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Filmfest Recollections
by Becky Tan

Each year the red and white banners fly high next to Grindel and Abaton and Metropolis announcing the Filmfest Hamburg – this year for the fourteenth time. They seem to say, “Look at us; we’re at the film festival, we hope you are, too” and I always am – and have been almost from the beginning.

Different this year was that all films for journalists played at Grindel. It was perfect – clean and well organized. Downstairs there was a romantic lounge in Valentine colors of pink and white, reserved especially for us. At night this was the venue for cocktail parties and everyone could look down and see the beautiful people – or at least the B-team of beautiful people – this isn’t Cannes after all. Films in the evenings were open to the public, which according to the Filmfest office drew a larger crowd than any other year, as well as 800 accredited journalists.

Our team of seven people saw 64 films out of 131. Interestingly, we saw very few of the prize-winning films. Whereas in the past, several of us received tickets to the premieres and the opening party, this year only Nancy got in, and that after lengthy haggling with the organizers. I definitely agree with my colleague Karen Pecota: How are we supposed to report on these events, and encourage active participation in the future if we never get past the door? I realize that the red carpet needs the dainty foot of a few VIPs for the newspapers, but the “real work” is done behind the scenes by us.

This year the documentaries were more interesting than the feature films. If we must watch human suffering and family squabbles and sick relationships, then they might as well be true stories. As Herr Wiederspiel said in the press conference, “There are few comedies.” Not to mention few satires. We could have used some fun and lightness, but it’s a truism that when our lives are easy and everything is wonderful we complain (and spend more time looking at our navels). When we are truly struggling, we need joyful entertainment to help us forget.

This festival is still the best opportunity to see multiple films in English in Hamburg. And I would guess that 80% of the films were either in English or had English subtitles. What does that say about the future of English films in Hamburg? I heard that Grindel, now back in the post-festival daily grind, cannot sell tickets for English-language films and will concentrate on German – or even Turkish. If this is true, why did so many people come to the festival films – in English – as well as Dutch, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, Hebrew, Russian, Arabic, Persia, Croatian, Swedish, Polish, Finnish, Chinese, Greek, Czech, etc.? I don’t believe that Germans are averse to reading subtitles.

On my last night, my last film was One Fine Day (see page…) and I asked everyone around me, “Why are you here tonight?” There were couples, young girls, women and men alone. They said, “I want to practice French.” “We were supposed to come yesterday and missed the date and the festival people were nice enough to exchange our tickets for this one.“ “I just wanted to come to a film.” “I don’t know; she/he wanted to come.” “We wanted to meet and this seemed to be a good place.” Nobody said, “I’ve read up on this film, know the director and am curious about how he worked with this subject matter.” There was a film and people came – dumb question on my part. It was almost irrelevant what was on the screen.

A new variation on the FilmTalk was a move to the Pony Bar next to Abaton cinema. The advantages were: it attracted many more young people and it was close to the bus stop/main street. Because it was small, we were forced to squeeze together which encouraged conversation and communication.

Still, it was a miserable hole in the wall – a back room behind the Pony Bar which was raucous and loud; we could barely hear the discussions. It was a small ugly room and I am surprised that the discussion leaders, Edna and Dan Fainaru, stayed the course. My colleague Nancy Tilitz said, “Perhaps they think they are in a lower east side New York bar and therefore it is acceptable.”

It is necessary to introduce the 300 film makers to the public. It is wonderful that the discussions are in English. I thoroughly enjoyed listening to American Hans Canosa (Conservations with Other Women, see page…) tell about growing up on an American mission compound with Christian fundamentalist parents who thought that film was a craven image and the work of the devil and never allowed it. He saw his first film at a friend’s house on TV when he was 15 and went to a real cinema for the first time when he was 17. Earlier in life his parents went to Japan as missionaries and there he saw a Star Wars poster and realized that something was out there beyond his small world. His parents have come to grips with his profession and have even watched this film. He said, “Americans don’t believe that there are films besides American ones. Sex and lots of dialog are typical of European movies and not of American movies.”

Every night there were personal discussions with these film makers, perhaps the stars of tomorrow. Let’s find them a better venue.

Where were all the Hamburg colleagues? Every day we go to the press conferences of one, two, three or four films which are due to come to Hamburg. There we meet representatives from all the Hamburg media. Practically none of them attended this film festival. Some of them refused to pay the Euro 30 registration fee. Some media did not report on the festival and therefore did not need to send a representative. Some colleagues bought day passes for certain films. If journalists were accredited at no charge, would more of them attend? As in Cannes? In Berlin we also must pay: Euro 50.

On the whole the organizers did a worthy job. Next year the festival is September 27-October 4.