Posts Tagged ‘Nienke Huitenga’

The German Film Festival: Interview with the Festival Director

May 1, 2009

By Alida Tomaszewski and Nienke Huitenga

Nienke Huitenga and Alida Tomaszewski catch up with Klaus Krischok, AFGF director and programmer, at the 3CR radio studios in Melbourne. Krischok is one cool cat. As the interview begins he dons his aviators and lights a cigarette, explaining that he has in fact quit smoking but, well, you know…

How does the Goethe Institut reconcile its commercial and cultural agendas?

You’ve got to understand that there are always stakeholders in a festival, and certain interest groups. The Goethe Institut is not a commercial organisation, it is a cultural organisation. So we don’t have any commercial interests, we’re not here to sell anything. But we team up with an organisation that’s called German Films, which looks after German film exports, and they have a more commercial interest. That creates a nice kind of friction. 

As the director of the AFGF, what are your personal interests?

I’m more interested in showing the stuff that I really like, and what will work really well with Australian audiences, whereas German Films are interested in making deals with the distributors.

Is there much of a marketplace for distributors at this festival?

Well, in theory yes. We team up with Australian film distributors. The distributors get screeners and have access to the cinemas. Usually there are a few films that get snatched up by Australian distributors. So there is a bit of a marketing side to it, but let’s face it, it’s not that huge.

The Australian film distributors are really well networked, and they travel to Berlin in large numbers, as well as Cannes. Rotterdam, maybe, but it’s really Berlin and Cannes that really are the gateways for foreign films into Australian cinemas.

So that makes for a stronger cultural role of these national film festivals – I think it’s the same with the French, Italian and Spanish film festivals. If you want to shop you go to Berlin and Cannes, if you want to see things you go to our film festivals here.

Aside from German Films, are there any other parties that influence the course of the festival?

Here we work with a commercial chain of cinemas, and that’s Palace, and they of course need to see dollars and cents at the end.  I also need to break even at the end, because even with all the sponsorship money it’s a very pricey affair to put on a film festival.

What would you say is the ultimate goal of this festival?

From a cultural point of view, our goal is to create an awareness of the variety of artistic expression, lifestyle and talent in Germany. The second goal is to help German Films find an audience.

Say we look at the supply chain, one of our partners is World Movies. World Movies usually buys 4 or 5 of our films that are screened at the festival. They then screen those on TV, if they are successful there then SBS will snatch them up.

So, I’ve got 20,000 bums in seats, when World Movies buys a film we have about 60 or 80,000 viewers per night. Then if it’s picked up by SBS we’ll get around 100 to 120,000 viewers on top of that. So in terms of creating the avalanche effect, the festival is what people see, what happens afterwards is the effect that we desire.

Have the numbers attending the festival accumulated over the years?

Absolutely, the festival has grown. When I took over 4 years ago we had 15 films. We have 30 films now. So a lot more screenings take place, in more cinemas, on more days. There are more program slots, and program slots at the cinemas are always an economic risk. Believe me, some of the cinemas are struggling, and therefore are very happy to have us.  For example, a weak session for me is a session with 50 people, but I know at maybe the same time slot on a Friday afternoon there would usually only be maybe 25 people in the cinema [if there was no festival].

We’ve noticed you take good care of your guests and have been showing them around Melbourne during their stay. Is looking after the actors a lot of work?

It can be. In the four years that I’ve been doing this I haven’t had one that was really troublesome. There is a issue with actresses, and that’s blood-sugar levels. It’s such a big thing, they watch really closely what they eat, and once their blood sugar levels are down, I say “OK, I’ve got something I my pocket, have it now!” 

Aside from that, there is a potential clash of egos, so we make a point of not inviting two actors who are on the same level, or would be competing. Australia is too far away, and they’ll say “I’ve taken this long journey, I want to be in the limelight”.

It’s very good with these two [Anna Maria Mühe and Robert Stadlober], because they’re friends. She went to Robert’s concert just a few weeks ago, and it’s all very good.  So it’s better to invite different types, a director and an actor is usually better than two actors. Marco Kreuzpaintner would have been great too, but Robert is wonderful . We had a 45 minute interview on SBS this morning and it was lovely, Robert is full of knowledge.

Can you describe the process of getting Anna Maria Mühe and Robert Stadlober to Melbourne for the AFGF?

In close cooperation with German Films. Because they’re based there [in Germany] and deal exclusively with that subject matter, they have a little more experience than I have, in regards to who can be used for promo purposes and who cannot. Like with Jürgen Vogel who was at the festival last year, who’s really a megastar, it was my own independent decision to go to the agent and say “we want Jürgen Vogel , what do we have to do?”. There was an immediate decision that he wanted to come, because it happened to coincide with his 40th birthday.

In the past we have deliberately not approached a Volker Schlöndorff or a Wim Wenders, because for me it’s very much about this fresh, new, young look – the new generation. For example Wim Wenders travels to Australia twice a year, he only travels first class, he’s got “a thing”, he’s got a Koala complex [laughs]. We know through his agent that he himself suggested he come to this festival, and we said “maybe next year”. We need to find a bigger context for him, because if you get a Wim Wenders it dominates the whole festival, nobody want to hear or see anything else. But I’m not saying no to Wim Wenders! Because on the other hand, it can be good for publicity.

Do you spend all year working on this festival?

Claudia and I work on it for about half a year. Ideally I go to the Munich film festival because you get a good idea of what’s happening, but we start the selection process in later October, early November. Basically pampering the sponsors is a life, not a love, it is a year long exercise.

Apart from the AFGF, we put on about 50 other cultural events per year. Sometimes we support events, like in March we had the St Thomas Boys’ Choir from Leipzig at the Sydney Opera House. It was sold out and there were 9000 people at the Opera House. We invited all our sponsors to a VIP reception at the Opera House and to meet the cantor of St Thomas Boys’ Choir, and they loved that.

Do you agree to give the sponsorship logos visibility over the entire year at all your cultural events?

Yes, that’s all part of it. The easy case would involve deals being made over a short conversation and a hand shake, and a more complicated case involves a contractual negotiation. In the case of Audi, we don’t have a written contract now, they trust us. They have the naming rights, and this is really important for them, and this opens certain gateways for them that they would never find on their own.  By piggy-backing on the back of cultural events, they get very good value for money, like being on all those City of Sydney banners. Or in the cinemas, they are entitled to have their cars displayed which would usually cost them a lot of money.

Are you looking at growing the AFGF into a larger, international event?

We wouldn’t be successful in doing this. There are some very specific factors. Other than Australia I know of no other country that does this circuit of national film festivals. Canada is very much like Australia – it’s a huge country, a federation, has two major cultural hubs and it’s multicultural, the same thing should happen, yet they don’t do this circuit of national film festivals. It’s a specifically Australian thing. They serve their purpose here, in a sometimes healthy and sometimes problematic competition with the international film festivals.

My intention is to plant the right kind of content in the right kind of context. If I think that my German content has gotten the best possible visibility and echo within the AFGF, then I’ve done my job. If  I think a film like Alle Anderen is better hosted within, say the Sydney International Film Festival, then they should have it.

The French Film Festival is a bit of an exception because it’s older, it happens in more cities and has even more of an audience than ours. That could be the benchmark. One could say that we’d like to get to the level of the French Film Festival which won’t happen ’till…I don’t know when. But making it (the AFGF) on par with an international film festival would be wrong.

What’s That “German-ness”?

April 26, 2009

By Nienke Huitenga

Submerged in visual entertainment, and having a close encounter of the German kind, I feel it’s time to reflect on that intuitive idea of German culture and how it engages the attending audience. In a piece describing the status of the 8th edition of AFGF (in an interview by Dagmar Pysik on the Goethe Institut festival blog), Klaus Krischok stated that “it smiles at the Australian audience and looks forward to new and vibrant exchanges with our cool and young-ish viewers.” I think I fit the young-ish viewer profile, and therefore would like to summarise my impressions of how this festival has communicated its ‘identity’ to me.

The Audi Festival of German Films appears to be a delicately balanced composition of films that appeals to a heterogeneous audience. I have attended screenings where I joined a 60 to 70-something audience (Clara, Effie Briest), but equally enjoyed films with a 20 to 30 year old audience (Dr Aleman, Berlin Calling), or younger (Lippel’s Dream, Krabat). Festival related activities like Berlin Sessions – an event where prominent German DJs present their latest electronic remixes – and GDRetro (East German film side-program), give an opportunity to enjoy this festival just the way you like it: an exposition of German cinema (through the available panel discussions and Q&A’s) or a cultural immersion through the variety of identities presented in the films.

Actually, when I read between the lines of the festival’s presentation and program, I find there is something of a gentle juxtaposition: a reunion of a differing generational viewpoints belonging to an intuitive idea of what German cinema embodies. An illustrative example is the documentary Eye to Eye: All About German Film by Michael Althen and Hans Helmut Prinzler (2008). Presented as a ‘celebration of 100 years of German cinema’, this topically reconstructed overview of cinematic history is built on the memories and personal ‘ideas’ of German cinema of ten eminent German filmmakers, including Tom Tykwer, Doris Dörrie, Wim Wenders, Caroline Link, Christian Petzold and Michael Ballhaus. The interview fragments (with the experts) are alternated with thematic sequences of film clips from the most conspicuous (historical) scenes, and edited together as though we are watching one long take on all the (universally) connected (‘German’) themes through time. Characteristic films like Murnau’s Nosferatu (1922), Heimat (Edgar Reitz 1919-2000), M (Frits Lang, 1931), Rocker (Klaus Lemke, 1972) and Fassbinder’s Martha (1974) are nostalgically associated to childhood memories or genius inventions which influenced the artistic view of some of the experts in this documentary.

Festival director Krischok (who was present in the audience during the screening) rightly pointed out that this documentary is not a history lesson, but an emotional journey through cinematic history. This is exactly what makes it both successful and unsuccessful. It is extremely successful for the thematic chain of clips, which take you on a journey through all the different manifestations of German cinema. However, these drifting-along clips and memories leave the less German cine-savvy spectator empty handed at ‘The End’.

The tableau that Eye to Eye sketches lacks accessibility, for it pertains mainly to a more proficient German cinema cinephile. Therefore it conjured up enough questions for the panel discussion following the screening. Most of the questions from the audience were in the spirit of ‘why are there mostly male directors in de the documentary’ (besides Dorris Dörrie and Caroline Link), or ‘why isn’t there any attention to the New German cinema’? A question I personally had in mind is why the more recent episode from the 1990s till the 21st century is not represented, but someone from the audience covered that interest by commenting that she totally did not relate to the presented view on German cinema, because the invoked perspective comes off a bit antiquated to a younger audience. I assumed she felt just as much a bystander to this phenomenon as me: something of a different generation.

The film critics present at the panel discussion, following this screening, tried to take in the criticism and give a satisfactory answer. Panel member Christian Buss (film critic for Der Spiegel) largely agreed with the audience that his favourites were missing too. Adrian Martin (Film critic and Senior Research Fellow in Film and Television Studies at Monash University, Melbourne) tried to give a more film theoretical approach to this inspection of German film culture. Inspired by the suggested ‘German-ness’ (a neologism suggested in the documentary), Adrian Martin raised the question: what does this idea of a national cinema actually lead to? He commented on this nostalgic (canonical) view on German cinema that it falls in the trap of a narrow interpretation of what such a cinema is. In a similar way, Wim Wenders underlines Martin’s point by saying (in the film) that he actually fled from his German roots to America, so he could free himself of a particular predilection what German film should be. Unfortunately, he could not escape and embraced his film culture later on in his career.

The overall impression I have of this festival is that the perspective given on German cinema gravitates to a national, and perhaps self referential, presentation, rather than placing it in a larger, international context. However, the festival convincingly offers an interesting display of the successes of contemporary German film culture. Yet, as I have stated earlier in my first contribution to the blog (‘The Festival as a Cultural Meeting Point’), I am not convinced that the Audi Festival of German Films will disclose its nature, persona or innate ‘Germaness’ as effectively to an audience non-related to Germany’s (cinematic) identity.

The Musical Experience at the Audi Festival of German Films

April 25, 2009

By Nienke Huitenga

Amongst the various thematic ties that link film to film in this festival, the one that stands out for me most is music. Within the selection of films that I managed to attend, I have found three films that caught my attention for their portrayal of various German music-cultural scenes. Together as a group they diachronically represent three major moments in German music history: Clara, Hilde and Berlin Calling.

A film that refers to the hedonistic life of a specific music cult of my generation is Berlin Calling. Electronic music composer DJ Ickarus travels the world to play his music on festivals and in clubs, and eventually gets lured down the rabbit hole of drug addiction. In his hometown of Berlin he works on his new album, but the pressure of delivering the album he dreams of, paired with the temptation of drugs, initiates a downward spiral from which we wonder whether he will ever return. Watching this film, I was comfortably submerged in an ambient spectacle. Paul Kalkbrenner, in the role of DJ Ickarus, performed very au naturel although this is his acting debut, for in real life he is a fulltime musician like his character. Thanks to the flowy electronic music, the film is a nice ‘trip’ through the psychotic episodes of DJ Ickarus. However, without it, the story might come off too placid.

Next is Clara, a film by Helma Sanders-Brahms (a distant relative of Johannes Brahms) exposes the struggle Clara Schumann undergoes when her deep love and passion for music conflicts with her duties as wife to Robert Schumann. Young Johannes Brahms, who admires Clara’s talent, touches Clara with his brilliant and entrancing compositions. His charming personality brings him close to the family circle of the Schumann family. Robert Schumann respects him for his virtuoso compositions, and later, Clara finds herself torn between feelings for charming Johannes, and her duties to the care of the mental health of her husband.

Naturally, the film zones in on the music composed by Robert Schumann and Johannes Brahms, and these moments are by far the most powerful in the film. The art department and set design give the mise-en-scène a sense of historic truth, however, the characterizations by the actors feel a little beyond the historic period. Pascal Greggory, who plays Robert Schumann, looks a bit uncomfortable in the role of the German composer. It may partly be because, as a French actor, Greggory has to tackle the German language as well as the flamboyant character of Schumann. In fact, part of Greggory’s downfall is in his larger-than-life portrayal of his character, which brings colour to the film but lacks truth. As it happens, the film loses me on several occasions because of the strange camera angles, and jarring transitions. On the other hand, the film captivates me again in its calmer scenes where the pleasure, love and passion of Robert Schumann’s and Johannes Brahms’ compositions are given the time and focus that they deserve. I was both bored and moved watching this film, but in the end I loved it for the justice it did to the talent and artistry of these passionate musicians.

Hilde, my second favourite thus far, is a biopic about Germany’s multitalented Hildegard Knef, beginning with her youthful years. She fearlessly and cheekily auditions for an acting school (at age 14), and without hesitating exclaims that she has talent. Her determined spirit comes through in one of the songs she writes later on in her career – ‘Fur mich Soll’s Rote Rosen Regnen’ (It Shall Rain Red Roses for Me). She puts down her fist by singing ‘I want everything or nothing!’ It marks the persevering spirit she has in making her dreams come true. Hildegard shakes up 1950s Germany with the first nude scene in Die Sünderin (1951), and tries to make it in Hollywood as an actress in film productions by David Selznick, further signs of her strength and ambition.

For me, the phrases of song-text, rhythmically intercut at various moments of the film, reveal much about Hilde’s life journey. Set between different ‘chapters’ of her career, the poetic motif culminates in a full performance at the end of film. The songs we hear during the film act as commentary, shedding light not only on the atmosphere of her home, Berlin (‘Mein Zuhause’- My Home), but also on her state of mind, as she finds herself as an artist. The jazzy ‘best singer without a voice’ (as Ella Fitzgerald called her) is convincing when the film reaches the last chapter, where Heike Makatsch (Hilde) performs ‘Fur Mich Soll’s Rote Rosen Regnen’ both skilfully and seductively.

The Festival as a Cultural Meeting Point

April 20, 2009

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.

Festival Reporter Profile 4

April 12, 2009

Hi! My name is Nienke Huitenga, a Masters student in Film and Television Studies, enjoying a brief stay in Melbourne at Monash University. Originally I’m from The Netherlands, where I studied French Language and Culture at Utrecht University, albeit with a fiery passion for visual arts. Therefore I have been very committed to completing a Masters degree in Film and Television studies. My stay here in Australia is giving me the chance to develop my skills in the area of film critique, particularly the opportunity to review the German Film Festival (to be held in Melbourne on 16th – 26th April 2009).

As an enthusiastic (but critical) cinemaniac, I appreciate films that can make you forget where you are. I want to be taken into the world on screen. I want to believe, feel, and think I am part of the story. But I also want to learn, become more aware of how reality can be stranger than fiction. I want to participate in a critical reflection of life.

Therefore, I will use my critical eye to evaluate how the German Film Festival portrays the stories, engages the audience, and gives some food for thought. Despite having both attended and worked as a volunteer in a number of film festivals, I have not properly been aware of the mechanics of film festival programming. The German Film Festival will provide an interesting exercise in uncovering how the life of this particular event comes to fruition, and how the local people will respond to the surge of German (film) culture.