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Aliens You Like to Remember
by Marinell Haegelin

Scrutinizing the program prior to a festival is tricky, so when your eyes start crossing, spin the proverbial wheel of chance. In pursuit of pleasure, I chose a German, and two international competitions (Wettbewerb). Gratification was achieved; even if several exhibition pieces were posing as experimental, some short films had good production values but were storyless, and some were weak in both inducing audience sighs, fidgeting.

Beam Me Bored might be more appropriate for the Beam Me Up! (TRT: 71:13, IW4) program title; three of the four films allegedly had an alien influence. Only director Yuri Ancarani’s documentary transforms the mundane, focusing on Milan, Italy’s stadium: SAN SIRO – 2014, 26:00 minutes, no dialogue. Various crews detailed work preparing the stadium for a soccer match draws us in. Good camerawork illustrates inherent design elements in the structure, in conjunction with the music of nature and natural sounds. Befuddling is the editing: the film seems to end, when suddenly we’re in the players’ bus arriving at the stadium. Was that the alien element? Still, it was surprisingly fascinating viewing.

On the other hand, two of four films in Wanderers and Aliens’ (TRT: 87:08, IW1) are noteworthy. Simón Mesa Soto’s London Film School graduate project captures a life-moment: LEIDI – 2014, 16:00 minutes, Spanish/English subtitles. Living with her mom and baby in a barrio, Leidi learns her guy was with another girl, so goes looking for him. Eventually found, Alexis plays awhile with their baby before sending the two home. Very solid production values; the actors’ naturalness strengthens the film—Leidi’s Columbian, sixteen and her baby one-year-old. During Q&A, Columbia’s huge macho problem is explained: kids having sex having children, and absent fathers, which continues over generations. Even before Q&A, I thought it would be a great sex-education tool for schools.

Romania director Adrian Sitaru combines delightful storytelling with strong production values for a narrative treat: EXCURSIE (Excursion) – 2014, 19:28 minutes, English and Romanian/English subtitles. Nine-year-old Eugen gets minimal attention because his parents constantly fight. A TV news report about aliens landing nearby sparks Eugen’s imagination. Helping himself to a camera from dad’s stock, Eugen films with a vengeance wherever the day takes him. But, Eugen disappears, dad involves the police, and dad’s boss abreacts after recognizing footage in a second news report (hilariously funny scene). Exemplifying people’s foibles, a twist at the end demonstrates the depth of love. The nuanced story comprises political, economical and familial demands, and a personal quest. Testifying to the enchantment of imagination, EXCURSIE justifiably won the 2015 ARTE Short Film Award.

Out of the BlueZeise (Aus heiterem Himmel, DW1) over 87-minutes of pleasure kicked off with the trials of being a teen. Puberty ain’t easy, but with a comedic spin and animation it takes on an indelible life of its own. Director Laura Lehmus adroitly incorporates interviews with kids in ALIENATION – 2014, 6:14 minutes, German/English subtitles. Bad hair, zits, voice changes, attitudes – all the stuff of, “First I was smaller, now bigger.” Very clever, and well made. Delving deeper than outward appearances is Andreas Hykade’s animation about the beginning of the world. Lovely visuals illustrate the secret of the universe in MYSELF UNIVERSE – 2014, 1:34 minutes, English. It sends a clear, meaningful message.

How high can an alien jump? Perhaps as high as Rebecca Ann Tess’ THE TALLEST – 2014, 14:00 minutes, English. The research alone must’ve been boggling assembling the global shots of “the tallest of the tall.” Each structure—Willis Tower (USA), Petronas Twin Towers (Malaysia), Zifeng Tower (China), Mecca Clock Tower (South Africa), et al.—(try to) outdo the next. Boasting of proportions and pretensions, these altars to global capitalism celebrate cold-hearted detachment. A compassionless computer voiceover—I can still hear it—recites each edifice’s statistics. The film’s scope is mesmerizing, its message of alienation astute, depressing.

Japan’s ancient culture and recent calamity coexist in aesthetic splendor in SNAPSHOT MON AMOUR –2015, 6:00 minutes, English. A calligrapher’s gracefulness, a wedding party – images antipodal to the voiceover about the 2011 tsunami. Its aftermath begets a new term. Always interested in Japan, Christian Bau went to Fukushima one year on, returning with a visually rhythmic, spellbinding documentary. IKFF’s primed presenter garnered a bounty of information from the director, including how the calligrapher, surprised and uncomfortable, wrote the “atomic divorce” characters just for Bau’s film.

A spontaneous idea, using what’s at hand, and five days yielded: AUTUMN – 2015, 10:00 minutes, no dialogue/English subtitles. Leaves running against the wind, gushing water, dying foliage, a foggy mirror and male voice equal an eloquent tribute to lifelong love. During Q&A Nicolaas Schmidt explained using nature symbolically, while cleverly merging footage with appropriate old pop tunes in his documentary. Good production values. The twist at the end (even silencing disruptive young adults some seats away) is especially poignant, the theme ruminative.

Out of the BlueZeise culminated with an unusual take on teen conformity vs. self-expression. Troubled girls in a mental institution stave off affronts while polishing paranormal proficiency. Such is life: TEENLAND – 2014, 30:00 minutes, Danish/English subtitles. Teenage emotional disparities offer director Marie Grahtø Sørensen a wealth of material. Yet, the storyline’s somewhat obtuse, and wasn’t helped by its extra length. But her two main actresses are very good, production values strong, and the narrative thought provoking.
Films in each category resonated, though BlueZeise wins hands-down for the five directors overall creativity, challenging themes, and exciting executions. Let’s cross our collective fingers, or “die Daumen drücken,” that some of these filmmakers move into mainline German film and TV production. Invading aliens aside, Eugen, the extraterrestrial hunter in EXCURSIE, was one of my favorites. What a little sweetheart!