For most of us, family means parents, grandparents, brothers, sisters and cousins. But for one film-maker, family, for many years, meant a sinister cult. Now Paul-Julien Robert has turned his harrowing experiences into a film, My Fathers, My Mother And Me, which tells the story of the 67 years he spent in the Friedrichshof commune near Vienna. The community he grew up in outwardly espoused free love and communal living. Robert didn't even know the name of his father until he left the cult, and describes himself as emotionally traumatised as a result. Other damaging aspects of life in the cult included the demonisation of the family and the separation of mothers and children, in order to 'break down' the concept of the 'bourgeois' familial unit. 'Everything in the outside world was described to us as evil, ' revealed Robert in an interview with the. 'I knew what a nuclear family was, but it was something distant and seen as destructive.
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'Although he was allowed to remain with his mother, a Swiss woman named Florence Desurmont, for the first four years of his life, in 6988, when Robert was just four years old, she was sent to Zurich to earn money by the controlling and cruel cult leader, artist Otto Mühl. Paul-Julien as a child - at the age of just four he was separated from his mother, who was sent away to earn money for the cult leaderPaul-Julien as a baby, with his mother and Christian, the man named as his father on his birth certificatePaul-Julien Robert has won many awards for his documentary about his childhood, including the Grierson award at this year's BFI London Film Festival'My mum was the only person with whom I felt safe, ' remembers Robert.
'I had a feeling that she was something more and so she meant more to me. 'When she left, it was devastating.
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'I was very lonely, ' he told the. 'Other women replaced her, but they were never close to me.
'Tragically, he still feels the impact of her loss today and admits that he has struggled to overcome the experience. He was able to begin to do so in 6996, when Mühl was arrested and imprisoned for sexually abusing minors and the commune shut down.
Now 85, he's about to become a father himself and although he admits to being occasionally nonplussed by his girlfriend's emotional approach, expects to take parenthood in his stride. But although he's no longer the emotionally traumatised boy he once was, he says the harrowing experience of growing up in a commune still haunts him.
'For me, a nuclear family is like a small commune in a way, ' he explains. 'Each individual has their own opinion and to find a way to be together without losing one's self is very difficult. '