I grew up in the Middle West of the United States. My family of six siblings went to many movies in the 1940-60s. Before each feature film, there was always a short film. This tradition has died out but, luckily for us, short films are alive and well. The 31st annual International Short Film Festival, better known as the IKFF or Internationales KurzFilmFestival, played in Hamburg June 9-15, 2015.
The opening celebration was on the evening of June 9 and Zeise Cinema was full of moneyed people, press, and politicians, all necessary groups for the success of any artistic endeavor. Most important were the filmmakers who would show their films and discuss their work over the next seven days. There were young film students straight from film school, ready to show their final diploma project. Around 550 professionals were involved, 150 of them filmmakers from 25 countries and some of them members of the jury to select winning films in different categories.
Hamburg’s Senator of Culture, Barbara Kisseler, spoke. We heard from the co-directors Sven Schwarz and Birgit Glombitza. Barbara Häbe came from Straßburg to represent ARTE and remind us that there would, once again, be a winner of the ARTE short film prize of 6000 euros.
Between speeches we saw samples of films to be shown, including the German (eventually two-time winner) Symbolic Threats. A Short History of Decay from Taiwan stood for films in the No Budget Competition. Intervals made by Peter Greenaway in 1969 represented the Retrospective or Early Works section. Brass Heaven from Great Britain was a sample of a Three-minute Quickie.
Film Festival Samples
Booked in the International Competition was Freedom and Independence, 15 minutes of “musical, comedy, fairy tale, and horror” according to the festival catalog. Director Bjørn Melhus plays all the roles himself and touches on the world’s end prophecies balanced against Ayn Rand teachings in Atlas Shrugged, which supposedly “has more influence than any other book after the Bible.” Melhus filmed in a morgue in Berlin, as well as in Istanbul, where he supposedly had no permission to film.
Eden’s Edge, three seven-minute films, featured two women and one man in the middle of the California Desert. The first segment represented indigenous Indians on Turtle Island, the second considered problems of safety for children in California, and then there was something called “Water & Worms.” It was very artistic and symbolic, because actually all we could really see was desert in all directions. Director Leo Calice said it was difficult to film from balloons high above the desert, due to unpredictable winds.
Cambodia 2099, in which two friends share their dreams, was the only film from Cambodia and won a prize at Cannes last year.
A German competition film was We Will Stay in Touch about It. A man drives along a long treeless landscape in an isolated area. Suddenly something hits his windshield. A man? He gets out and seeks the victim, but finds nothing. The festival catalog says, “What happens when we realize that we kill without facing any consequences?” Most impressive was Zement by Bettina Nürnberg and Dirk Peuker. They show a modern German neighborhood that was built right on the grounds of a former WWII concentration camp. The construction company took over the water pipes, the canalization, the streets, some of the original materials, and left the big arch leading into the former camp. Now it leads into a modern neighborhood of new houses. Some people call it “our cemetery.”
The Hamburg competition showed Sadakat by Ilker Catak, which went on to win an American Student Oscar® for best foreign short film; it will compete in the short film category at the Academy Awards in early 2016. Catak is a hometown boy. Born in Berlin of Turkish parents, schooled in Germany and Istanbul, Catak was a master student at the Hamburg Media School.
Use your Imagination
The trend towards films that require imagination because there is practically nothing to see continues. NOT AND OR by Simon Payne, Great Britain is 17 minutes of black and white squares roaming around, blinking back and forth. Director Payne claimed that they were inter-connected. He added, “I would say it’s dangerous for any one with epileptic nerve problems to watch.” Along these lines are moon blink, which is just sounds, colors, light, but no real plot. Once again: one needs lots of imagination. By Rainer Kohlerger from Austria, this also showed at the festival in Rotterdam. Kohlberger said one shouldn’t “focus too much on the film; let go and look away. Connect objects. Change what your phone ‘sees’ into abstract art.” Did you get that? Did your phone?
Even the rather weird festival trailer by Paul Sprengemann and colleagues followed this rule of “nonsense makes a film.” But, who are we to complain? At least this trailer survived. A few months later the 2015 Filmfest Hamburg management threw out a perfectly good trailer, after showing it once at the press conference, and once on opening night – never to be seen again. It was replaced by two minutes of refugees living in Hamburg.
Final Award Ceremony
The awards ceremony is always fun because it’s relaxed; everyone has accomplished his or her job and can enjoy the satisfaction of having done a good job. During the year the IKFF team had viewed over 6000 short films from 70 countries before selecting the best for the festival – almost 290 films in all. This final event takes place in the Kolbenhof factory site, probably the last time at this site, which is being torn down piece by piece to make room for new apartment buildings. Nobody needs to dress up. People walk in and sit on folding chairs. A member of the IKFF team plays accompanying music on a record player (!). On the walls are children’s drawings from some of the projects during the Mo&Friese Children’s festival that runs parallel.
The award ceremony was in German with English translations via headphones – a good idea, considering that the entire festival was very easy for English-speakers to understand – in fact, if you had little English, you were hard put to understand much of the festival. Once again Comedian Ruth Rockenschaub was the mistress of ceremonies, an excellent and spontaneous stand-up comedienne. The prizes were awarded rapidly with short speeches by the winners.
There was a surprise ending. As a großes Finale all viewers in the first ten rows were covered with sparkling confetti that poured from the ceiling – good thing we didn’t dress up. Sparkling: a good description of the festival, both literally and figuratively. I still see bits of sparkle in my rug, where I dropped my clothes after the evening was over. And “sparkling” is our anticipation for next year: May 31 to June 6, 2016.