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Successful 25th Filmfest Hamburg
by Becky Tan

The Filmfest Hamburg was established September 30, 1992. Already in the 1960s German film makers and authors began to reach out to each other, as well as to the general public to impress the idea of art house films. In 1968 they formed the Filmmaker’s Cooperative Hamburg (Filmmacher Cooperative Hamburg) and in 1979 they came out with the first Festival of Filmmakers (Filmfest der Filmemacher).They demanded that German films be independent of outside influences and many small independent cinemas opened in Hamburg. In 1974 the first Hamburg Cinema Days (Hamburger Kinotage) showed predominantly art house cinema. In 1986 the European Low Budget Film Forum was founded. These various group united and came up with the Filmfest Hamburg in 1992. The original Filmfest Hamburg motto was “a festival of international worldwide cinema for a public audience” and that has held true even today. Over the last 25 years we have had a chance to see 2800 films, many of which never opened mainstream.

Albert Wiederspiel has managed the festival now for 15 years. He and his predecessor Josef Wutz (manager 1995-2002) discussed and reminisced about the progress of the festival. They both agreed that it was not necessary to haul loads of stars into Hamburg for the red carpet presentations. Wutz said that sometimes a delicate, unknown actress can impress an audience in such a way that a Nicole Kidman might not. Wiederspiel said that he and Wutz were never under pressure to provide glamour stars; no mayor of Hamburg has made this requirement. In the days of the Berlin Wall, pre 1989, Hollywood stars’ main stop was Hamburg; now Berlin is their ultimate goal.

The festival gets better every year and this year was no exception. From October 5-14, 2017, as in the past, anyone could go to any film for the price of a ticket, and they did: 42,500 times. We could choose from 131 films from 59 countries, showing in five cinemas. Sixteen films were world premieres. Many others had shown previously at festivals, even won at festivals, such as Cannes, Sundance, Venice, Toronto, and Locarno. Thirty-two were first films for the relevant director; 37 films were by women directors. Attendance has risen 10-fold since the beginning in 1992. Just this year, attendance was five percent higher than in 2016 and many films were sold out. Thirty-four films will probably show main stream in German cinemas within the next six months.

Reporter Stefan Grund of Die Welt newspaper discussed a serious topic: finances. The Hamburg festival receives 750,000 euros from the city to prepare the festival, present it over ten days, and hand out 100,000 euros in prize money. This requires an office, travel funds, co-workers, accommodation for guests, etc. It’s amazing what the staff achieves. Imagine what they could do with more money. Luckily, there are commercial supporters such as the Commerzbank, Skoda, the Grand Elysee Hotel and Hapag-Lloyd, as well as 51 other groups – some business, some artistic.

However, Stefan Grund is right when he says, “Hamburg competes with festivals, which have much greater public financing, such as Munich with 2.9 million euros annually. Hamburg should increase financial support up to at least 1.2 million euros.”

We journalists for Currents Magazine are also celebrating an anniversary: our 20th. In 1997 eight journalists from Currents Magazine were accredited for the Filmfest Hamburg and we have been attending and reporting ever since. This year seven of us were accredited and we saw 84 films in 154 viewings. Of the 11 sections Kaleidoskop was most popular, not surprising, since it has the most films from all over the world, including The Square, the winner in Cannes this year, and the final film of our festival. Also popular in our group were the sections Transatlantik (naturally) and Veto! (which represented political cinema). A huge favorite, not only among us English-speaking viewers, but among our journalist colleagues in general, was Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri, which will open main stream in January. My only regret, personally, is that I didn’t see more films and I can only hope that the ones I missed will appear perhaps on DVD or Netflix. Also, I regret not being able to attend the many discussions. This year, people waiting for a film to begin could see the complete extra-curricular schedule on the big screen and plan ahead. This was a good idea, but also frustrating, because I knew what I was missing and had to decide: see another film or go to a live discussion with directors or with panel. I still regret not having attended the discussion on writing subtitles and synchronization. Perhaps the FFHH will start streaming these discussions so that we can experience them online and not have to miss a film.

Enjoy our reports and come with us next year to the 26th festival, September 27 to October 6, 2018.