German Cinema Melbourne hits our fine city this November. But the film festival is much more than just a celebration of German contemporary cinema. It is an exploration and examination of German culture and society today and in the past, and provides an essential platform for promoting German cultural diplomacy in the modern world.
We recently caught up with some of the talented team behind the event, to learn more about the festival, why it is such an important part of the annual film festival calendar here in Melbourne, and how the festival explores cultural, societal and cinematic aspects of Germany today.
Q. For those who don’t know, what is German Cinema Melbourne?
A. German Cinema Melbourne (GCM) is a young, alternative and innovative film festival that takes places in Melbourne for the first time, quasi as “the little wild sister” of the previous Festival of German films, which ran in Australia from 2002 to 2016. We are a small festival team, consisting of a handful of movie lovers, who came together because of their common passion for German cinema. Having said that, we just have a limited budget and limited time and we cannot and do not want to replace the large and multi-city Festival of German films. We aim to create something new, fresh and unique, and curate a film festival that ties German culture and German cinema together, providing the audiences with a window into current societal, cultural and cinematic developments in Germany.
Q. And what are the intentions behind the festival? What do you want people to take from the films on show?
A. Of course we want to spread and share our passion for German cinema, which has a long tradition and is well known for its wide range of different genres. Our movie selection shows a snapshot of this range and all our selected films – except one restored classic film – are produced in 2016/2017 and therefore give a profound insight into the current German film landscape. We want to take the audiences with us on an exciting journey through German contemporary cinema, which is also visualized in our advertising poster that shows GCM as a departure to new shores. What we want people to take from the films and the film festival itself is a feeling of enthusiasm that also small things can become big. Every person who takes part in our crowd funding beforehand and who attends one of our screenings, shows his and her support for the alternative cinema film festival culture. This film festival is not only addressed to the German community in Melbourne but for everyone, who loves German films. Together we want to experience nine days full of exciting films, fun and discussions in the exceptional and insider location of the Backlot Studios in Southbank and shout together “What a ride!”
Q. Film festivals seem to find a home in Melbourne. Why and how do you think Melbourne creates an environment for film festivals and film makers to flourish?
A. Melbourne is a young and “sparkling” city that constantly invents itself and, culturally spoken, never sleeps. Apart from that, Melbourne is home to many national and international artists, who give the city its multicolored face. Film festivals, Australian or international, are just one facet of this colorful glass window of Melbournian creativeness, and look back on a long tradition in the city. Since 1952, the number of film festivals in Melbourne increased significantly, especially due to the emergence of numerous smaller ethnic film festivals all over the city. This shows how open and multicultural Melbourne is, and artists and filmmakers from all over the world feel encouraged to contribute to this creative mosaic – so we do!
Q. The team behind the festival are an incredibly talented group of individuals, with artists, academics and historians amongst others involved. How have the individual skills of you and the team come together to help you build and curate the upcoming festival?
A. The team consists of 5 film enthusiast from German and Australia that came together after announcement that the annual Festival of German Films will no longer be held in Australia. Based on the belief that ethnic film festivals are not obsolete and that there should be a German Film Festival in Melbourne, we founded the German Cinema Melbourne Inc. to host a modified and smaller German Film festival. The festival is partially crowdfunded (crowdfunding campaign is still running on pozible) and we had a great community response so far. We are a really diverse group with different backgrounds and a shared love for German Cinema: Marko Gebel is the founder of the German Meetup Kino group a privately organised group of German film enthusiasts that organised bimonthly film events during the year to fill the long time between the annual German Film Festival. Peter Krausz as German film expert is the artistic director of German Cinema Melbourne, a journalist and has been the consultant of the German Film festival since 2002. Irina is just completing her PhD at The University of Melbourne focusing on the German Film Festival as cultural diplomacy and joined the Kino group in 2015. Daniela also was a regular guest of the German Meetup Kino and is the creative head of the group, being also a tattoo artist next to being the current DAAD lecturer at the University of Melbourne, where she collaborates with our fifths member, Claudia, a film scholar specializing in DEFA films and South American cinema.
Q. Can you tell us how you think the festival provides a platform for promoting German cultural diplomacy?
A. Film is a powerful tool to understanding another culture, as it shows what life looks like from someone else’s perspective. The film Welcome to Germany (Simon Verhoeven, 2016) for example is a comedic take on the challenges and cultural stereotypes in Germany, when a family in Munich decides to host a refugee from Nigeria. The debates around refugees and multiculturalism are very different in Germany and Australia, a film can thus provide not only an insight into current and historical issues in Germany, but also the opportunity to reflect on personal and national issues through the camera lens in another country. As a film festival, we also offer space for discussions and events – the Backlot Studios are great for that, as we have the entire cinema, including the bar (stocked with German goodies) to ourselves! That means we will also have panel discussions, Q&As, music and German food and beer – I think the aspects of discussion and dialogue are really important when talking about film and cultural diplomacy!
Q. Why do you feel it’s important for people in Australia to recognise, learn and understand the development of film and its place in modern day Germany, and the key political and social issues happening in Germany today?
A. It’s really not about Australia learning anything from Germany, but more about facilitating an exchange through film and discussions. There are issues that are topical in both countries, such as refugee rights, marriage equality and also terrorism. The films reflect one take on these issues – not necessarily a ‘German take’, but sometimes just the personal perspective of the film-maker. Other films are of course more national, e.g. ‘A German Life’ a film on the secretary of Goebbels during the Third Reich. This film really shows a personal perspective of Nazism and also asks, how we protect our democratic rights today! Recent elections in Germany, where the right-wing party gained entry into the parliament, as well as Brexit or the election of President Trump in America highlight the need to engage with history to remind us of how important our votes and our freedom of speech are. We screen 10 new German films that all show different aspects of Germany today – its continuing struggle to come to terms with the past, the impacts of the intake of over 1Mio refugees in 2015, the fear of terrorism and universal issues such as dysfunctional families and their comedic stories.
Q. The political backdrop in Germany has seen a divided nation. This is true in many parts of the world, quite recently made evident by Brexit and Trump. Is this division evident in the films you are showing, and what lessons, if any, can we take from the films on show?
A. Without being political as an organisation, German Cinema Melbourne is aware about the world where we are living and its reflections in current German movies. The best example is “Willkommen bei den Hartmanns” (“Welcome to Germany”), a hugely popular film in Germany, this gently directed comedy about a middle-class family in Munich taking in an African refugee, says a great deal about contemporary attitudes to immigrants in Germany. The film builds up quite a head of steam as competing loyalties, beliefs and attitudes emerge, reflecting the current political issues in Europa and Germany on the status of refugees and the terrorism issues hovering in the background. A very enjoyable film with some cogent messages for all of us about the complexity of life, far away from simplistically political slogans.
Q. What other themes, cultural, societal and cinematic, have really come the fore in the films on show at this years’ festival?
A. The 11 films have varied themes, but there are some groupings: one is a celebration of German cinema, found in the opening film: Fritz Lang, the closing film Destiny (1921, by Fritz Lang) and Marina Mabuse & Morituri (documentary on West German cinema after World War 2); then there is the terrorist/nationalistic based film Berlin Falling, an unusual topic for German Cinema, coupled with the issue of refugees in Germany today in the comedy/drama Welcome to Germany. There is another theme of the past and ways of dealing with that, in the documentary A German Life (about the secretary to the Nazi propaganda chief Josef Goebbels), the satire Scout of Peace (which looks at the way spies operated during the 70s and 80s in East & West Germany in a contemporary setting) and Hands of a Mother (where child abuse impacts on an adult man’s life). The situation of young people in modern German society dealing with a range of issues, can be found in Axolotl Overkill and LOMO: The Language of Many Others, while the film The Wunderlich Family amongst other comedic themes, explores a child’s way of handling a disability.
Q. And which films should we be looking out for at this year’s festival?
A. Certainly all 11 films have distinctive ideas, themes and stories. All are Australian premieres, apart from Axolotl Overkill which screened at the Melbourne International Film Festival this year. The narrative Fritz Lang is a strong drama about the famous filmmaker shooting his first sound film “M” in 1930 and uses black & white imagery to great effect, while Berlin Falling is an angry terrorist and nationalistic based drama, which resonates due to current world events. However, all films are impressive, entertaining and challenging in their own ways and demonstrate the strength of the German (and Austrian) Film Industry. It should be noted that none of these films have an Australian distributor, so this film festival may well be the only chance to see these fine films (all English sub-titled, and rated 18+). It also should be noted that all films will have a short, contextual introduction before each screening, and the opportunity for post-film discussion as well as some panel discussions, after each screening.
Q. Finally, when, where and how can we attend German Cinema Melbourne 2017?
A. November 17-25 at the Backlot Studios, 65 Haig Street, Southbank, just a short walk from Crown and public transport, with a small car park on site. Some screenings will have a special event associated with it, such as the opening night party for the two films screening then. Ticketing information will be available soon via the www.germancinemamelbourne.com website. We hope to see both film lovers and German Cinema fans throughout the festival.
German Cinema Melbourne would like to thank their Sponsors: