‘The making of’ a fictional political movement

Ash and Money

Ene-Liis Semper, Tiit Ojasoo

Ash and Money is ‘the making of’ one of the biggest social experiments in Estonian history. Conceived and directed by the Estonian directors Ene-Liis Semper and Tiit Ojasoo – who feature at the festival with their production Die Stunde da wir nichts voneinander wußten – this film documents their most sensational project to date. Semper, Ojasoo and their actors are filmed while they manage to get the whole of Estonia talking about their new – fictional – political movement, with many people believing it is all real. The ‘performance’ lasted for 44 days, during which their fictional political party Unified Estonia made constant headlines with interviews, press releases, eye-catching poster campaigns and well-orchestrated scandals. The project finally culminated in the party’s founding assembly, which attracted 7,500 people. According to the makers, the film shows the workings of hyperpopulism in order to make the real populism in today’s world redundant.


Festivalfocus: Edges of Europe

During the first six months of this year the Netherlands holds the Presidency of the European Union. But what is left of the dream of European unity? At the Holland Festival international artists present a series of performances focusing on current European issues and exploring this changing continent. 

The festival’s opening performance by Estonian directors Ene-Liis Semper and Tiit Ojasoo Die Stunde da wir nichts voneinander wußten shows the diversity and tensions of modern Europe. And in their film Ash and Money they focus on the phenomenon of political populism. Directors Milo Rau (The Dark Ages), Joël Pommerat (Ça ira (1) Fin de Louis), Wael Shawky (Cabaret Crusades: The Secrets of Karbala) and Ukrainian band DakhaBrakha delve into Europe’s past, exploring the effect of some of its history’s darkest chapters. From the heart of Europe, the collective God’s Entertainment stages a test about chauvinism, which is causing the European dream of unity to falter. The Dutch theatre company Wunderbaum responds to European issues in its project The New Forest. A large Syrian orchestra for Arabic music will reunite for a special concert in Africa Express Presents… The Orchestra of Syrian Musicians with Damon Albarn and Guests. Artists may not be able to change the world, but they can change the way we look at it.


Background information

Tallinn, March 2010. The members of the Estonian NO99 Theatre company go on a full media offensive to launch a new political movement, called Ühtne Eesti (United Estonia). Their goal is to break open the country's rigid political system and radically change the corrupt political climate. NO99, the artist's collective of ten actors and two artistic leaders famous as well as notorious for their elusive and provocative work, are going into politics. 

In the run up to the first party conference Ühtne Eesti is constantly in the news with clever propaganda, nationalist clamour, inflammatory press statements, provocative interviews, smart poster campaigns, catchy songs, slick videos, headline grabbing media stunts and all sorts of orchestrated scandals. 

The whole thing is a hoax though. The party, the movement and the campaign are a sharp parody on populism. Even so, Ühtne Eesti manages to gather massive support for their new movement (with many of their supporters probably not knowing that the party is fake). As the new party shoots up in the polls, the political establishment panics. What is it that Ühtne Eesti really want? Is it a joke, or does this new populist movement pose a serious threat to their power? After only 44 days of campaigning, the party's first conference attracts an incredible 7500 people. They're all witness to the unexpected finale of this great piece of political performance art, as the party reveals that this has been one of the largest social experiments in Estonian history. 

Ash and Money (2013) is a fascinating documentary about a fake political movement which gripped Estonia for 44 days. According to NO99's directors Ene-Liis Sempe en Tiit Ojasoo – who are also staging the opening performance at this year's Holland Festival, Die Stunde da wir nichts voneinander wußten (The Hour We Knew Nothing of Each Other) – the film uncovers the true danger of populism and the dubious role the media play. The immense project, which was officially called NO75 ühtne eesti suurkogu (Unified Estonia Meeting), turned the whole of Estonia into a stage, aiming to reveal and undermine the dark side of populism. This hyperpopulist experiment showed how easy it is to manipulate and inflame people who have no trust in politics. As one of the people in the film says: 'The fact that you're not interested in politics, does not mean that politics isn't interested in you.' 

The film makers documented the whole process in painful detail. They interviewed not only the makers behind the initiative but also the leading figures in Estonian politics who nervously witnessed the seemingly unstoppable march of NO99. The film also shows how NO99 set up this immensely ambitious project, the largest-scale performance artwork in recent European history, including all the emotional twists and dramatic turns behind the scenes. Ash and Money is NO99's first film project. It was shown previously at the International Film Festival Rotterdam (2015) and at festivals in Canada and Ukraine. This year, the company make their Holland Festival debut. 



Ene-Liis Semper (1969) studied scenography at the Estonian Academy of Arts. Since graduating in 1995, she has worked frequently in theatre and opera and received many awards for her set designs. In 2005 she and Tiit Ojasoo founded the NO99 Theatre, where she and Ojasoo are artistic directors. She has worked with Ojasoo as a co-director on several NO99 productions as well as productions for other theatres.

In her work, Semper mixes various art forms, ranging from theatre and opera to fine art, video art, film and installation art. As well as at NO99 Theatre she has also worked at the Münchner Kammerspiele with Sebastian Nübling and Kristian Smeds and at the Malmö Opera with Dmitry Bertman. In addition to her work as a stage director and scenographer, Semper also works as a video and performance artist. She has exhibited her work around the world, including two appearances at the Venice Biennial. 

Tiit Ojasoo (Estonia, 1977) graduated in 2000 as stage director at the Estonian Academy of Music and Theatre, before starting his career as a director at the Estonian Drama Theatre. In 2004 he was appointed artistic director of the Old Town's Studio, which was renamed NO99 Theatre a year later. Since, he has shared the theatre's artistic direction with scenographer and director Ene-Liis Semper. 

Ojasoo has staged more than twenty performances in various theatres across Estonia (NO99, Von Krahl, Draama Teater, Vanemuine, Endla). His directions have included works by Shakespeare, Bernard-Marie Koltes, Akira Kurosawa, Martin McDonagh and Alfred Jarry. In his work, he has frequently used texts by Yukio Mishima and Sarah Kane as well as his own texts, including Oil! and GEP. He's also directed musicals (Blood BrothersEvita) and a rock opera (Ruja). Ojasoo works in close collaboration with set designer and co-director Ene-Liis Semper. 

In the Baltic States, Ojasoo has won many theatre prizes, including the prize for best producer of the year at the Estonian Draama Teater Festival. His work has been performed at a range of international festivals, including Wiener Festwochen in Vienna, Politik im Freien Theater in Cologne, Novaja Drama in Moscow and Kontakt in Torun. Die Stunde da wir nichts voneinander wußten is the third play he and Ene-Liis Semper have staged for the Thalia Theater. 



Ene-Liis Semper, Tiit Ojasoo
Rein Kotov
Harmo Kallaste
Rein Kotov, Ene-Liis Semper
Piret Tibbo-Hudgins, Rein Kotov
Allfilm and NO99