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29th FILMKUNSTFEST MV: 'Systemsprenger' has been given wings

SYSTEMSPRENGER wins the Fliegender Ochse (Flying Ox, with reference to the ox in the coat of arms of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania), the award for the winner film of the feature-film competition, Actress Katharina Thalbach takes home the Goldener Ochse (Golden Ox, the honorary award of the Schwerin film festival)

Thanks to a festival programme that was characterised not only by many female filmmakers and political views but also by a powerful range of films and a triumphant retrospective of the work of honouree Katharina Thalbach, the 29th FILMKUNSTFEST MV was eventually visited by 19,200 spectators having watched 120 motion pictures. Hence, this year's attendance clearly exceeded the previous record of approximately 18,000 visitors in 2017.

”The 29th year in the history of the FILMKUNSTFEST MV has surpassed all our expectations,” the festival’s Artistic Director Volker Kufahl said. “We are truly pleased that both the audience and the juries appreciated the programme we had thoughtfully put together and which comprised many films revolving around topics relevant to society. I am particularly glad that our Focus Ireland section attracted such an overwhelming interest”.

The enormous success had been conceivable as early as a couple of days into the festival week when thousands of spectators hit the festival cinema, the Filmpalast Capitol in Schwerin, that had been going through extensive refurbishment and renovations and now presents itself as one of the state-of-the-art multiplexes in Germany. After a suspense-packed start with the German premiere of the psychological thriller film GRETA directed by Irish grandseigneur Neil Jordan (THE CRYING GAME, 1993), the number of cinemagoers remained on a constantly high level.

First and foremost, the audience was particularly and above average attracted by the Focus Ireland section showcasing the latest film productions from this year’s guest country and the retrospective of this year’s honouree Katharina Thalbach. The actress was delighted at the warm-hearted words of many of her fans and the laudatory speech of her fellow actress Andreja Schneider (of the Geschwister Pfister) before she received the Goldener Ochse, the honorary award of the FILMKUNSTFEST MV from the hands of Minister President of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania Manuela Schwesig in the presence of her daughter Anna who was a member of the feature-film competition jury. A fan of hearty meals, Katharina Thalbach chuckled at the very circumstance that the award is named after an ox, she said amid the laughter of the spectators who gave her standing ovations at the sold-out Mecklenburg State Theatre.

On this day and the day before, the magnificent theatre building saw two film concerts along the screening of Charlie Chaplin’s silent-film classic THE GOLD RUSH from 1925. The Mecklenburg State Orchestra, conducted by Martin Schelhaas, played Chaplin’s score while the film was running and cheered at by the 500 spectators who attended each event.

Katharina Thalbach was not only present at several screenings of her retrospective but also at a revealing workshop talk hosted by the renowned presenter and film journalist Knut Elstermann. As he did in the years past, this year again Knut Elstermann hosted both the opening event and the award ceremony of the 29th FILMKUNSTFEST MV and entertained the spectators with his witty remarks and his energetic presence on stage. Amongst other anecdotes, Katharina Thalbach mentioned that a logotherapist had told her when she was a teenager that her voice would become darker and deeper. Her unique voice and her quick-witted and open-minded nature also left an imprint on any appearance of her at the Schwerin film festival.

Along with the honorary award, 11 other accolades were conferred during the festival’s award ceremony at the Mecklenburg State Theatre. The German film SYSTEMSPRENGER won the feature-film competition’s Best Picture Award, the Fliegender Ochse, the FIPRESCI Critics’ Choice Award, the Best Music and Sound Design Award as well as the Advancement Award of the DEFA Foundation. The Austrian film DER BODEN UNTER DEN FÜSSEN, partly filmed in the cities of Rostock and Wismar, won the NDR Best Director Award, actress Valerie Pachner received the Best Up-and-coming Actor Award.

The German entry LET THE BELL RING about an American boxer and directed by Grevesmühlen-born Christin Freitag won the Best Documentary Feature Award. Daniel Samer took home the Best Cinematography in a Documentary Feature Award for his camera work in Stephan Hilpert’s CONGO CALLING. The Best Children’s and Youth Film Award LEO won the imaginative adventure film CLEO set in Berlin and directed by the German director and screenwriter Erik Schmitt. MIDAS ODER DIE SCHWARZE LEINWAND director Hannah Dörr received the Best Short Film Award. The Audience Award won Sherry Hormann’s NUR EINE FRAU. On Sherry Hormann’s behalf, Christoph Ott of the film’s distribution company NFP marketing & distribution accepted the award and announced that his company is going to have selected cinemas screen NUR EINE FRAU throughout Germany from next Thursday. Just like many other festival visitors, Ott valued highly the selection of competition entries and added that the FILMKUNSTFEST MV “showcases excellence”.

The 13 guests from Ireland were particularly chuffed about the curiosity and open-mindedness of the Schwerin festival audience, with the German-Irish author Ralf Sotscheck, who contributed a reading session, the Irish photo journalist Derek Speirs, whose exhibition titled CHILDREN can be visited in Schwerin until the end of May, Don O’Mahony, the curator of the Cork Film Festival short-film programme, actress Hazel Doupe (FLOAT LIKE A BUTTERFLY) and her fellow actor Dafhyd Flynn (MICHAEL INSIDE) leading the way. Some of the 9 feature films and 15 short films from the Focus Ireland section of this year’s FILMKUNSTFEST MV programme made specific reference to the civil war in Northern Ireland, such as the documentary feature I, DOLOURS directed by Maurice Sweeney about the IRA leader Dolours Price that premiered in Germany at the festival. During the film’s Q&A talk, Sweeney expressed his concern that Northern Irish who have not come to terms with the traumas the conflict in Northern Ireland had caused, especially the generation between 16 and 20, may rekindle the violence in the course of the impending Brexit. In his opinion, the recent murder of journalist Lyra McKee was a tragic indication for his apprehension.

The Irish Film Institute, Culture Ireland and the Arts Council of Ireland had a determining influence on the Focus Ireland section.

The festival spectators also took a great interest in the political discussions the 29th FILMKUNSTFEST MV conducted under the direction of Volker Kufahl and in co-operation with different political foundations about recent documentary features, including SEESTÜCK (Seascape) by Volker Koepp (Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania Rosa Luxemburg Foundation) regarding the co-existence of many nations and new political tensions along the Baltic Sea, NICHT HIER UM ZU KRITISIEREN (Not here to criticise) by Lucas Thiem regarding the significance of the theatre landscape within a democracy (Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania Friedrich Ebert Foundation), STEINIG ODER GLATT – LEBENSLINIEN JUNGER FLÜCHTLINGE (Rocky or Smooth – Life Lines of Young Refugees) by Dieter Schumann (Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania State Agency for Civic Education). The debate related to Werner Herzog’s interview film MEETING GORBACHEV chaired by historian and Russia expert Prof. Dr.  Jörg Baberowski of the Humboldt University of Berlin and put on in co-operation with the Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania Konrad Adenauer Foundation broke all records when for more than one hour the audience listened to Baberowski’s deliberations about and his assessment of the historic importance of the former leader of the USSR.

Films about the history of the GDR and the 1990 turnaround proved very popular among the Schwerin audience members, including the TV documentary DIE STASI IM KINDERZIMMER (The Stasi in the children’s room) from the programme section contributed by our media partner Norddeutscher Rundfunk as well as the transformation of the National People’s Army during the course of the German reunification. On the latter subject, Peter-Michael Diestel, the last Minister of the Interior of the German Democratic Republic, was a guest of a screening of this film at the festival. Bernd Böhlich, the director of UND DER ZUKUNFT ZUGEWANDT (To the future turned we stand), and his film team were also pleased about a crowded cinema hall when their drama film about a young German communist who has been wrongfully convicted under Stalin in the USSR celebrated its German premiere as part of this year’s feature-film competition. Böhlich was accompanied by actresses Swetlana Schönfeld, Barbara Schnitzler, Carlotta von Falkenhayn as well as their fellow male actor Peer Jäger. A large audience moreover attended the screening of Evelyn Schmidt’s DAS FAHRRAD and SEITENSPRUNG in their recently digitised editions. The 29th FILMKUNSTFEST MV also commemorated Heinz Brinkmann, one of the festival’s co-founders, in a special In Memoriam screening of his film FALLWURF BÖHME. Heinz Brinkmann passed away on April 4th, 2019.

Actors Christoph M. Ohrt, Steffen Groth, Volker Zack, Ole Lagerpusch, Steffen Scheumann as well as actresses Gabriela Maria Schmeide, Margarita Breitkreiz, Sabrina Reiter, Daria Nosik, Anna Florkowski, Anna Hornstein, Birte Schnöink, Jennifer Sabel and Christina Große also attended the FILMKUNSTFEST MV this year. Directors Edward Berger, Erec Bremer, Peter Wawerzinek, Matthäus Wörle, Petra Lüschow, Evelyn Schmidt, Juliane Ebner, Christin Freitag, Katrin Schlösser, Annekatrin Hendel, Miriam Bliese, Nicole Huminski, Thomas Bartels and Anna Schwingenschuh presented their latest films in Schwerin, but there was also quite a number of producers, film distributors, cinematographers and editors present. 

The topic of this year’s Film Industry Conference, hosted by FILM COMMISSION MV on May 2nd and attended by some 50 spectators, was the current status of film and media subsidies in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, a topic Minister President Manuela Schwesig also addressed during her speech at the opening ceremony when she committed to both Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania as a filming location and upgrading the film subsidies. Along the intended institutional restructuring for the film subsidies, the representative of the state chancellery also announced that, in all likelihood and still in 2019, there may be a newly established award conferred upon cinema proprietors in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania for running an outstanding and high-class film programme for the very first time. FILMLAND MV General Manager Volker Kufahl emphasised the increasing attractivity of filming locations in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania and pointed out that by more appealing motivators and promotional instruments for the local creative enterprises this attractivity might be boosted.

Michael Lehmann of Studio Hamburg and Jochen Coldewey of Nordmedia Film- und Medienförderung Niedersachsen explained in another discussion what requirements need to be implemented for a long-lasting successful film and media funding in an ever-changing media landscape. The following day, FILM COMMISSION MV invited the guests of the Film Industry Conference to join a tour to exceptional filming locations in Schwerin and its environs.