What does the past of a distant future look like? A distant future to which humankind will be driven by the forces of neoliberal capitalism, climate change, populism, and the pervasive intrusion of one’s private sphere through digital technology? Julian Rosefeldt’s 90-minute film Penumbra is not a work of science fiction. Instead, it points to our current situation, albeit within a fictious framework that paves the way for a paradoxical enigma: who will we be when we are gone?

The new work follows on from 43-minute film In the Land of Drought, 2015/17 – the condensed version of Rosefeldt’s filmic interpretation of Joseph Hayden’s oratorio The Creation. In a similar vein, Penumbra originates from a film work, planned as a visual backdrop for Robert Schumann’s oratorio, Scenes from Goethe’s Faust, at the opera houses in Antwerp, Ghent, and Montpellier (postponed to 2022).

For his two key works of German literature, Faust: A Tragedy, Part I and II (1808 – 1832), Johann Wolfgang von Goethe created a visionary protagonist in the scientist and entrepreneur Dr. Faust. As a character, Dr. Faust anticipated the great issues of our time: capitalism, post-colonialism, the exploitation of nature, and environmental disasters. For the oratorio, Schumann selected a few fragments of Goethe’s masterpiece to compose music for, and for Rosefeldt’s filmic adaptation, he fragmented Schumann’s romantic composition to use as a soundtrack.

Akin to In the Land of Drought, Penumbra focuses on the notion of the “after us”. Looking back from a distant, imagined future upon the post-Anthropocene – the aftermath of significant human influence on our planet – the film addresses this problematic relationship between humans and their impact. Humankind appears to have left Earth for good. A computer-generated visualisation introduces us to their new territory, where they’re found trying their luck on a faraway planet, the desert plains congested with urbanisation. But once again, failure prospers and only some frantically built space settlements seem to grant shelter. On the planet’s surface, abandoned megacities linger within the dystopian landscape whilst artificial circular plantations lurk at their peripheries, nourishing their last inhabitants. The camera hovers meditatively over the desolate landscape and the ruined megapolises. Connoting surveillance, the satellite/drone/bird’s-eye view removes human perspective, keeping us onlookers at a distance.

When writing Faust I, and especially Faust II, Goethe possessed a clairvoyant vision of our time. He foresaw the destructive power of greed, capitalism, and globalisation, and simultaneously celebrated a utopian vision of a better world. Zooming in on this foresight, the searching camera abandons its reliance on computer-generated images to gradually reveal the remaining tenants of the barren landscape. Angles shift, perspectives enlarge, and slow motion accentuates the movements of a herd of raving youth, lost within their state of trance. A hint of optimism unfolds; their escape tentatively weighs against the threshold of their own extinction.

Ellen Lapper


1-channel film
Computer-generated and shot on HD
Stereo sound
Aspect ratio 16:9
1:30’ loop
Ed. 6 + 2 patron editions + 2 AP


Film Credits

Computer-generated segment

Project Lead: Marvin Sprengel
CG Artists: Bertrand Flanet, Elias Kremer, Vincent Maurer, Merlin Stadler
Additional Texturing: Caroline Keulertz, Annkathrin Kluss
Satellite-Imagery Retouching: Mona Keil
Satellite Imagery provided by European Space Imagery and Maxar Technologies

Parts of the computer-generated segment were produced at the
Animationsinstitut of Filmakademie Baden-Wuerttemberg


Rave segment
Director of Photography: Christoph Krauss
Phantom Operator: Marcel Neumann
Costume Design: Birgitt Kilian
Hair & Make-Up: Katharina Rebecca Thieme

1st AD: Simon Adegbenro
Production Manager: Viktor Jakovleski
Production Assistant: Mayra Magalhaes
Set Manager: Benjamin Sheppard
Ass. Set Manager: Ruben Stallmann
Set PA: Jan Hemayatkar-Fink

Ass. Costume Designer: Susi Hinz
Ass. Hair & Make-Up: Katharina Thiele
1st AC: Kai Lachmann
2nd AC: Christoph Kollmann
Video Operator: Lena Leuschner
Drone Pilot: Martin Rinderknecht
Drone Camera Operator: Nikolaj Georgiew
Production Drivers: Daniel Janssen, Vincent Lechat

DJ’s: Sama’, Richie Hawtin, Fadi Mohem, Stenny

Event Manager: Branimir Peco
Ass. Event Manager: Jennifer de Negri
Guestlist Coordinator: Laura Käding
Guest Coordinators: Ferdinand Klotzky, Katja Burlyga
Technician Richie Hawtin: Chris Lundie
Equipment Rental: Fabian Stiehler
Graphic Design: Anja Lekavski

Editor: Bobby Good
Colorists: Steffen Paul, Johannes Röckl
VFX & Online: Sebastian Mietzner

Sound design: Thomas Appel

Production Manager and Research: Flinder Zuyderhoff-Gray



At Opera Ballet Vlaanderen thanks to: Jan Vandenhouwe, Katherina Lindekens

At the Animationsinstitut of Filmakademie Baden-Württemberg thanks to:
Marvin Sprengel, Andreas Hykade, David Maas, Andreas Ulmer, Simone Pivetta, Enzio Probst, Tim Markgraf

Additional thanks to:
Sehsucht Berlin GmbH & Co / Markus Trautmann, Basis Berlin Postproduktion GmbH / Frieda Oberlin, Cative Solutions UG / Sebastian Mietzner, Bobby Good, Jan Schöningh, Hito Steyerl, Flinder Zuyderhoff-Gray, Julius von Bismarck

Grateful thanks for the creative planning and realization of the rave in the woods to:
Mikel Hecken & Ayla und Tjioe Meyer, Laura Käding, Viktor Jakovleski, Tobias Staab, Blitz Club / Branimir Peco, Chris Lundie, FB Event / Fabian Stiehler, Digicopter AirVideo & Foto GmbH, Arri Rental / Ute Baron, Eleanor Lyons, Anja Lekavski

And for the DJ Set to: Sama’, Fadi Mohem, Stenny, Richie Hawtin

Special thanks for the generous support to:
Beatrice Bulgari, Heiner Wemhöner and Filmakademie Baden-Württemberg

And to the entire film and postproduction team.


Produced by Opera Ballet Vlaanderen
Co-produced by Fondazione In Between Art Film and Sammlung Wemhöner

Shot in the woods north of Berlin, Germany, 2019

Written, directed and produced by Julian Rosefeldt

All rights reserved © Julian Rosefeldt