My name is Imelda and I am an Asian-Canadian studying in Toronto. I was absolutely honored and excited to be coming to my first European film festival in Hamburg, Germany, this year for their 20th annual event. I began watching films as a kid, scratching off every title that was available at my local library from the American Film Institute’s top 100 films of all time. Since then, I have attended and worked at several film festivals including the Vancouver Asian Film Festival (VAFF), Toronto Reel Asian International Film Festival (RAFF), Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), and the Beijing International Movie Week.
It should be really obvious, but it was quite different for me to be attending a film festival that was set in a language that was not English. Even in Beijing, the organizers were from North America and we mostly catered to an expat audience. There were locals who translated programs and advertisements into Mandarin but you might as well have had the festival in Missouri! FFHH was different in that the organizers, audience and all the print material were in German which meant that there was a certain level of uncertainty for me about what was actually going on. Even though 90% of materials were translated, you always wonder what was happening in the 10%. What was being lost in translation? And if you love extracting every single moment of fun, scrap of industry information, and morsel of insight –and some of us more rabid film lovers might –it is a relentless niggling in the back of your mind. Eventually though I let myself be lost in the German of the Q&A sessions. I allowed myself moments of not knowing what was going on and tried to read the mood of the audience, the body language of the director, and the translator.
The audience was fairly subdued and it was difficult to hear their responses to films, whether it be shock, laughter, or triumph. This is true of most film and festival audiences. Even when the director or other talent was present I found this to be true. Perhaps Hamburger audiences are more polite to their fellow viewers and prefer to watch their films without distractions. I found the audiences at TIFF and specialized film festivals (those showing only anime, horror films, environmental films for example) are much more vocal and relish the opportunity to cheer, heckle, and make editorial additions to the movie-watching process.
Aside from the nuance of language, I was impressed with the size and feel of the festival itself. The red carpet at the Cinemaxx, the corporate partnerships with Häagen-Dazs, and the print material (brochures, program books, posters, English-German translation) were all high calibre. FFHH is definitely a festival that is growing and going places. As I spent the other half of my time in Hamburg being a tourist (aside from the other half which was watching films), I was happy to see posters for FFHH downtown, in subway stations, bus shelters, Wilhemsburg neighbourhood and all around the city. This gives a great impression of the city celebrating film and the festival itself also trying to reach a broader audience.
The types of films were of course an indication of the calibre of the film festival as well. Films like Pieta, Lore, and No showed that FFHH could attract critically acclaimed works and guests in attendance like Kim Ki-Duk, Willem Dafoe, and Jürgen Vogel also showed the city’s appeal to the film industry. The critique that TIFF has been getting of late is that it is becoming a festival of big Hollywood movies seeking Oscar buzz. But of course, the pleasure of a film festival is also watching unsuspectingly good films which don’t carry megawattage names. This was true of movies like The Sapphires, You’ve Been Trumped, and Room 237 that all played to the delight of viewers at FFHH.
In addition to films, FFHH has made the festival a very rich experience by offering talks, workshops, and musical performances. This is a credit to the partnerships they have formed with such organizations as X and X but also reveals the “other side” of film festivals that the audience often doesn’t get to see – the industry side where huge amounts of money are made and distribution deals are brokered.
The ability to talk about films after you’ve experienced them, or to think about the craft of film is also a great opportunity for film lovers to listen to others articulate their love of film, explain the film industry, and to reveal the marketing machine behind films. What was especially interesting was the books-to-film workshop that gave a brilliant opportunity for books to be made in to films. This increasingly popular phenomenon is especially needed in telling local stories and putting them in a format that could be more accessible and widely distributed.
From the press side of things, I did not like how I had to get some tickets the day before a screening. Especially with digital technologies, it should be relatively simple to know how many tickets are available for press and for the public in real time. I think the press should be allowed to get into films as they arrive at the theater. This is a courtesy that would at least be extended to festival pass holders, so why not the press as well? In addition, the system of titles needs to be standardized. Either pick the German title, the English title, the original language title or all of the above and have these be available in the index. Otherwise, have the variations beside one another in all of the programs. Another person from the press spent half an hour trying to find a film that was listed in English in the program book and in German in the schedule.
Compared to my other experiences, FFHH was organized, had a diverse offering of events, was easy to get from one venue to another, and had some of the big names as well as some wonderful sleeper hits. It is a festival that I certainly hope to return to next year: September 26 to October 5, 2013.