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After The Festival Is Before The Festival
by Marinell Haegelin

Along with the first hints of summer came Filmfest Hamburg’s (FFHH) initial press notice – es ist unterwegs (it’s underway). Each ensuing update and announcement was more enticing. In May the special sections were announced; end of June proclaimed their first film choices; the press team was introduced in July, and the festival’s trailer hit local cinemas in August. Mid-August heralded a request to applicants aspiring to journalistic or industry accreditation. Early September FFHH held its press conference. Then, the week of Herbstanfang (beginning of fall) tents were erected and trailers parked next to Abaton, a festival cinema. With this build-up, it’s more exciting than Santa’s arrival. But, what about all those films and where they come from?

Interviewing Jens Geiger, program department, and Ulrich Ortlieb, press department (page ---), was eye-opening. One thing most film festivals have in common is the winding-down phase. Stress and sleep deprivation calls for rest and relaxation the day after a festival. Followed by necessary office duties: thank you notes, returning or sending films to pre-designated destinations, etc. Next precedence is finding films for next year’s festival.

Early 2014 the program department, under Kathrin Kohlstedde’s command attended film festivals (Rotterdam, the Netherlands and Göteborg, Sweden), the Berlinale film market—markets run during some festivals but aren’t open to the public, and had opportunities to talk to other industry professionals. May’s Festival de Cannes is the biggest market for them—five attended this year—to get a “pretty good” idea of likely film subjects and content. Although not a prerequisite, films shown at Cannes generate more attention. But, a world premiere outshines even Cannes (in selling tickets). “It’s always nice if you’re the one who found the film,” Jens points out. Sometimes a film’s screening at another, especially European, festival makes an imprint on audiences. By now, FFHH’s people had talked a lot comparing notes, and whittled down possibilities regarding the types of films they wanted. Henceforth, at festivals they looked specifically for films with a certain organic structure.
Submissions, accepted between January and July, were watched as they arrive. Having no submission fee, FFHH gets hundreds and hundreds: more submissions, less boundaries, but the same number of people to watch them. This year’s film selection team consisted of six persons: four for FFHH and Michel two. Each film’s watched at least 20 minutes; if unsure, the film’s given to another member to watch. 2014 was a strong year for films submitted, i.e. films that were rejected this year would’ve been accepted in a weaker year.

By mid-July at least 60 of the 143 films (from 49 countries) shown this year were chosen. Slots were kept open for any film screened at another festival they knew was coming. Also, they watched for certain candidates, such as directors whose work they like or have shown in the past, or new releases. With the festival’s opening on the horizon, the programmers had to get tougher; the festival catalogues couldn’t go to press until they had this information. And once chosen, every film had two public screenings during Hamburg’s 22nd film festival that ran September 25 through October 4. Audiences are becoming savvier. “We’re talking about the idea we, as programmers, have about films after seeing films every day, and moviegoers. I think we’re getting closer,” sums up Jens nicely.