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Festival Tidbits
by Becky Tan

Where Are the Natives?
During the French/African film La nuit de la vérité, there were no black Africans in the audience – only white people. In the closing Chinese film Electric Shadows, there were very few Asians. Where were they? On the other hand, the Danes, Iranians, and French supported their countries’ films with enthusiasm; Adam’s Apples and Iron Island were sold out. Native English-speakers took advantage of a singular opportunity for total submersion in films in English or with English subtitles.

Lanaya African Band
Possibly a world premiere: members of the West African band Lanaya performed with Francois Jeanneau, jazz saxophone, and Uli Lenz, piano. Dressed in native costumes complete with very original hats, members of Lanaya played violin, percussion and drums and sang. Their performance was a surprise treat for the audience of the French/Burkina Faso film La nuit de la vérité in Grindel. The music sounded surprisingly like square dance music, perhaps because of the violin, but the drums were the “spice in the music” to quote a line from the film. From Grindel they went to the Institute Français for a free late-night concert which lasted until after midnight. The Institute Français works well with Filmfest Hamburg, and the fifteen French or French-language films it supported appeared under the festival heading Voilà.

Iranian Director Receives Two Prizes
Mohammad Rasoulof, director of Iron Island, received the Film Critics’ Prize. Rasoulof said, “This is my second prize at this festival. The first was an apple. After my film, a woman came up to me and said she had carried an apple for her lunch with her throughout the day, and now she was going home. She liked my film so much that she wanted to give me what she had, which was this apple. I was very touched. I still have it. Here it is.”

Is this a parable? The Film Critics’ Prize comes as an honor but without money, an honor supposedly good for PR purposes. Is that worth as much as an apple?

Danish Cronyism
Last year’s opening film was O Happy Day by Danish director Hella Joof. This year’s Douglas Sirk Prize went to the Danish film producing company of Lars von Trier and Peter Aalbæk Jensen. The Filmfest director, Albert Wiederspiel, comes from Denmark (after various moves). At first glance, this could seem like too much of a Danish good thing, until we see such marvelous movies as Adam’s Apples, Breaking the Waves or Italian for Beginners. Before we complain, let’s understand the reasons for their success.

The film festival revives a long-forgotten custom: subtitles. Suddenly, half the people in the cinema are doubled up with laughter and two seconds later, the other half. Those reading the subtitles were ahead of those who were listening to the soundtrack. Sometimes confusing or bad subtitles (e.g., in cheap Chinese black market films, but never at the festival) send the viewer on a wild goose chase into oblivion. Reading subtitles is not difficult; it is a matter of acceptance and practice. The atmosphere of the film is so much more alive in the original language. What better way to practice a language than through subtitles? Why do many countries like Holland include subtitles, while they are rare in Germany? According to film critic Phillip Bergson, in Germany the Nazis deleted subtitles and began dubbing, literally putting words into the actors’ mouths. This way they could control and censor the text. This custom remains to this day.

“This is my kind of audience”
Festival director Albert Wiederspiel himself introduced At Earth from Above (La Terre vue Du Ciel). The film features Mother Earth and nature at its most beautiful. He said, “This is my kind of audience – the weather is beautiful outside; the sun is shining and nature is glorious and still all you people come to sit in the dark to see it, secondhand, on film.”

Hamburger Filmförderung
Filmförderung means film support or promotion, in this case in the form of financial aid to anyone who plans to make a film and meets certain requirements. Since last year the amount of money available has been reduced considerably, and this topic often made the headlines in Hamburg’s local papers. On the day the politicians voted to cut funds, a large number of filmmakers and a few local heroes such as directors Fatih Akin and Wim Wenders and actress Sibel Kekilli assembled in front of the Rathaus to protest. Director Doris Dörrie, whose film The Fisherman and His Wife kicked off the Hamburg festival, touched a very raw nerve when, in her opening night speech, she said, “The Bavarian Filmförderung is very superior to the Hamburg one.” We can criticize our own, but outsiders beware. This year members of the Filmförderung, lead by their chief Eva Hubert, spent four days in Cinemaxx to present the S(ch)nackpunkt discussions and sell red and white t-shirts for EUR 15 each. They also sponsored the well-loved location tour, which ferried potential filmmakers to interesting parts of Hamburg, e.g., the Speicherstadt, to spark interest in filming in the city.

Silent Movie
This year the oldie movie was a German one: Varieté by E.A. Dupont, starring a former diva: Hungarian Lya de Putti. Originally shown in 1925, this was a great chance to relive the days of our grandmothers, complete with live piano accompaniment by Carsten-Stephan Graf von Bothmer. Miss de Putti, born Amália de Szepesy, left her husband and children to become a famous silent film star. The success of Varieté took her to the U.S. where she died tragically in 1931, just 34 years old. This is the third year that the Friedrich-Wilhelm-Murnau Foundation has invited us to a silent movie during the festival. This foundation, along with thirteen others, sponsored cinefest, a festival and conference on European films of the 1930s, on November 12-20.

The Ball for a Good Cause
Grindel Cinema featured a science-fiction-like yellow machine that turned out to be the ultimate in vacuuming (as shown by a Grindel employee when the red carpet got too grimy for the feet of some illustrious guests). Known as the “CD 15 - The Ball”, this vacuum cleaner worth EUR 599 was donated by Dyson and auctioned to the highest bidder with proceeds going to the Deutschen Kinderhilfswerks e.V. (German Children’s Relief Organization).

TRIP or Remix your Experience was a multimedia event created by Frank Otto and Bernt Köhler-Adams. For four long years the two artist-composers, supported by teams of photographers and musicians, put together a 78-minute audio/visual happening of film and music which was projected simultaneously on four huge screens bordered by 12 smaller ones. The photos followed four themes: people on planet Earth, underwater, the Berlin subway and artwork. I mostly remember turtles, graphic art, hair, feet, heads, and ethnic groups. They composed their own music, which they compared with Pink Floyd, Miles Davis and Ravel. Most exciting for me was that this happening “happened” in the Levantehaus on Mönckebergstraße. The whole mall was open to the public after hours for a EUR 5 ticket. Besides the bigger screens, smaller screens were set up all over the place. There was a cocktail party atmosphere with people milling around, glasses in hand. What a wonderful place to have a party. This was a coup for the Filmfest, since the world premiere of this event was at the Expo 2005 in Aichi, Japan.

Quote of the Week
“If we all listened to reason, the world would be a gloomy place to live in. Everything is a test.” – Adam’s Apples