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May Be Going but Will Not Be Forgotten
by Marinell Haegelin

A certain poignancy permeated Filmfest Hamburg’s (FFHH) 31st opening ceremony as it was longtime festival director Albert Wiederspiel’s swan song. Hamburg’s Culture Senator Dr. Carsten Brosda remarked during his speech how Wiederspiel has been at the helm since his arrival in Hamburg in 2011, and for Brosda at least, Wiederspiel is the festival. Remarkably, Wiederspiel kept welcome salutations short and focused. Then following a slick, clever city-state promotion video (in English), directed by David Aufdembrinke from long-standing festival supporter Hamburg Tourismus GmbH. The Gustav Peter Wöhler Band performed “Message in a Bottle.” Later Gustav Peter crooned “Make You Feel My Love” to husband Albert and got a kiss for his effort.

The man himself pantomimed “time-out” to shorten the resounding applause before launching into a longer and bolder commentary. Interestingly, Wiederspiel chose to use this platform to rebuke the current state of international political antics. His was a personal, quiet protest; he reminded the audience of just how important art is, in all its forms, for societies to coexist in relative harmony whether at home, or abroad. Focus ranged from Putin’s vicious unprovoked escalating invasion of Ukraine (2022) to book shops and bakeries in Chernobyl, Ukraine, to Armenia’s invasion by Azerbaijan (2022/2023), while emphasizing worldwide participation and cooperation is essential for helping and to cause positive change. Rather than pack and leave.

This vein of thought was echoed by Brosda calling for more films that promote discussion re: films in the Ukrainian Molodist Kyiv International Film Festival that runs parallel to FFHH for the second year. He cited the MICHEL Children and Youth Film Festival, begun by Wiederspiel, invaluable involvement for children and teens—MICHEL settled into its new venue, Studio-Kino in Altona this year. Brosda referenced HALLELUJAH, the documentary about Leonard Cohen and his eponymous song. As he left the stage, Wiederspiel cheekily mentioned during his 21-year tenure, Brosda is Hamburg’s fifth Culture Senator. Michael Behrendt, chairman of the Hapag-Lloyd Foundation announced the initiation of the Albert Wiederspiel Preis (Albert Wiederspiel Award) to filmmakers “who, despite adverse circumstances in their own country, courageously raise their voices through art to stand up for democracy and human rights in their films.” Wiederspiel then announced Iranian writer-director Farhad Delaram’s debut feature film, ACHILLES, the 10,000 € prizewinner. After a final tune from the Gustav Peter Wöhler Band, and before the slight break to clear the stage, Wiederspiel’s successor, Malika Rabahallah, dashed onstage delivering a kiss on his cheek and flowers. *See below

With the stage cleared the opening film began. INSHALLAH A BOY is about Jordan’s patriarchal inheritance laws’ effect on its women in the misogynistically stifling culture. Afterwards, the onstage interview with Amjad Al Rasheed, its young writer-director was appealing and telling. As a youngster he listened to his mother, aunts, and their friends’ conversations about the oppressive repression they experienced. When asked he firmly replied yes, he is a feminist —how refreshing. In lieu of congratulatory flowers, FFHH donated the money to a Ukrainian children’s cause. With that the audience made its way to Hotel Elysée where festivities were being held. Before settling like a swarm of locusts on the warm food buffets, guests were offered complimentary wine and/or cocktails from various vendors’ stands, and dance music.

“It’s the end of an era…” explained Brosda during his speech. The now 62-year-old Wiederspiel has been at the helm 21 years, growing a struggling film festival into an anticipated autumnal event. He inaugurated the film festival for the young, he made/encouraged contacts and sources for funding, favors and films. He turned on the charm when need be and settled priorities accordingly. Volunteers were encouraged, community spirit nurtured, and patronizing Hamburg’s provinciality meant adhering to a mostly German-language festival. Explain that to foreign professionals in attendance in 2023, since all Industry events were only in German.

Festival director Wiederspiel seemed tired. In 2023 accreditees didn’t receive tote bags since—misassumption—professionals use Smartphones for all their work (really ?!), and for the second year Industry’s hang-out was the nighttime only “hot spot” under the train tracks. Accredited journalists said this year’s program was mostly from Cannes and Venice film festivals. Albert Wiederspiel ended the cinema part of the opening with “schön wars” for the most wonderful job in the world, as the impressively qualified Malika Rabahallah takes over at the helm.

Meet Filmfest Hamburg’s New Director

The designated 2024 FFHH director, Malika Rabahallah, is a native of France. She studied business administration in Paris and honed film production studies/skills before assuming the position of project manager for the Cologne Film Festival. Rabahallah changed direction moving into film production, and with over ten years’ experience as a producer, co-writer, and co-director, Rabahallah began working for MOIN Filmförderung in 2011 as a consultant.

In 2015 Rabahallah became the head of MOIN Filmförderung’s funding department, taking a key role in growing Hamburg’s potential as a filming location. Malika said, “It is a great honour for me to follow into his footsteps and to be able to further evolve this festival with my own ideas. … [B]e a meeting point for the industry and an audience festival with international appeal that celebrates the diversity and creativity of the local, national and international film industry. … Personally, the topics of diversity and sustainability are very close to my heart. I also want the festival to reflect on new challenges such as disruptive technological changes.”

When the announcement was made in May 2023, Wiederspiel was very glad, saying “Malika Rabahallah is an inspiring personality with excellent contacts all over the world. Her energy is catching… [T]hat the new director of Filmfest Hamburg will continue to have a migration background is a great credit to the Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg. After 20 years of Jewish humour, it's finally time for a different colour, which I, as a first, am already very much looking forward to.” In 2024, when Filmfest Hamburg hosts its 32nd film festival it should be fun discovering what’s new, what’s not and how so.