Estonian composer joins Edward Snowden in new Orwell classic film version

Composer Mihkel Kerem. Source: NeuE

A new movie to premiere Friday joins the dots between Estonia, its experiences under Soviet occupation, British writer George Orwell's most famous novel, '1984', and the contemporary question of surveillance, tech and government – featuring a guest appearance from US whistleblower Edward Snowden.

The movie, based on the Orwell novel and with the same name, features the New European Ensemble (NEuE), led by Estonian composer Mihkel Kerem, who also plays the role of "Big Brother" in the film.

NEuE musicians also act in gripping cinematic renditions of scenes from the novel, the group says.

The film features an introduction by American whistleblower Edward Snowden. Snowden has a cameo in the movie itself, with the famous lines from children's nursery rhyme. It premieres on Friday, April 23, at 8 p.m., Estonian time, and can be viewed here, while a trailer is available here.

The New European Ensemble Source: NeuE

The movie's creators say that the project was motivated by a desire to see the George Orwell classic, "1984", written in 1948-9, shortly before the author's death, transposed into our times. This looks at how both dependency on tech and the scope governments have to monitor, intercept and record unprecedented levels of data have all grown hugely since Orwell's day.

One of the movie's three directors, Gijs Besseling, says that: "Today the digital age is gaining momentum and 'deep fakes' are increasingly difficult to distinguish from real videos. At times fake news supersedes real news. Big Data means that the big tech companies know where we are, what we buy and what we post."

"The social media we use are not the product, but rather our data is. As artists, it is our task to reflect on these subjects and encourage people to think about them carefully. If, in the future, the wrong people come to power and gain access to all of our data, our freedoms will be on the line."

Those who have read the Orwell novel will recall how he presaged various tech and other developments, including surveillance, fake news/propaganda, scapegoating and a type of social media mob rule, many of which are very much with us today.

The New European Ensemble (NeuE) were able to obtain Edward Snowden's cooperation, and he provides both a spoken intro and plays a small theatrical part in the finished product. Snowden, who has been resident in Russia for several years, following the 2013 leak of documents which revealed the full extent of U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) surveillance of ordinary citizens, said that: "Increasingly, we are losing our seat at the table and our ability to steer the course of the future, and all of these processes begin with the corruption of language: Which was Orwell's greatest fear."

Edward Snowden Source: NeuE

Estonian composer Mihkel Kerem's new ensemble provides the soundtrack to the 65-minute movie, while British actor Joseph Thompson takes the lead as Winston Smith.

Following the premiere, the movie can be watched online, on demand.

Born in Tallinn in 1981, when Estonia was under Soviet occupation, Mihkel Kerem says he did not read Orwell's 1984 until adulthood. After reading it, however, he says he was compelled to write an ensemble work that evoked its themes and moods.

"When I first read 1984, I was terrified because I realized that I was born into such a dystopian world. Now, having thought I'd escaped it, I'm back in it again," Kerem said.

"Different artists have been warning people for many years about dystopias… this was my attempt to issue yet another warning. What the text doesn't say, the music says. There's no repetition in the film," he went on.

The Orwell novel was available, translated into Estonian, by the time the country restored its independence in 1991.

The movie was created by NEuE and produced in collaboration with British production group Greengage, part of

Directors are Emlyn Stam, Sophie Hunter and Gijs Besseling.

The NeuE says it aims to use this project to illustrate new music's relevance to society.

According to artistic director Emlyn Stam: "Kerem's fraught and filmic compositional style grabs hold of the listener and brings them into a claustrophobic, dystopian world of oppression and surveillance. Through the darkness he allows us a glimpse of hope for a better future."

NeuE's site, including more information and pics of the "1984" project, is here.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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