually happened, we’ve seen the “real life version” of the blog entries. But the commentators on the entries don’t have that luxury, they only have the information the blog gives them and have to conjecture from there.

However, of course there are also those people, who read and comment on the blog, who know Paul and his friends in real life, hence they add little pieces of information themselves in their comments, sometimes distorting the lines between “real” and “perceived” even more by presenting yet another view of things, like Paul’s girlfriend’s sister Caro. She is a girl prone to fan culture, she follows the blog religiously and because of that thinks she understands Paul much better than his friends do. She desperately wants to belong to “the hip group” and develops stalker-like qualities, achieving just the opposite effect of what she was aiming for, namely that no one, especially not Paul, takes her seriously anymore.

Caro more than any other character reminded me of people I actually know in real life, an effect Anil Kunnel intended. “Everybody knows someone like Caro”, he says. And it’s true, we all know someone who obsessively comments on message boards, ploughs through the internet for any tidbit of information about their obsession and forgets to make a distinction between real life and public personas.
Only in the instance of Caro and her obsession with Pixelschatten the question is: wasn’t this exactly what Paul intended when he started his blog? For people to read and care about his life and that of his friends?

Pixelschatten is a clever movie in all regards. Not only does it feature innovative ways to tell a story about the internet, it also poses questions about the way we tell stories about ourselves online and in real life. How much do we invent ourselves every day, whether we are sitting at a kitchen table or posting a blog entry for complete strangers to read? When do we start acting our own lives just so we have more interesting stories to tell on our blog? And just when does that mean we actually lose touch with who we and the people around us actually are?

These are questions that are ever more relevant in the face of the unhindered dominance the internet has over our lives, but here they come packaged in a down-to-earth story that never ventures into lofty philosophical debates and instead just provides one instance of how the consequences could play out. For the Internet Generation especially this makes Pixelschatten highly recommended viewing. But I also believe it will give all those “older folks”, who are baffled by today’s youth and how much of their lives take place online, a good insight into what matters to the younger generation and which struggles they are facing at the same time.

Pixelschatten is a young movie with a storyline about young people concerning mostly young people, told through young and fresh methods of filmmaking by a filmmaker who is himself part of precisely the young, internet-obsessed culture he is portraying. All of this makes Pixelschatten an authentic, refreshing and entertaining look at what it means to live in a modern world.


Read on for an exclusive interview with Pixelschatten creator Anil Kunnel, in which he talks about the film making process, the challenges of the first person POV and possibly entering the festival circuit.