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Cuddle Down Into that Cozy Red Chair
by Becky Tan

The sixteenth annual FilmFest Hamburg was the second most successful ever with 35,000 tickets sold. (40,000 last year.) There were 134 films: features, documentaries, children’s films, TV films, short films from 53 countries. More than two-thirds were either in English or had English subtitles.

There were some changes. We moved to CinemaxX, which went all out to make us welcome. We were centrally located and had much space inside the cinema. The ticket counter was moved outside into a ticket booth. There was little pushing and shoving; it was comfortable and inviting.

This year there were no silent movies with musical accompaniment and I never saw the trailer with the red chair logo. The late evening talk was discontinued, but 80% of the films were accompanied by directors, actors, producers (150 in all) who were available for discussions on the spot. The Hamburg Pur special issue schedule was improved so that the venues and times were easily found in the back of the magazine. The English translations were well done.

This year young people in red t-shirts ran around with video cameras. They made up five teams of 40 students from the medienakademie school of Hamburg and created terrific blogs of the entire festival. This was almost like a talent campus workshop for young people.

The most amazing part of the FilmFest Hamburg is that right here in the city you can see bits of international festivals from around the world. For example from Cannes (Three Monkeys, Blindness), from Sundance (The Linguists, Sunshine Cleaning), from Tribeca (Idiots and Angels, Lost Indulgence) and from Moscow (For My Father, As Simple as That), just to name a few. Many came from smaller festivals, e.g., Guadalajara, Mexico (The Desert Within), Argentina (Historias Extraordinarias), or Bulgaria (Seamstresses). This is just a small selection; there were many more. What a wonderful international experience for just Euro7,50!

Canadian Atom Egoyan received this year’s Douglas Sirk Prize which is the highest honor of this festival given to a filmmaker who has made special contribution to the world of film. His newest work, Adoration, showed at the festival. Metropolis Cinema created a mini Egoyan festival with several of his past films such as Ararat and The Sweet Hereafter. Wim Wenders spoke fondly of his colleague. He told, in English, about first meeting Egoyan at a film festival 1987 in Montreal. Then, Wenders won first prize for Himmel über Berlin, but felt that Egoyan was more worthy and he gave it to him instead. The next year Egoyan was the winner and turned his prize over to another as well. That “tradition” ended with them, because the winner of the following year kept his prize. Egoyan said he never did cash that check. ”It’s framed and hanging on the wall. No bank would take it due to having the wrong name—Wenders—on it.”  Wenders said Egoyan’s films were “dense and complex but never predictable.”

The final evening is always so sad. We must come down from a high of full schedules and multiple images (our group saw 86 films this year) to return to reality. Julia Westlake, a well-known TV personality at NDR moderated the closing ceremony which included awards, music and the final film: Eldorado. Winners accepted awards. (See page   ). Director Jean-Stéphane Sauvaire will give his Euro 5000 prize to his charity which helps former African child soldiers, the subject of his film Johnny Mad Dog. He said, “Once you interact with these people, it’s impossible to turn away.”

Singer Telmo Pires and his three-part band sang their special form of Portuguese Fado songs. They were in town because the festival featured a section called Portugal Deluxe showing six Portuguese films from four decades. Fado is described by the Portuguese suadade, which means a state of nostalgia, loneliness and yearning for an absent someone. It originated in Portugal in the 1820s and is characterized by sad tunes and lyrics. The singer performed barefoot the whole time.

Sad, yes, but relaxed and happy, no more stress. It was a great success due to the friendly helpers and the festival chief Albert Wiederspiel, as well as Katrin Kohlstedde (the one and only VIP who always has a nice word for us and who spent the year selecting films), Claus Friede, Kati Baumgarten, Andreas Coenen, Peer Petersen and the many helpers manning the press counter.

Join us for the 17th FilmFest Hamburg, September 24 to October 1, 2009.