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Filmfest Hamburg 2019
by Becky Tan

The 27th Filmfest Hamburg showed September 26 to October 5 in five Hamburg cinemas, as well as in special neighborhood guest showings throughout the city. There were 144 films from 56 countries. This year 45,000 viewers enjoyed the films, 2,000 attendees more than last year. We welcomed 332 special guests: film makers, actors, producers, etc., from 33 countries. Many discussed their films with the audience. There were 29 first films and 16 films which were the second full-length feature film of the director. Thirty films came from directors, who have presented other works at previous Hamburg film festivals. Forty-one films have some connection to France.

A film festival is a gift to speakers of different languages. Of the 123 films, that I took into consideration (leaving out those for television and in the children’s section), 16 were in original English and 13 in original German. Other languages represented were Arabic, Bengali, Bosnian, Croatian, Creole, Danish, Ewundu, Farsi, Filipino, Finnish, French, Gaelic, Hebrew, Hindu, Hungarian, Icelandic, Igbo, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Mandarin, Nepalese, Norwegian, Persian, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, Spanish, Tagalog, Thai, Turkish, Ukraine, and Urdu.

That’s something for everyone – all with subtitles in German (56 films) or in English (55), or in both languages. If anyone was still having comprehension problems, that person could watch the silent movie Wilcox. This is definitely a gift to English-speakers with more than half of the films in English or with English subtitles, something out of the ordinary compared to everyday film showings in Hamburg.

There was something new: an Explorer’s Conference to discuss the future of cinema. There was plenty of excitement outside of the screen, such as live music and 20 discussions and interviews in the tent which was especially set up in front of Abaton Cinema for the whole ten days.

In the weeks building up to the festival one could see a trailer advertising the event: a young woman stands in the rain with an umbrella; she jumps into the water and swims past landscapes in Hamburg. Interesting is that this trailer was no longer used before each film showing as in the past. This year we had a short, perhaps 30-second, trailer of black and white lines which closed, opened, moved. A short trailer before festival films is an excellent idea; save the longer one for advertising in advance. 

The opening film was DIE SCHÖNSTE ZEIT UNSERES LEBENS, which director Albert Wiederspiel picked up from the Cannes Film festival. He described it as “a rare jewel” simply because it was so amusing. That is definitely an unusual trait for a festival: something to laugh about—much less for an opening film.

I counted 11 awards with a total of 110,000 euros in prize money. More than 30 people from the film world – director, actor, producer, editor, script writer, author, moderator, journalist, etc.—served on the nine juries. It’s about time that one of us is invited to be on a jury. After all, we have more than 20 years’ experience in evaluating films. At least we could help chose the winner of the film critics’ award. Here the members of the jury represented press such as NDR 90.3 radio, Hamburger Abendblatt, Die Zeit online, Der Spiegel Online, the Berliner Zeitung and the Süddeutsche Zeitung. Although I saw 21 films which had been nominated for prizes, I only saw one winner: PELIKANBLUT. I have much to look forward to when the rest of the winners come mainstream into the cinemas.

We can be proud that the Filmfest Hamburg is so successful, considering that there are thousands of film festivals worldwide, including over 400 in Germany alone. The 28th festival will be in Hamburg September 24-October35. See you there.