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Perspektive Deutsches Kino 2011:
Alternative perspectives

For the 10th anniversary of Perspektive Deutsches Kino, the section will again present an enticing programme of next-generation German filmmakers with 11 films that will vie for the "dialogue en perspective" award sponsored by the DFJW as well as an additional three guest films. This year, for the first time, Linda Söffker is responsible for the section. In previous years she had considerable influence on the profile of the Perspektive during the selection process in her role as programme manager. Will everything now be different? The new section head discusses her selection criteria, the surprising quality of this year’s entries and films in the programme and the courage needed to take an independent position.

Der Preis (The Prize) by Elke Hauck

Following last year’s festival, you assumed the role of director of Perspektive Deutsches Kino from Alfred Holighaus. Are you determined to take the programme in a new direction?

There won’t be a 180-degree change in direction. The time with Alfred influenced me a lot of course. For years, we watched the films together, discussed them and worked towards the final decisions together.

There will be no fundamental changes to the structure of the programme: there will continue to be newcomer films, which means just first and second films, and there will be a premiere in the Perspektive every night of the festival. I am looking for – and it was no different with Alfred – a unique quality among the newcomers. Young directors who I believe will leave their mark on the German cinema of the future. This also means that I pay heed to points of view that offer alternatives to standard, habitual ways of seeing. I look for formal awareness in young directors and for new, dramatically and visually unconventional ways of telling stories.

Experiments with self-contained stories and technical perfection

And so a film’s market compatibility doesn’t necessarily affect the selection process?

No, of course it doesn’t, and I will stand by that. This year, for example, we have, for the first time, a film in the series in which a puppet is the main character: Kamakia – Die Helden der Insel (Kamakia - The Heroes of the Island). The puppet, named Kosta Rapadopoulos, travels to the Greek islands to find and write about the aging, legendary Kamakia. The Kamakia were those young Greek men who devoted themselves to satisfying the needs of northern European women who came to Greece to find their Adonis in the 1970s. Kosta Rapadopoulos visits the Kamakia in their homeland to see what has become of them. The director Jasin Challah has Greek roots and is a real comedian. In Cologne he’s a local celebrity with his puppet – they perform in bars together. In Kamakia - The Heroes of the Island his German-Greek accent is deliberately accentuated. The Kamakia surely wouldn’t open up and chat so freely about their conquests to anyone. But they are happy to brag to the puppet.

Kamakia - Die Helden der Insel (Kamakia - The Hereos of the Islands)

Besides its medium length, the film fulfils no market-oriented expectations whatsoever and I am happy that one will be able to find such experiments in the newcomer section, films that nonetheless tell a tight, interesting story and, in all their technical perfection, simply belong on the big screen. For the young generation alternative perspectives are difficult to realise, because the filmmakers are so dependent on financing and are often glad to meet conventional expectations of film, which allow them to reach a large audience. It is surely easier for established filmmakers to secure funding for less mainstream projects.

How do the number and quality of film entries compare to other years? Were some decisions especially hard to make? Would you have liked to have had more programme slots at your disposal? Or did the selection of films match the planned scope of the programme?

2011 was an exceptionally strong year with a very large selection of good films. Especially in comparison to last year’s talk of crisis, when people were saying nothing was getting produced. It looks very different with these German newcomers: we have more remarkable films in terms of both content and aesthetics available to us than I experienced in recent years. Especially long, convincing documentaries and features beyond the usual TV format. Extraordinary examples of these are the three feature films: a ZDF Kleines Fernsehspiel production (Lollipop Monster), a WDR co-production (Die Ausbildung) and a SWR co-production (Der Preis).

Self-discovery and artistic maturity

Are these filmmakers still finding their identity or do they already have an individually developed formal language of their own?

It is surprising to see how mature these works are. Usually there are two types of newcomer filmmakers: the ones who are trying things out and have the courage to try to discover themselves. And then there are those who know exactly what they want. Here, for example, I think of Die Ausbildung (The Education, D: Dirk Lütter) or Utopia Ltd. (D: Sandra Trostel). This maturity is rooted in the biographies of the directors: Dirk Lütter and Sandra Trostel worked for years as a cameraman and a cutter, respectively, before making their own debut films. They know their craft and therefore know exactly what they want to show. A further example is Ziska Riemann with her debut Lollipop Monster. She worked as a comic artist primarily and she brings these influences into the moving picture, without Lollipop Monster ever resembling a filmed comic. She takes the medium of film and builds subtle signals from the world of comics into the film. For example, the image sometimes stops moving and a black, hand-drawn raven flies through the scene – this has an extraordinary impact and at the same time fulfils a narrative function.

An example of a filmmaker who is still trying things out would be Nicolas Steiner with his documentary Kampf der Königinnen (Battle of the Queens). This is one of the most unusual films that we have ever had in the programme. Filmed in black and white, the film focuses on a traditional ritual in the Swiss mountains: there you have the Eringer cows, cows with horns that battle for their place in hierarchies while they are out on the fields. The Swiss have turned this into a tourist spectacle. Once a year, on Mother’s Day, the cows fight each other in an arena. Battle of the Queens shows us this event from the point of view of individual protagonists who are followed by the camera. A few times the director breaks from this observational style with some dramatised moments. The grand finale of the fighting cows, for example, is presented to us in slow motion with orchestral music made with cowbells, alpine horns, etc. Here the filmmaker is testing himself in a very positive sense.

Kampf der Königinnen (Battle of the Queens) by Nicolas Steiner

Does this search for the appropriate form also have an impact thematically?

Noticeable is that these are not just personal stories taking place on the filmmaker’s own doorstep. In this sense, this year’s programme reflects how young Germans are opening up to the world. A project at the HFF Potsdam brought the students to South America for the 200th anniversary of independence. This is the subject of Dígame – Sag mir, which was filmed in Buenos Aires. Josephine Frydetzki’s film is an attempt to tell the story of the battle for national liberation through a private narrative. The film is about the individual’s will to independence, although one’s connections to others are impossible to sever entirely. The protagonist leaves his family and gives up his shop. Dígame – Tell me transmits an immense desire for freedom. But the protagonist can’t separate himself completely and he wanders aimlessly through the city. The character is a symbol for this day of independence.

In The Education Dirk Lütter sets his sights upon social structures. He shows how it is when someone at the beginning of his career has just entered into the world of work and the resulting problems. How should you act? What differences are there in relations to the boss? How do you act towards an older colleague whom you like, and who is scared of losing her job if she doesn’t constantly put in overtime? And in general: how does one position oneself in today’s workplace? Dirk Lütter shows all of this in very clear pictures that make these structures tangible. Content and form go hand in hand, evidence of an impressive maturity.

Close-up techniques

What stands out as well is the confrontation with the East German past in two of the films. Both address the topic from very personal i.e. person-centred perspective. Which approaches did the filmmakers take?

Both directors, Elke Hauck and Annekathrin Hendel, were born and grew up in the GDR. You need distance to be able to look back, and to really see what is actually close to you. You have to be a bit older, to have a certain amount of experience behind you. Der Preis (The Prize) by Elke Hauck is told in flashbacks and shows the movement of remembering, how it is if someone went over to the West after the collapse of the GDR only to be confronted with one’s past. Here the filmmaker captures a feeling of life 20 years ago exceptionally well.

The documentary Vaterlandsverräter by Annekathrin Hendel, on the other hand, portrays the poet Paul Gratzik, who was very popular in GDR times. Today he lives in a lonely house in Brandenburg and gives the impression of being a very bitter man. At first he doesn’t want to talk, but the filmmaker lures his story out of him: how he sees the fact that he worked for the Stasi today, why he did it and how it was to betray your best friends. And he recounts his break from the Stasi, in whose eyes he was a traitor and who eventually made him the victim of their surveillance. As the film progresses you get very close to this man. You are infuriated by him but can’t help feeling compassion for him and at the end you can even somehow understand some of his decisions, which is very unusual when it comes to this topic.

Paul Gratzik in Annekatrin Hendel's Vaterlandsverräter

In some films political themes come up. In Utopia Ltd., for example, the pressure to succeed in our society is the subject matter.

Utopia Ltd. is all about the advertising and marketing focused society we live in. In her documentary, the director Sandra Trostel follows the young Hamburg punk band “1000 Robota” on their path into the commercial music world. There it’s about marketing strategies and what price you have to pay if you want to be successful. What happens to your ideals as a young person who just wants to make music, but has to fit into the calculations of someone who is marketing you? In Utopia Ltd. the record company is happy to have found a label for the band. You sense the price they pay for conforming to expectations. It becomes clear how many people get involved in the things that the band write and sing. It’s about the huge amount of disappointment and how much courage you need to sometimes say no. In selecting the films for the programme, it was important for me to position the films and their creators, that they take a stance and want to share something.

Sandra Trostel's Utopia Ltd.

At the very end, when all the slots were already filled, I invited a film about the protest movement against the Stuttgart 21 train station to take part in the Perspektive as a special guest contribution. The film is still a work in progress, but will be finished in time for the Berlinale (Stuttgart 21 - Denk mal!). I am glad to be able to offer this film a forum at the festival and invite everyone to take part in the discussion.

With Romuald Karmakar you were able to win an internationally renowned figure from the world of film to chair the jury for the “Dialogue en perspective” award…

I fought very hard to find someone for the jury presidency who had a solid reputation and very strong personal conviction. The films of Romuald Karmakar are actually a genre in themselves. His approach to his work is so self-sufficient and unique. He always remains radical towards himself and all others. He is someone who can motivate young people – the jury members – to form their own opinions. Everyone should have to explain, fight, find his or her own standpoint, and shouldn’t be tempted to make the decision about the best film an easy one.