Hamburg’s dokumentarfilmwoche (DFW) celebrated its 20-year-survival benchmark in 2023, a watershed for the documentary film’s importance in this Hanseatic city-state. The drizzly weather didn’t dampen the festival’s opening ceremony’s buzz on April 24th at Metropolis Kino. Once guests, filmmakers, and everyone settled in their seats the program began. Festival team members made short introductions, then culture senator Dr. Carsten Brosda delivered a whirlwind oration applauding the DFW team’s dedication, tenacity, and commitment to “staying alive,” particularly with shrinking funding opportunities. He expressed his admiration at how DFW continually looks for more creative solutions. Brosda complimented DFW’s broad range of film subjects/issues ranging from political to ethnicity, Sinti and Roma, and universal topics affecting societies worldwide.
Following on Dr. Brosda’s heels, a DFW spokesperson announced this year’s special exhibition: “The Fifth Wall – Navina Sundaram: An insider's outside view or outsider views of an insider” on display at, finally, dokumentarfilmwoche’s newly acquired Festivalzentrum (festival center) space in fux eG, the nonprofit cooperative for culture, education, and production in the old Viktoria-Kaserne in Altona-Nord.
EIGENTLICH EIGENTLICH JANUAR (ACTUALLY JANUARY) by Jan Peters opened the festival. An experimental hodgepodge of 3-minute rolls of Super8 or 16mm film, Peters filmed one roll a day throughout the month of January—31 days. He developed and then edited the celluloid into the 100-minute documentary. The director said it’s a film for eyes and ears; hearing that Peters told a friend taking breaks would be O.K. should’ve set alarm bells ringing—said friend took a cigarette break. For the first three minutes of the film it looked, especially for those uninitiated to experimental films, like “empty” frames. Imagery included grainy, badly developed blobs, flecks and specks evolving into humans, animals, whatever. Then without warning the footage showed springtime splendor with nature showing off. Peters’ voiceover accompanied the film’s toing and froing—sometimes pedantically—and was parts personal, political essay, and commentary. Unhappily, Peters edited out the natural in-between-words pauses in his voiceover in some sections to the point where he made Brosda’s salutation seem downright lackadaisical. The part of the film that caught my imagination and attention was of his family holidaying in snow-packed mountains where they built an honest to goodness igloo. Nanook, here we come!
Jan Peters is an old-hand at filmmaking, i.e., one-man-show, and the two conducting Q&As afterward were not. The young woman almost put me to sleep waiting for her to formalize her first question, and she saw the film four times! Whereas the young man’s (cue-carded) questions were simpler, direct. Some of Peters’ answers incorporated levels of technical information obviously beyond the understanding of many still listening. Alas, the interviewers clung to the microphone and their questions, disregarding how late it was. Some of us couldn’t wait—public transportation doesn’t—for our turn to ask questions. Suggestions for next year? Shorter film, cue-cards, and remember your audience.