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Move Over Oprah!
by Becky Tan

Show up at the Filmfest Hamburg often enough and sooner or later, you’ll be recognized and even become useful. The festival second-in-command, Kathrin Kohlstedde, needed to be in two places at the same time. She asked me to represent her and present the American director Charles Oliver at the showing of his film, Take, in Cinemaxx, the fourth day into the festival. Our colleague Birgit Schrumpf encouraged me to agree, and after the sudden butterflies of fear flew away, I did.

It helped that I had already met Mr. Oliver at the evening talk show; I had already seen his film; I spoke English; and I had attended hundreds of film Q & As at other festivals. How hard could it be? I rushed home to google Mr. Oliver, made notes, and thought up, hopefully, intelligent questions. I was sitting all alone, way too early in the Cinemaxx lobby, talking to one of his groupies – a middle-aged German woman who said that Oliver had promised to read her script. She made an hysterical impression. She couldn’t stay until his arrival, as she wanted to see a film in Abaton. I wondered, “Does one get paid extra for running interference and sending away the crazies?”

Charles Oliver arrived with his wife – both are young, perhaps in their mid-thirties. They live on the west coast with their four children. He was rather brusque and hectic which I took to be caued by nerves. He said, “Where are my posters? I sent you five posters and they were expensive.” Nora, the director-nanny from the Filmfest, dashed off to inquire and discovered that they were too big for the frames at Cinemaxx. “Well, you could have cut them down!” Next question: “How many tickets were sold tonight?” “About 50,” says Nora. “What do you mean: about? Go check for sure.” So Nora goes off again and returns to say that 50 tickets were sold. Oliver replied, “Just 50 tickets tonight and only 80 on Saturday. All three of my showings at the Tribeca film festival in New York City were sold out.”

He decided not to watch his film for the thousandth time, but to go for supper with his wife. I visualized the three of us cosily sipping champagne at the nearby Tarantella Restaurant, courtesy of the Filmfest, where I could ask intimate questions about the U.S. film world. Not to be; he preferred dining alone with his wife, so Nora and I sat through his film a second time.

Afterwards I took the microphone and kicked off with the question, “Is the forgiveness in the film universal or cultural?” From then on, I was off the hook because the audience came in with questions about religion and the death penalty. (This is when I realized that we needed microphones for the audience, too.) When time ran out, I closed with “Is Jeremy Renner the new Edward Norton?” (The answer is no: but the new Sean Penn).

Afterwards everyone was lovey-dovey and relaxed. But what a shock it must have been for Charles Oliver, when we walked back into the lobby and a huge crowd was waiting to get in to see the Finnish film A Man’s Job. Maybe Hamburg audiences would rather watch something about a naked call boy who brushes women’s hair, than a serious film about the accidental murder of a child and the consequences.

I hope that this will open doors for our Currents film team. We could be translators, discussion leaders, or guides. We might even get paid. I got a rare Filmfest T-shirt, available only to staff, which I cherish.