Extremist movements and radicalization. Two words that you often hear in the media – most likely linked to terrorism. But we rarely hear about why and how people in these environments leave it all behind. The aftermath of being part of an extremist movement is portrayed in Karen Winther’s documentary ‘Exit’.
It is not without a cringe and an instant bad feeling that you lock eyes with former extremists telling horrifying stories about the violent acts they used to perform in the film ‘Exit’. But it is even harder for the people, who used to be a part of these movements. Looking back at all the people you have harmed, because of race, ethnicity or religion. Filmmaker Karen Winther has been a member of an extreme far-right-wing movement when she was a teenager. “I am more okay with my past now, because I have met so many people, who have similar stories, and they are people that I very much respect. A lot of people are using their past to do good now, and it makes me feel like a part of a community. “
When Karen Winther wanted to leave the movement she was in, she was struggling with how to do it. That was back in 1996, where there were no exit-programs. Today there are exit-programs in a lot of Western countries. But why do radicalized people leave the movements, that they have dedicated their lives to?
“Often being shown an unexpected act of kindness is why people leave. The image you had of the movement is not true anymore. Or sometimes when a terrorist attack or something similar happens it shocks the person and ends up with them wanting to leave their group.”
The former extremists portrayed in the film think that it is important to share their stories and be an inspiration to other people stuck in these environments. The message is that it is actually possible to leave,
“The process of leaving a far-leftwing group is different than leaving a far-right-wing group, because if you say: “Oh I used to go around on the streets of Copenhagen and beat up neo-nazis”, people will just say: “oh that’s great”, but the question is – does the extreme violence really help or does it actually make it worse?”
There is a lot of safety issues to consider when making a film about ex-members of extremist, radicalized groups. “All the people in the film said that we couldn’t show where they live, their families or even hobbies and spare time activities. So that was difficult – how do we come up with a visual language for the film?”
Karen explains that many of the contributors of the film still experience threats and violence from their former groups and that they chose to mention the safety issues in the film.
What Karen tries to achieve with this extremely relevant film in today’s society is to put more focus on the de-radicalization process than on the radicalization: “I want the film to reach as many people as possible and to start a discussion about how and why people leave extremist groups”.