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27th International Short Film Festival in Hamburg
by Becky Tan

In the olden days, it was common to see a short film or cartoon before every full-length film. Those days are over, but the good news is: the annual International Short Film Festival in Hamburg was June 7-13, 2011.

Festival directors Birgit Glombitza and Sven Schwarz and their team chose 300 short films from 4000 submissions. Almost all films were in English or featured English subtitles; all were listed in a catalogue in both German and English. Mo & friese – the 13th annual Hamburg children’s short film festival – ran parallel. Professor Barbara Kisseler, head of the Hamburg Office of Culture (die Kulturbehörde, which was foremost in giving support) gave a moving and intelligent speech at the opening. The Filmförderung Hamburg Schleswig-Holstein (government film-financing organization) also participated with a workshop on “Freestyle Financing.”

Prize money totalling Euro 20,000 went to nine films (plus some runners up) in seven categories. Once again, ARTE contributed Euro 6,000 of that prize money, a sign that it is truly involved and concerned with the future of short films. ARTE television is also a dependable source to view short films, albeit usually late at night.

For the duration of the festival, the film office moved it headquarters from Friedensallee 7 (next to Zeise cinema) to the so-called Villa Kolbenschmidt about five blocks down the street at Friedensallee 128. This is a large industrial area and takes its name from the Kolbenschmidt Company which used to manufacture pistons on this site. Naturally, it isn’t a villa at all, but an industrial building which was perfect for visitors. Here one could buy tickets for film showings and t-shirts, pick up flyers, have a drink at outside picnic tables, go to the cafeteria, attend workshops and discussion groups, watch films open-air after dark, sit in the cellar for scary movies at midnight and party non-stop. This was a perfect location with easy transportation (S-Bahn Bahrenfeld) as well as parking spaces. I’ve never met any film people who weren’t nice and hospitable and sociable. Providing a huge, sun-lit space for their interaction was a brilliant idea.  

Feature films and documentaries were divided into several sections. One category spotlighted films from Sweden. Very interesting were old short film by directors, now famous for their full-length feature films, e.g., Roman Polanski, Aki Kaurismäki, and Thomas Vinterberg with films from 1961, 1966, and 1993 respectively. Many films had already been successful at other festivals. Usually five films were shown in one sitting and I attended four presentations of probably 22 films in all.

These short films, all between six and 24 minutes long (with a special section for films just three minutes long), could be about anything: an imaginary stick that climbs to the top of a hill (Stick Climbing by Daniel Zimmermann, Austria-Switzerland), pre-teen girls preening in front of a mirror before a party (Dressage, Julika Rudelius, Netherlands), a mother’s experience in a spa with her 15-year-old son (Thermal Bath, Banu Akeski, Belgium), or workers hanging on a rocky cliff in Peru to remove bird excrement, which they sell as guano (Guañape Sur, János Richter, Italy/Peru), In How to Pick Berries (Elina Talvensaari, Finland) workers fly from South-East Asia to northern Finland to pick wild cloud berries. They pay for their flight, room and board and return home with about Euro 600 net, which they consider adequate compensation.

Usually film festivals are sorely lacking in humor, but this short film festival was the exception. In the five-minute Useless Dog (Ken Wardrop, Ireland), a middle-sized dog is supposed to be guarding the livestock, but spends hours sleeping in the shade or standing around looking goofy. It’s hard to describe, but the filming and editing were so clever, that the audience was in stitches after 30 seconds, probably because we recognized some dog, and probably some person, who acts the same way. Las Palmas (Johannes Nyholm, Sweden) was also hilarious and won the audience prize as best film. A one-year-old girl, dressed as a middle-aged woman, enters a “bar” for lunch. The bar-tender, musician, waiter, etc., are marionettes, a bit smaller than the “woman.” For 13 and a half minutes, she rides a motorcycle, drinks too much, falls down drunk, bothers the other guests, and sleeps off the exertion, all as innocent as the child she is. We see how amazingly close an adult is to a baby – no progress there at all. Director Nyholm attended the award ceremony and said that the child actress was his small daughter. Both of these films had practically no dialog and were, therefore, understandable in any language.

Don’t miss the 28th Hamburg Short film festival: May 29-June 4, 2012.