This year the Michel opened its festival in one of my favorite cinemas: Abaton. It was an exciting day with laughing children and a buzz in the air, which took me back to the time when it all began. I have to say that I am proud to be a long-term follower since its birth in 2003, when the premiere was a huge success and opened doors in Hamburg for children to see films other than mainstream Disney productions.
In 2003 Albert Wiederspiel opened the festival with a German soccer film called Wilde Kerle. We didn’t know at the time that this film would become so successful and result in a follow-up film series, related merchandise for sale, and, finally, a similar version starring girls. I remember sitting there with my son excitedly waiting for the film to roll when the entire cast of Wilde Kerle came in to sit right in front of us. This was my son’s first film and what a way to start off! David Wilms from Super RTL came on stage to introduce everyone who helped put this festival together. After the film the entire cast went on stage and each child had something great to say about the experience. We exited and joined the organized carnival outside the cinema that featured Ernie and Bert. The next year the festival included the carnival and an all-girl band, the Lollipops, who sang at the opening. Each festival opening offered something new and different
The format developed into a pattern, which has remained today. It opens with a speech. The film plays in its original language, while a voice-over interpreter speaks into a microphone at the back. Then, usually, the director and sometimes the cast or members of the crew come up to the stage for Q&A. At the same time the children’s jury rates its favorite film. Relatively new and most likely to continue, are child reporters who write a blog and have a radio spot. Interesting to watch has been the development of the audience. In the beginning there were only a few, often superficial questions; now the children ask highly sophisticated questions and there are plenty of them. The kids also seem to have no problem with the translator, something which often irritates the adults who can’t handle being blasted by duel languages.
The Michel has also had its ups and downs. It certainly wasn’t because Wiederspiel didn’t have good ideas and the films weren’t wonderful. I have seen it struggle financially as well as with appropriate locations. There were work shops where the kids learned set design and how a film is made. Locations changed four times. The first cinema was Grindel which unfortunately closed, then CinemaxX which didn’t fit right, and then Zeise cinema which is pretty far away. Now Abaton seems to be the right match. This year set a new record of tickets sold, even more than CinemaxX, although Abaton is smaller. The prize money has also increased; originally starting at Euro 2500 it is now up to Euro 5000.
This year the Hamburg children’s film festival opened with a thought-provoking Dutch film Kauwboy. This film has already won five awards and two nominations and the year isn’t over yet. It was amazing to see the young audience following director Boudewijn Koole into the parking lot like groupies coming from a rock concert. The director patiently answered all the complex questions from the kids who wanted to understand this film which dealt with the death of a family member and the grieving process, a topic not often presented to children, but which obviously needs discussing in some form or another. This may seem like a strange opening film but since it stirred up a lot of curiosity and questions, it really set the tone for the festival.
The festival featured eleven films which included two animated films, one TV series Die Pfefferkörner, and eight children’s films. Most came from Northern Europe, one from Germany, two from Holland, and two from Sweden; three were a mixed production from Finland and Switzerland with German partnership. It is clear that Germany has an ever-growing presence in the film industry. Two other films, from Iran and India, represented a life style which was completely different from Germany. Perhaps that is why this festival is growing with leaps and bounds.
I feel honored to have followed this festival since its beginning ten years ago. I have watched it grow and change into its current form. I also had the luck to see it grow through the eyes of my son (now 14) who attended the opening film Wilde Kerle with its entire cast, up until this year when he said, “I would rather see Bollywood, if you don’t mind.” I also have to thank Currents magazine which enabled me to take this trip into the world of cinema where I have had the opportunity to meet lots of new faces (some famous), some journalists and some new friends.