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Filmfest Hamburg Impressions
by Becky Tan

I have been attending the Filmfest Hamburg since 1997. That’s 23 of the festival’s 28 years. Each year was a wonderful experience and 2020 was no exception, in spite of the unusual situation caused by Corona.

There were half as many films offered as last year, but, considering that 70 are already a lot to see in 10 days, this is not a problem. Most important is that the films are excellent for different reasons. I was happy to see 21 films this year, all important in some way. We got films from other festivals such as the Berlinale, Venice, Cannes, or Toronto. There was the winner of this year’s Venice Film festival NOMADLAND (2020) with Frances McDormond. There was the winner of this year’s Berlinale: DOCH DAS BÖSE GIBT ES NICHT (2020) by Mohammad Rasoulof. There were 21 debut films by new directors and 21 films by female directors.

Especially welcoming for us English speakers were the 20 films in original English (mostly from the USA and Great Britain), as well as 26 more films with English subtitles. At least two were without sound, understandable in any “language.” Twelve of the 13 films in the special documentary festival were either in English or with English subtitles.

This year we journalists were accredited free of charge. There was a well-organized website for accredited journalists where we could book tickets for press showings beginning at 10:00 daily. The website was easily managed, and I had my films in just a few seconds. The same website listed panel discussions for which we could get tickets or watch online. I only watched one panel discussion (and no films) online. I realize that I lose concentration when I Zoom. Suddenly the spider web near my computer or the postman ringing the doorbell, or the washing machine is more captivating. I would rather sit in the cinema where we were seated in safe distances from one another.

Luckily, I got tickets to almost every cinema showing that I clicked. A few times I had to choose an alternative because my film was sold out. As a result, I found myself in excellent films such as QUO VADIS, AIDA? (2020), or CATERPILLAR (2020), which I probably would have missed without having been forced to change my plan due to sold-out showings. One film I missed was IM WAHNTRUMP UND DIE AMERIKANISCHE KATASTROPHE (2020), but it ran under “television specials,” so I can look forward to seeing it on my NDR channel.

We did not get a festival bag this year and only employees of the festival wore yellow IDs. I considered getting out my own yellow ID (which all journalists got in past years), but then I decided people would think I belonged to the festival team and ask questions about which I knew nothing. It was helpful to be able to recognize festival managers running around, because this year there was no central office set up, not in a tent outside Abaton or anywhere else, although they did have a small base at Rothenbaumchaussee in front of the tower at Moorweide.

The trailer this year was enjoyable, which is a rare comment, if you’ve been forced to see a trailer 21 times. It began with a pleasant voice saying, “We are happy to welcome you back.” Then the word ARTE popped up, since ARTE was a partner of the festival. Then the word was placed into the sentence “film stARTEt.” Then we were asked to sit back, switch off (not only our mobile phones, but our thoughts), and stay well. Then came 15 seconds of black and yellow festival colors “dancing” in different positions, often similar to doors opening and closing, all accompanied by organ music.