The Vibrant Bunker

Xin Zhou of the 2016 Berlianle Talent Press Mike Crane’s film BUNKER DRAMA, which premiered in Berlinale Forum Expanded.


Colombia-raised and New York-based artist Mike Crane traveled to Lithuania and found a training camp that unemployed teenagers are sent to at the expenses of the European Union. The purpose of these camps is to recreate the socialist way of life in order to remind the younger generation of the benefits of the free market.

We sat down to discuss the artist’s unexpected discovery, the choice of the image in the video, and the difference between re-enactment and re-staging. Crane’s films BUNKER DRAMA premiered in Berlinale Forum Expanded.

What was the history of the bunker that you shot this piece in?

It was an audiovisual archive that stored 16mm newsreels. The idea is that if the Soviet Union was destabilized by nuclear war, they would broadcast all of the films in the bunker, which contained every newsreel that the Soviet Union ever produced. It was never used, because nuclear war never broke out. Essentially, it’s a site outside of the Soviet Union that was intended to be the go-to place, to continue to broadcast and to make it look like the Soviet Union is doing fine.

Could you talk about the resolution of the film? Why did you intend to make it low-definition?

I chose to work with a camera that has a super 16mm sensor that simulates the look of a super 16mm film. It’s a little Black Magic Pocket cinema camera, small, and light-weight. I was interested in using a camera that simulates the way that those 16mm newsreels simulated the era. The intentional use of artifice, simulation, and staging is what the work really focuses on.

Can you talk more about the context of these military drillings that the teenagers undergo in the bunker?

January 2016 was the 25th anniversary of the independence from Soviet rule in Lithuania. It was also the 25th anniversary of the US bombing of Baghdad, which initiated the first Gulf War. Both of these events are being replayed today. The ongoing war in Iraq led to the US extraordinary rendition program using foreign black sites for torturing suspected terrorists, which we’re now learning Lithuania played a role in, and the rising fears of a Russian takeover of the Baltic states in light of the recent events in the Ukraine. Many of the fears expressed by the Soviet General's impersonator in the camp touched upon the repercussions of these two contemporary scenarios.