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“Experimental” Getting a Bad Name at Film Festivals
by Marinell Haegelin

The past few years I have been flummoxed by the number of films shown at IKFF labeled Experimental. After a special program, where all eleven shorts shown were tagged Experimental, I saw Ulrich Ortlieb with Filmfest Hamburg leaving a different program. Naturally, we nattered about films, then diverged to the Genre topic. Hence, the idea for this interview article was born. Ulrich organized an interview with Filmfest Hamburg*, while I contacted Sven Schwarz, co-director of IKFF, who graciously agreed to an interview. What I learned is, it’s not that simple nowadays. The evolution of cinema, technology, et al poses new, nebulas landscapes, especially for those at the forefront.

Sven and I met after the 2014 festival, when I asked him the following questions:

1– How are films selected?
— 95% are submissions and 5% are IKFF requests from film institutes or the filmmaker directly.

What ratio of films that you receive does not fit in to existing categories?
— Tough to say. It’s a way bigger ratio with IKFF than a feature (film) festival; our borders are more blurred.

2– How do you categorize these films, i.e. what basic guideline do you use?
— We use four basic film categories: fiction, documentary, experimental, and animation.
The public love labels. It helps them make decisions if they know something about what they are going to see. Another reason (for categories) is for reports we have to write for the European Union.

3– Would it be fair to say other festivals and / or film markets are experiencing a similar dilemma / uncertainty?
— Unless it’s a genre festival (sci-fi, fantasy / horror), yes. Short more than feature film festivals. The label Hybrid seems to be taking over the Experimental label in a way. For example: one of our films in 2012, Streets of the Invisible, the scenery is done completely using Google Street View, with sound from The Streets of San Francisco (American TV show 1972–1977). Is that Hybrid or what?

4– Film festivals are one of the few viable avenues for independent filmmakers to show their films, and for audiences to see something new, albeit perhaps non-commercial.
— That’s truer with festivals like ours because no one really makes that much money on short films, which allows for creative freedom. Basically, none of the films we show are made with (filmmakers having) “will audiences like” in mind.

Have you had conversations with others in the industry about creating new genre / category titles?
— It’s more about getting rid of categories. Are these labels really necessary? One good thing about not knowing what to expect happened to me at a festival. This 11-minute film started as a social-drama; in the last minute, it switched and turned out to be a Zombie film – fantastic! Z1 screened at this year’s festival.

5– Would you consider working with Filmfest Hamburg to develop contemporary genre titles (for local film festivals at least) thereby possibly becoming (industry) pioneers?
— If someone really expresses a need for it… (I could imagine a) round table of festivals, but I doubt it would happen for many many years. But I don’t think there’s a need for it – (instead) let’s get rid of genres.

Sven explained their challenges, and procedures. Short films have notoriously switched medias – (Quentin) Tarantino was one of the first to mix animation with film – and themes. With short films leading the way, people are now more accustomed to seeing these fusions. IKFF sometimes add to what filmmakers submitted to make their synopses more category-specific, which is especially true of video artists. Besides, Experimental films are genre-benders and they make up most of the films in IKFF’s NoBuget section. Which just goes to show how true that adage is, “(You) learn something new everyday.” Still, I’d like to pose these questions to all you readers, “How would you respond if film classifications, i.e. genres were eliminated?” “Do you choose a film based on its classification, or what you’ve read – review, synopsis, etc. – seen, or heard?” Interesting proposition, isn’t it!

* The interview with Jens Geiger, Programming and Ulrich Ortlieb, Press Team on this same topic and with the same questions will be included in the 2014 Filmfest Hamburg special issue.