Berlinale: Berlinale Topics


Perspektive Deutsches Kino 2008:
Heart, brains and a strong position

Heiner Stadelmann and Ulrike Schwab in Lostage

Now in its seventh year the Perspektive Deutsches Kino section once again proved that (young) German cinema has nothing to hide. “The original idea of Perspektive was to infuse a new self-confidence into German film, by showing that every year there are German directors who have stories worth telling.” A look back at previous years as well as at the 2008 programme shows the project has been a success. Section director Alfred Holighaus reveals how German film presented itself at the Berlinale 2008.

Perspektive Deutsches Kino is celebrating is seventh edition this year. Did you suffer from the seven-year curse while putting the programme together or would you say the preliminary results are all-in-all positive this year?

It was difficult preparing this year, as only relatively few productions really stood out from the broad mass. In terms of quantity there were just as many films as usual, but the chaff separated from the wheat much quicker than in previous years. Thankfully, there was still a lot happening in the area of new talent, one of the key focal points of the Perspektive. Beyond that we have the advantage of being able to show shorter 30-60 minute formats – often student films. And they are often a positive surprise. And so, at the end of the day, I’m very happy with our programme.

When you take stock of the first seven years, what conclusions would you draw? In which direction do you see young German film heading towards? Looking back, can you predict what the future holds?

The nicest thing is that over those seven years I’ve never once had to ask myself what I was doing and whether it was meaningful. It’s not something that’s anachronistic or unsustainable. The original idea of the Perspektive was to infuse a new self-confidence into German cinema and to show that every year there are German directors who have something worth telling and therefore make interesting films. With this claim as a premise, we simple got started and the past six or seven years have proven that we were right. During this time there was never a serious crisis, because you could always see that new films were coming. Several of the directors have since made a name for themselves abroad. And so one can definitely say that the Perspektive is an authority, and not just within the festival, but within the entire German film scene.

Does the relationship to the film schools mean you have an ever-larger assortment of films that you can fall back on?

Teenage Angst with Franz Dinda and Janusz Kocaj

There are in fact a large number of film schools and our programme shows that that’s not such a bad thing. You could also think it would be enough if there was just one good film school, from where we could take 80 percent of the contributions, but that’s not the case at all. What we’ve noticed is that the schools go through different phases. While last year we didn’t select a single film from Cologne, we could have called this year’s Perspektive the “Cologne Get-Together”. But we only realise things like this after we’ve finishing putting the programme together so it wasn’t deliberate. While we watch and show many other films, the student films all together form a good basis to build upon. And so it makes a lot of sense that there are several film academies, although, with an eye on the future, they should work even closer together.

Are there recognisable specialisations among the film schools?

In the past that was perhaps the case. People always said, in Cologne they play around with video, in Ludwigsburg they only learn about special effects, in Munich you make glossy pictures, in Babelsberg the films all take place in East German prefab apartment buildings, while the Berliners delve into the scene for the sake of self-realisation. That’s since changed a lot. Everything is a lot more nuanced and more diverse, which is also reflected in our programme.

Taking a stand

You said that this year’s films address current topics of our time. Can you pin down these orientations?

Yes, I can describe them pretty well. They are not just things you read about in the gossip pages, but are also inspired by what’s happening politically and socially. Sure, there are clearly defined, socio-political topics: at the top of the list is the problem of “youth violence”, which apart from all the fuss during the recent elections in Germany, is a very explosive and complex issue. That’s why I think it’s nice that in the case of Thomas Stuber’s Teenage Angst we’re not showing a film that plays in the backyards of Neukölln (one of Berlin’s poorest districts) – but one that takes place in a boarding school and is about the sons of the well-to-do bourgeoisie. Who knows whether the inclination to violence has other motives and causes or whether the problem transcends class and has nothing to do with a person’s social background or immigrant background. I think it’s a very interesting area of discussion.

"Violence against children" is the most uncomfortable of all topics, but for just that reason it has to be laid out on the table. For this reason, the film Robin is not easy to absorb, but it would be unfortunate to water down such a topic.

Interestingly, "Intersexuality" is a strong topic right now, although it’s been around for ever. Hermaphrodites already existed in ancient Greece. Of course the topic was suppressed for a very long time and therefore films like Bettina Eberhard’s Lostage are mostly about secrecy. But despite it all, they talk about it and thereby break the silence.

In the documentary category, with films like Jesus liebt Dich (Jesus Loves You), which is about a new form of spirituality, and Football Under Cover, which addresses the clash of cultures, so to speak, we really touch on current issues.

Do the films assume the role of a neutral observer of their subjects or do they take explicit positions? For Football Under Cover the filmmaker actually got involved – if I’m not mistaken – by actually helping make the match take place.

Football Under Cover by David Assmann and Ayat Najafi

Yes, also because one of the footballers is his sister. Regarding your question: I don’t think that any documentary can deliver a neutral recording of events – thank God. If a film is to have heart and brains, the filmmaker must, in my opinion, take a position. It’s not necessarily about exposing things, but if enough time is taken and the filmmaker is in the right place at the right time with his or her camera, then he or she will capture the right things on film. And then there’s always the decision of which footage you end up using for the film and if you show things, then you should simply show them and thereby automatically end up taking a position on what is happening. That works very well in Football Under Cover.

In Jesus Loves You it’s basically very similar, because the selection of characters, the decision on how much talk time you give to each of them, how close you get to them with the camera when you film them while praying, all have a decisive effect on the film.

This is most explicit in the third documentary, Sebastian Heidinger’s Drifter. One senses the film’s clear intention to show that the people portrayed in the movie, whilst living on the edges of society, have retained an unbelievable amount of self-respect. That really impressed me. Of course one could just as well wallow in the muck as a filmmaker. But it’s far more remarkable to include the tender moments and to show how people support one another in extreme situations.

How does it work in fictional films? Are positions taken through the selection of topics or are they conveyed on a formal level.

Interesting, in formal terms, is, for example, the fact that in Robin the children serve as a catalyst for the tragedy. It’s a very good dramaturgical solution. Regarding the question about taking stock, there is a noticeable increased awareness of form, which we have observed in fiction films for several years. People are aware that they are telling stories and why they tell them in a particular way and nothing else.

Could you describe this awareness of form in a bit more detail?

In any case, it’s the courage to employ one’s own dramaturgy, beyond conventional models – without becoming totally experimental. You have to have the determination to aim for your goal and in order to do so you might have to go against expectations or plausibility. Of course, certain topics have to be served, by, for example, psychologising or deliberate non-psychologising of characters. But in the space of possibility that opens up, the filmmakers trust themselves enough to leave gaps or to take positions, without becoming totally confused or incredible. Credibility is always a double-edged sword. Is it about objective truths – does one and one make two, so to speak? – or is it about dramatic credibility, which is not only claimed through the story, but also fulfilled? In this respect the filmmakers have come very far and of course they can only do so by taking risks.

With love, peace & beatbox a full-fledged music film is running in the Cross-Section between Perspektive and Generation. Based on experience, music (but not just) often plays an important role for young filmmakers in the formation and cohesiveness of films. How does it look in this year’s programme?

Hanno Olderdissen's Robin

Music is not as present as in previous years, which sets the Perspektive apart from the rest of the festival. In love, peace & beatbox, however, music plays an absolutely central role, since the protagonists discover their identity through music which helps them find their feet. And all through a type of music that requires neither education nor instruments, it’s wonderful. Apart from that, the musical element was much more relevant in earlier years. For example, there were often moments, in which music brought the story to a turning point. You don’t see that this year. I even had the feeling that music sometimes seems interchangeable, and so, from my point of view, this is somewhat of a weak point – if you want to see it that way.

In the films In Deiner Haut (Inside You) and Robin, in particular, I noticed the topic of generational or family conflict.

Yes, that is surely another thematic focus which is also very strong in the other sections. In the Competition, for example, there is a focus on the parental generation. Inside You takes place in a patchwork family, which is a topic in its own right, but we’ve already had that in several films.

Private and public

Are private conflicts and structures projected on a society-wide, political level in these films?

That happens to some degree any way, but to say that was an absolute truth would be too much. I see it more the other way round as a huge step forward to not present superficial political arguments, but at the same time don’t make anything escapist. We no longer have totally interchangeable coming-of-age stories. Instead, as a basis for their films, these directors don’t just resort to their personal experiences, but draw on a societal phenomenon – even if it’s just within the family. That’s already a step towards the political.

In your opinion, do young filmmakers let their personal experiences flow directly into their films more than experienced directors? Or have issues about the personal authenticity of material run their course?

Some would strongly refute that, others would agree with it completely and say, for me that’s the only way of doing it. Therefore it’s hard for me to answer a question like that. Still I don’t believe, for example, that you can make a boarding school film like Teenage Angst, without having gone through similar experiences. At the same time I can’t really imagine that the director of Robin comes from a comparable family. It varies considerably, but one can say that the young filmmakers today have less fear of contact to other people. The big danger when filming very personal subject matter is that you lose the necessary distance one needs to create art and to be able to think in formal terms. On the other hand, if you only think formally, the film will take on an artificial character, which, in my view, makes a movie not only unsexy, but also irrelevant.

In both Die Dinge zwischen uns (The Things Between Us) and Die Besucherin (In Between Days) one finds unconventional images of women. What do they have in common?

It’s interesting – and I only noticed afterwards – that both films depict women at a similar age who do totally crazy things, both very far away from their own bourgeois origins. The one gets involved in an anonymous affair, while the other works as a barwoman in a brothel. Both understand that their actions not only have their own allure, but also lead to some sort of realisation. That was very noticeable, even if it isn’t a general trend in terms of motifs.

Die Helden aus der Nachbarschaft by Jovan Arsenic

One could however say that a lot of women in this generation are telling stories, and so they are often women’s stories. In the films it’s about the women, but also about preserving what they have. They don’t want to break out completely, just expand their horizons. This curiosity and openness, paired with the desire to preserve something, is more typical of women.

In Die Helden aus der Nachbarschaft (Heroes From the Neighbourhood), doesn’t coincidence play a major role?

It is, of course, employed a dramatic tool. In order to tell the stories of seven people, I can either narrate the stories parallel to one another or by chance bring the characters together into constellations out of which shared stories develop. That’s what we’re dealing with in this film. And this often results in the feeling that it had to happen, which automatically raises the question of chance or fate.

Is 35mm or 16mm film still the dominant format in which films are being shot, or have they been replaced by digital formats by the young filmmakers.

I think it still depends on the subject matter. Sometimes it’s just a financial question. Sometimes there’s just a very concrete motivation behind it: For the story I want to tell, the camera has to be moveable. And sometimes there’s a need to shoot on film stock. Nonetheless, film is becoming ever-more rare, which is actually often due to lower budgets. Whereby one has to say, especially the field of documentaries, there has been an unbelievable change and an increase in quality, because thanks to smaller equipment you get much closer to people. One could say that the choice of format is dependent on the subject matter – at least when money doesn’t play a role. But for the younger generation, that’s seldom the case, let’s not fool ourselves.

There’s the cliché of video’s arbitrariness, of filming everything, just because you can...

That danger exists, no question. But if I am dealing with someone who knows what he wants and what he is doing – and these are the people we are interested in – I don’t have that fear.