Jean-Gabriel Périot’s feature-length documentary A German Youth (2015) – showing at the Melbourne International Film Festival – maps the Red Army Faction’s (RAF) metamorphosis from student protest movement and left-wing political origins to what the state called a “terrorist organisation”.
This story is told through a cavalcade of media forms that is of itself of interest as predictive of our media-saturated daily lives. Student protest in the 1960s against the Vietnam War and for women’s rights occurred on a number of fronts in the West but with a particular twist in occupied postwar Germany.
West Germany’s 1960s postwar generation further reacted against the views of parents who had lived through and implicitly or explicitly participated in the Nazi regime.
The Red Army Faction came to the view that the anticommunist capitalism that superseded Nazism still contained fascist tendencies. RAF’s response evolved from student protest to bombings, kidnappings and shootouts with police. The group transformed dissent into a spectacular media event.
The film predicts the kind of personal stories of radicalisation of middle class Muslim youth now being recruited to participate in the formation of ISIS states in Syria and Iraq.
Périot has mined media archives for traces of RAF’s core group. Journalist Ulrike Meinhof is available through her television appearances as voice for the far left. Horst Mahler performs as lawyer to the student protest movement. Holger Meins’ alternative films are included and students Gudrun Ensslin and Andreas Baader are depicted in media reports and university activities.