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The Fascinating Sport of People Watching
by Marinell Haegelin

Admit it, we’re all people watchers, and where better than constantly fluctuating, crowded areas such as shopping centers, train stations, and film festivals. Hamburg’s International Kurz(Short)FilmFestival (IKFF) resides in Ottensen, and Altona that it straddles. Both are quirky, with Ottensen more gentrified, and are under developers’—ever ready to line their pockets—scope. It’s my “hood” and I’m partial to the authenticity that’s being replaced by plastic and Styrofoam. IKFF, however, has its opening and the majority of its screenings take place at Zeise Kinos, which is housed in a Schiffsschraubenfabrik (ship’s propeller factory).

Founded in 1868 by Theodor Zeise and closing 111 years later in 1979, the original work hall today houses art galleries, offices, restaurants, and the three-cinema complex. In fact, the area’s staunchly connected to film, e.g. Filmhauskneipe (pub), Landesfilmdienst (northern Germany film service), Familienrestaurant Eisenstein (family restaurant named after film director and theorist Sergei Mikhailovich Eisenstein). In another of the factory’s buildings across the street is FilmFörderung Hamburg Schleswig-Holstein GmbH that supports film, and exceptional TV, including financing. Next time you’re in the area, check out the historical surroundings, too.

What I’ve noticed at IKFF is the mixed bag of attendees: all age groups, types, dress, and acting accordingly. At Zeise, people are good about waiting in line, although some are obviously jockeying for position to be first, and it’s fun to watch little kids’ excitement as they haul booster seats into the cinema. Folks tend to clump together towards the back once inside, i.e. the later you arrive to a screening, the closer you have to sit to the screen; often a row of seats is reserved for the judges as well. All the screenings I attended started within five minutes of the advertised time, with affable and primed presenters. One presenter was so relaxed and asked the directors such well-prepared questions that we in the audience simply sat back and learned.

Audiences, for the most part, are there for the filmic experience and to have fun. But, there is that minority whose sense of being “entitled” manifests itself into hard-to-believe rudeness. Young adults talking during a film is disrespectful to their seat neighbors, and the filmmakers. Even worse is coming into the cinema during a director’s Q&A and being rowdy—parents don’t seem to potty train their kids anymore. Sure, we all get hungry yet people could think about what they buy, i.e. unwrapping candy in crinkly paper, or biting down on nuts, etc. I mention this since I did see people changing seats to get away from annoying sounds.

The Zeise employees are darn-right friendly, while giving professional service during the bustling film festival. With pleasant attitudes and deft ease, they monitor getting audiences out/in the cinemas, and admitting stragglers once a film program begins. At the ticket counter, they juggle requests and chores, and often in a number of languages. So let’s give a hand to these behind-the-scenes workers who make our movie experience that much nicer.

Not to be forgotten is IKFF’s Festivalzentrum (festival center). A hop, skip, and jump further along Friedensallee, it’s located in Halle 5 at the Kolbenhof, a manufacturing complex over 100 years old. In fact, Ottensen was once Hamburg’s industrial site, and the winding streets we now traverse (love to get lost in) were once paths hirelings used getting to and fro work. The Festivalzentrum’s pulse beats nonstop to boggle the mind—events, panels, discourse, partying—as well as proffering the crème de la crème in people watching.

A sad footnote: In the name of progress, the Festivalzentrum was being destroyed as the festival kicked off. Contemporary government decisions’ lack of discernment is evident throughout Hamburg, as lazy, unimpressive architecture replaces the past, and overpriced projects sit empty. Too late people realize what’s destroyed cannot be resurrected. Yet, the resilience of human spirit and its quest for enrichment is indomitable. I’m counting on attending IKFF’s 33rd homage to filmmaking, and cinematic pleasure.