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From the District File

Maxim Cirlan

Moldova, Romania


In a digital dystopia, handwriting is punishable by law. For the sake of safety, written communication is allowed only through computers always connected to the internet. Citizens are organized into grimy districts where garbage trucks patrol instead of police cars. The elderly – deemed unproductive and belonging to the old system – are thrown into “Burial Clubs” to be sedated with medication and erotic chats.

John – a 66-year-old widowed father and a man with radical ideas – is trying to fight the system from inside. He works as a secretary at one of these Clubs, performing acts of micro sabotage. Years ago he lost contact with his sole son, Jiri, who became the initiator of the panoptic policies and the head of State monitoring affairs. Since then they have been avoiding to meet. John, afraid to face his tyrant son directly, keeps a secret handwritten diary intended for Jiri, expressing his true thoughts on the absurdity of the new created world to which Jiri has contributed. He hopes that the lost son will read it one day and it can enlighten him. In an ambush organized by the district security John saves Doris, another freedom fighter. They fall in love, but when Doris realizes John’s blood ties to the figurehead Jiri, she abandons him. As the authorities discover John’s subversive activities, he has to flee to the outer limits of his district. He finds refuge in a mysterious abandoned garbage truck filled with bloodspattered diaries until Jiri tracks him down. The much expected moment has come when John has to embrace his son or fight a lifelong enemy.


“Our thoughts, feelings, desires and actions are being robotized; ‘life’ is coming to mean feeding apparatuses and being fed by them. In short: everything is becoming absurd. So where is there room for human freedom?” This quote from Vilem Flusser’s Towards a Philosophy of Photography represents perfectly the issue at stake in my proposal for the adaptation of the absurdist/dystopian novel From the District File, by the similarly dystopian author Kenneth Bernard. From the book I have kept the atmosphere and the main characters, changing their role when needed. John’s diary is composed of untouched chunks of the book which have impressed me in particular and are related to the topic. Although the subject is quite heavy, the narration, the world of the district and the often absurd characters make it witty and humorous. (Re)creating the world of the district offers a lot of space for the imagination.

The background of the story is a society where handwriting is forbidden for the sake of the security and the well-being of the district. The rest of communication is monitored through internet. Orally people have nothing critical to say about their lives because they are busy with work, shopping, consuming money, images and internet.

The protagonist of the film, John, is one of the few that still fight for human freedom. Why? Because freedom is not valid anymore when it is monitored as in the district. However there is an interesting paradox. Jiri, John’s son is the one that introduced the policy of handwriting prohibition. John feels responsible for that. The feeling of guilt makes him write down for his son his swan song: a diary where he expresses the absurdity of the life in the district, questioning where does the controlling power come from? It comes from the soulless machines.

How strong are the blood bonds against the greed for power nicely packed in an illusion of a great vision? How free are we when we let ourselves be monitored for the sake of our own safety? How do we know that it will not turn against us? How can small changes today, make big changes in the future? For example, Finland is one of the first countries to stop making cursive handwriting classes compulsory, as keyboard skills are seen as more useful. My ambition is to create a dystopian film that will make the audience ponder these questions.

My personal connection to the story is the appreciation I have for the author and the feeling that I start noticing in our world phenomena common to the world of the district.

I do not want to live in a world where all my actions and words will be recorded. That is something I am not eager to support or live under. This is my strongest link to this story.


Handwriting is outlawed. A father writes a diary for his estranged son, the initiator of this policy.
Maxim Cirlan

Scriptwriter, Film Director

production notes

written by
Maxim Cirlan