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Two Continents, Two Films yet One Problem Highlighted at the 18th documentarfilmwoche hamburg
by Marinell Haegelin

Hamburg’s documentary film festival again showed flexibility due to the pandemic, rescheduling the 18th dokumentarfilmwoche hamburg from April to September. On the plus side, après-dok (open air!) was introduced in the Gängeviertel, even though again, fewer films were shown, and the retrospective cancelled.

The film festival prides itself on screening thought-provoking, demanding films amid a setting that stimulates discussion. “For films that, through their critical approach, do not only strive to clarify subject matters, but also question inscribed codes and explore the aesthetic and political possibilities of the documentary form.” The diverse and broad range of insightful, compelling films from around the world. The non-profit association, freund*innen der dokumentarfilmwoche members, supports the festival in a variety of ways. The 19th dokumentarfilmwoche hamburg is planned for April 20 to Sunday 24, 2022

L’ARTIFICIO and RIFT FINFINNEE juxtapose two urbanization projects their effect on members of the communities:

German-Italian director Francesca Bertin’s twenty-three minutes, B/W film combines archival footage and present-day interviews with people caught in the aftermath of an urban renewal fiasco. In Italy’s northern province of Bergamo, a grand capitalistic plan for a homogenous living and industrial city to accommodate 50,000 residents was hatched in 1964. Accordingly, Zingonia’s enticing, exciting architectural model lured citizens and outsiders into buying units thinking they could/would work there. “I thought it was a resort” one recalls; the reality’s caught in images of demolition rubble, broken furniture, vandalism, and its inhabitants ooze despair trapped in the slum-like environment.

L’ARTIFICIO, i.e. artifice/trickery, exposes private investors cunningly shrewd master plan: when the profit/cost ratio wasn’t in their favor the building stopped. Many had nowhere to go, while many delayed and then couldn’t find buyers. One woman complains the freeway now cutting through the area “messes up her sleep.” Young guys kill time doing acrobatics, another sings tenor on the street corner; under-the-table transactions and bargaining keep people busy. In Q&A afterward, Bertin told about her first contact with residents was through the Mosque, and that in the meantime Zingonia, like peoples’ dreams, has disappeared.

In Ethiopia, in northeastern Africa, an offshoot of the rupture line along the African/Arabian continental plate extends into its highland, which is where RIFT FINFINNEE begins, and its title originates. Ethiopian-German director Daniel Kötter’s documentary is 79 minutes of impressive storytelling and unique filmmaking style. A long shot introduces two people ambling through rugged countryside while overhearing their conversation. Working around the subject, and still following, people change and conversations intensify. Arriving in Addis Abeba, its main city, we arrive at the heart of the problem; corporations and developers’ priority is to gobble up land for urban expansion. Wealthy enclaves are dotted with huge houses, all painted sunny yellow, that squat in landscaped yards.

Meanwhile, within the city’s perimeters inequalities are blatantly obvious: women back-haul oversized plastic containers and materials at the burgeoning building sites—hard to watch, since they’re also laboring at the wealthy’s flourishing suburbs. Interviewing the proud vendor cooking for workmen under a cloth covering, and then one of the richly gratified shouts volumes about privation. Many laborers send money to families in remote rural areas, while their farmlands are ripped away from them.

The camera pulls back as the landscape shifts from rich suburbs and slums, to hills and some harvested fields that clarify discrepancies, and complete the circle. Thus, riding in a local’s bus and overhearing a fellow passenger resolutely swear his sons, not developers, will get his land, is a hopeful ending.

Unfortunately, the double-feature started 10 minutes late, and the presenter spent an inordinately long time interviewing the first film’s director, so many could not stay for Kötter’s Q&A because of time constraints.