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Film Festivals in Denver and Hamburg
by Shelly Schoeneshoefer

My first film festival of the year was the Berlinale  which is listed as one of the “A” festivals. Hamburg and Denver festivals are  considered “B” festivals. At least that was what I was told at the Denver Film  Festival. As to the criterion which makes one more so than the other: that is  something I need to investigate.

I decided it was time to compare my two hometown film  festivals: Hamburg, Germany and Denver, Colorado, USA. Why did I decide to do  that? Well, Hamburg has a population of approximately 1.7 million inhabitants  and 11 movie theaters while Denver has a population of 700,000 and 13 cinemas  in the downtown area. So, take a guess as to how many people attended these two  festivals in 2015. Interestingly enough Hamburg had approximately 50,000 film  viewers while Denver had 55,000 in attendance.

In comparing the Hamburg Film Festival with the Denver  Film Festival, I started with the Hamburg catalog, available at the beginning  of the festival. It is your Bible to what’s going on from films to panels to  events. Hamburg’s Film Festival had a variety of small pamphlets plus one  formal catalog of 148 pages to take home. This program catalog is definitely a  keeper, one that you would use as a reference for up-coming years. It included  the schedule, the various film categories, the sponsors, the juries, and the  awards with an explanation as to what films might receive cash prizes and who  sponsored it. It also included the panel discussions, who will be attending the  discussions of films, as well as the children’s film festival. With this  catalog in hand there are no questions that need to be asked. It explains  practically everything you need to know.

The Denver Film Festival catalog was 32 pages in  newsprint. It was very informal and friendly but not a format for the long  term. You could store it by downloading it online which is the current way that  everything is being done in the United States. The program included the events  of opening and closing nights, the award ceremony brunch, and the special  presentations. It also included panel discussions, the list of films and the  schedule. Ads from the sponsors were intermittently dispersed along with the  different categories and honorary prizes that they will receive.

In its 23rd year the Hamburg Film Festival  focused on the refugees’ situation and migration in Europe. The films dealt  with individuals who were searching for a new home, had lost their home in some  way or were just migrating to find a different way of life. There were 175  films in all which included films from The Michel, the children’s Film Festival  and several television films. The film festival awarded nine prizes with a  total 90,000 euros in prize money. There were 58 sponsors. The festival  incorporated six of the cinemas located around Hamburg and there were plenty of  advertisements on view around town. The films originated from 52 countries.  Hamburg’s audiences consisted mostly of movie lovers and schools were also  incorporated. I did happen to meet a group of refugee children learning German  at one of the children’s films. They were excited since many of them had never  seen a film.

The 38th Denver Film Festival opened with  the theme “Come Sit and be Swept Away.” The opening film, Anomalisa, directed by Charlie Kaufmann and Duke Johnson was very  controversial due to its puppet animation, certainly not a typical opening  film. There were 123 full-length films, and 150 short films or music videos.

The festival was a 1.3 million dollar event,  representing 54 countries, including the co-productions. There were 65 sponsors  and 29 festival friends which are companies that donate money to the festival.  And not to forget the involvement of the Denver Film Academy, the Denver Film  Society Alumni Board, the Denver Film Society Board and the Young Filmmakers  Workshop of which many were patrons. There were four patron packages, a market  strategy not yet discovered by Hamburg. It is quite innovative and, considering  how many of these people I saw walking around with the badges, was quite  effective. The cheapest was the industry package which cost $350, for which you  receive ten tickets for films and panels plus access to the Filmmaker Lounge  and two nights at the late lounge. The most expensive package was the visionary  package for two which included two tickets to the opening- and closing-night  premieres, 50 tickets for films and panels, 16 late night and Filmmaker Lounge  guest passes, invitations to all receptions and award ceremonies. You get reserve  seating and, most important, a one-hundred-dollar gift certificate for free  parking since the festival shows in three downtown cinemas and two are in a  very difficult and expensive place for parking. This package is a bit pricey:  $3200, but I saw several die-hard filmgoers who were happy to pay it and really  enjoyed every aspect of the festival. It was interesting that they honored  21winners, but only one award came with a cash prize: The Maria and Tommaso  Magilone Italian Filmmaker Award of $10,000.

The Hamburg Film Festival had 12 sections which  included political films, French films, Spanish and Portuguese films, films  from Israel, as well as North America. One section was on quality-made films  for television and another on films that were Hamburg productions. There was a  section of films exclusively from Germany as well as a worldwide section. Then  there was a section from other European neighboring countries. There were 46  world premieres and 96 German premieres. I kept expecting to see some films from  the 2015 Berlinale but there was not one on the agenda. I was also surprised  and happy to see that there were so many women directors represented this year:  45 films from female directors. The Hamburg Film Festival is always full of  surprises and this year’s program was especially good. Besides the films Mustang and Son of Saul (some of the best films I have seen), I also had the  chance to the see the Israel black-and-white film Life According to AGFA (Ha-Chayim Al-Pi AGFA) by Assi Dayan which  is a classic example of how violence leads nowhere. 

It was quite a different story at the Denver Film  Festival. There were films on Colorado, full-length films which included  documentaries,  Colorado short films, and  Polish films. Female directors had their own section, but if one compares it to  Hamburg, it didn’t quite have the same emphasis. Only 11 films were represented  by female directors. There was a section on music videos as well as a Latino  section. Very inspiring was a first-look section for the young filmmakers with  their first films, and we will be seeing more of them in the future. I noticed  that I had already seen several films at the Hamburg Film Festival and now  these films had travelled to Denver, such as: The Son of Saul, Princess, Parabellum, He Named me Malala, Mustang,  and Songs my Brother Taught Me. From  the Berlinale I recognized such films as Body,  Tell Spring not to Come This Year, Flocking, Censored Voices, 600 Miles, Ben  Zaken, H, Der Bunker, Sworn Virgin, The Club and Virgin Mountain. I had seen the Icelandic film Hrutur (Rams) at a Hamburg press screening. I am glad that it won a  prize in Denver since it was one of my favorite films of the year. I laughed so  hard through the film Liza, the Fox-Fairy by Hungarian director Karoly Uji Meszaros and found the short film New Neighbors, Old Fights from the  Peruvian director Alex Fischmann very sad. From the Colorado filmmakers I was  highly impressed with the two documentaries Copper by AJ Oscarson and The Neighbor’s Project by Dylan Burr with their unique style and high quality camera work. I was  touched to hear Luke Austin’s personal story behind Overcoming Dyslexia and that the film cost him only $200 to make,  but he was determined to tell his family’s story. This film was also directed  by Kelly Spenser. I was particularly impressed by both the staff and the  volunteers at the Denver Film Festival. They were always helpful and happy to  see all of us film lovers and clearly enjoyed the festival themselves. JoAnne  Cintron who is in charge of Marketing and Communications said, “My personal  favorite moment was when we hosted the Denver Open Media for the Colorado  Filmmakers. The space was vibrating with energy and it was so great to see the  local filmmakers talking about their projects with each other and on- air. That  clearly shows the openness and friendliness of this film festival. With 143  staff members and 350 volunteers and three cinemas Denver had a greater number  of attendances than Hamburg, in spite of having distributed very few free  tickets. People showed up out of interest and were having a great time.

I know that I am lucky to have seen both festivals  and, of course, will be attending Hamburg’s Film Festival as always since the  themes are usually very provocative. I am sorry to say that I won’t get the  chance to go to the Denver Film Festival again,   since I am normally never in Colorado in November, but I would recommend  it to anyone who might have to chance to attend. It was a blast!