by Nienke Huitenga
Take your seats and buckle up, the Audi Festival of German Films (AFGF) has taken off. Klaus Krischok, director of this cultural event was proud to announce The Baader Meinhof Complex (Oscar nominated film by Uli Edel, 2008) at the opening night, last Thursday in Melbourne. Holding my popcorn and coke, I was ready and eager to see whether all the excitement surrounding this film was justified. It is certainly an impressive film; however, this piece of art gushed over me like a history-flash, and I felt I did not get a better understanding of this particular moment in German history. In this condensed thriller, 1960s RAF-leader Andreas Baader (Moritz Bleibtreu), his radical girlfriend Gudrun Ensslin (Johanna Wokalek) and idealistic journalist Ulrike Meinhof (Martina Gedeck) are the only consistent characters among the numerous fleeting accomplices. This film is not a lightly digestible blockbuster, far from it, and maybe therefore not quite as successful in sharing the story adequately with an audience less familiar with this complex intrigue. Exciting action sequences, punchy dialogues … however, this film is a real brain-drain because of its complexity. Nevertheless, ironically, it was a most appropriate opening film, considering that Lufthansa (one of the AFGF golden sponsors) was hijacked in the film, and it is highly probable that Andreas Baader stole an AUDI (golden sponsor), as Mr. Krischok confided in me in an interview.
This distinct cultural event is one of many in Melbourne. Being a very recent Melbournite, I have noticed that the French, Italian, Turkish and Spanish have done well in bringing their national cinemas to the Australian theatres. Melbourne seems to be a city that breaths and thrives on cultural celebrations. Krischok rightly states on the official festival blog that ‘film festivals like ours are the gateway for international films to Australia. Despite the rise of digital formats and individual viewing experiences there still seems to exist a strong appetite for a communal cinema experience in front of the big screen.’ I must say, although the AFGF is here to show the best of recent German cinema to the Australian audience, to lure the film savvy Melburnians out of their homes, there definitely is a strong ‘communal’ German-Australian attraction-value to this festival. I couldn’t help but notice how people comfortably addressed me in German (cued by my Goethe institut T-shirt, probably) at the opening night, and other screenings as well.
Interestingly, just before the screening of Lippel’s Dream (Friday morning 11am), the same specific audience was present. Lippel’s Dream is a children’s film about a boy (Lippel) whose father, a successful chef, has to leave him for a week with an austere nanny, because he’s invited to work in America. Lippel, a quirky cheerful boy with a vivid imagination, comforts himself with the Arabic 1001-night bedtime stories, and loses himself in an adventure that switches between his fantasy world and the horrible reality of the oppressive regime of the nanny. This film obviously appeals to the young audience escorted by their parents. They evidently had a German-Australian background as, again, I was addressed in German while I was representing the Goethe Institut at the Kino (cinema). Naturally the Institut hopes to promote itself through this festival, and it would be a logical place and premise to do it. However I wonder whether this cultural event will actually attract enough interested Australians (as distinct from German-Australians) to be successful in its objective to sell German culture (language courses etc). They unquestionably will succeed in showcasing their viewpoint on Germany’s edgy, experimental and political film culture to the larger audience. Exemplary for their success was last weekend, where several screenings were nearly sold out, and Q&A’s well received.
To conclude, the AFGF presents itself more like a German sanctuary than I had expected. Therefore, I would like to reflect in the coming days whether this particular festival might relate more to a cultural celebration (in all its facets) than a critical exposition of Germany’s film industry and culture.