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Thriving and Evolving at Thirty-five
by Marinell Haegelin

For its 35th festival of films, the Eröffnung (Opening) Ceremony served up lots of attention-grabbing surprises. A buoyant undercurrent was in the air as attendees chatted or lined up for a thirst-quenching begrüßen (welcome) cocktail. Spotted mingling in the crowd were representatives from other festivals, including FilmFest Hamburg’s Albert Wiederspiel and Kathrin Kohlstedde, and Joachim Post with Lesbisch Schwule Filmtage (International Queer Film Festival), in addition to local press agency’s members and film journalists. In fact, everyone was so relaxed and the mood so good, co-director Sven Schwarz circled Zeise Kino’s roomy foyer reminding guests the ceremony was starting… now!

Dominating Kino 1’s huge screen was a three-line brainteaser: Kurzfilm Festival Hamburg (KFH). Hmm, what happened to Internationales? Always a trendsetter, e.g., in 2003 established A Wall is a Screen and touring program, Hamburg’s festival is among the top ten short film festivals worldwide (of more than 228). Confirming that rebranding of the Kurzfilm Agentur had occurred, Schwarz pointed out, “The borders in the (short) film world are very fluent and basically everything we do is international anyway.” Nowadays, it’s the opposite festival types (national or local) that need elucidation.

Also, as speakers came onstage the onscreen text behind them changed, e.g., from KFH to KurzFilmAgentur (KFA) when the Executive Director Alexandra Gramatke came up. Also, the word “festival” had movement that formed words representative of KFA, such as Archive, Verleih (rental agency), Schule (school), Sales, etcetera. Intermittently jury members’ names/photographs were projected on the screen.

First up to the podium were Schwarz with Maike Mia Höhne, the new artistic co-director. They joked, revealed that more than 300 short films from 40 countries would be shown, and were downright illuminating about this year’s various programs. They exited the stage after introducing Staatsrätin Jana Schiedek from the city’s Behörde (authorities) für Kultur und Medien. Her modulated address was custom tailored to KFH, complimenting and congratulating the festival for its many contributions on behalf of Hamburg. When Schiedek pledged more funding in the future, she was warmly applauded. Alexandra Gramatke followed speaking about KFA’s many functions, while the words “Sales… Verleigh…” changed behind her onscreen; KFA only accepts 15 to 20 films a year. She also joked about their relocating to the old Viktoria-Kaserne and, with determination, said by next year’s festival KFA and KFH will have moved offices! Gramatke’s tip? Visit Hamburg’s smallest Kino that opened in Viktoria-Kaserne, Altona in April 2019.

Additionally, trailers and six short films were shown. While KFH’s trailer seemed drab and gloomy, Mo & Friese, the children’s film festival, was colorfully delightful, as was their selection GLASS BIRD, a 2018 animation by Dan Wang, Shuoyo Chen and Lexuan Song. Of the other five films, I barely remember THE MAGICAL DIMENSION, a 2018 experimental animation by Gudrun Krebitz, although it won a prize. As did the longer PAST PERFECT, a 2019 experimental documentary by Jorge Jácome that could be summed up as a 23-minute soliloquy to pessimism/gloom/negativity. RODEO, a 1998 narrative by Jeanne Faust, was visually interesting but meandered to nowhere. At the very end, a short, creatively wacky clip from the music video RICHTIG GUTES ZEUG, directed by a team from Auge Altona for the Hamburg based band “Deichkind,” pranced across the screen for everyone’s delight.

Many guests and professionals headed to the festival center, Gebäude (building) H, to partake of the entertainment on offer. This is KFH’s second year at home in part of the 1970s Deutsche Post complex at Kaltenkircher Platz; as Schwarz quipped, at least the section of concrete wall (allowing street access) was already gone! There is enough space outside for open-air screenings, and plenty of picnic table groupings just off the indoor food/drink section. Spread over two floors, downstairs there’s a bike rental and miniature golf area, a section for Mo&Friese, installations, cinema, et cetera with the ShortFilmMarket’s (KFA) viewing facilities upstairs. Needless to say, “H” has plenty of room for kicking up one’s heels.