Freedom Film Festival 2002: The Goethe Institut:
Berliners Who Opened Our Eyes to the East
by Wiktor Sadowski © American Cinema Foundation
Database of Russian and Ex-Soviet Union directors
Notes on the Films from the Festival Curator
A series presented in association with the Goethe-Institut Los Angeles
The Freedom Film Festival, in partnership with the Goethe Institut-Los Angeles, presents a series of programs at the Freedom Film Festival in Los Angeles. We will have conversations and screenings with prominent Berliners who played a key role in opening our eyes to the East: Film curators Ulrich Gregor and Erika Gregor, for leading the Forum of Young Cinema; Ron Holloway and Dorothea Moritz, for thirty years of journalism and filmmaking; Volker Koepp, for his honest documentarian's eye; and Manfred Durniok, photographer, director, and Academy Award-winning producer. Come to the Goethe-Institut and join us in showing our guests the hospitality of America's film capital.
The Goethe-Institut Inter Nationes / German Cultural Center in Los Angeles
The Goethe-Institut was founded in 1951 to promote a wider knowledge of the German language abroad and to foster cultural cooperation with other countries, organizing and supporting a wide range of activities in the arts and humanities. It operates worldwide with 128 branches in 76 countries.
The Goethe-Institut Inter Nationes Los Angeles opened in 1984. In cooperation with most of the leading cultural organizations in Southern California, the Goethe-Institut has produced a variety of events and programs in the arts, sciences and cultures with a major emphasis on the performing arts, especially film. This includes the preservation of the rich German film history as much as the furthering of international interest in current German filmproduction. Film festivals and film foundations like the ACF have been instrumental in reaching this goal.
A Fan Letter to the Goethe-Institut Los Angeles
For many years, the Goethe Institut-Los Angeles has been a cultural resource and an artistic ambassador to both the city of Los Angeles and the community of American filmmakers. It is our strongest local voice for German artists, of course, but it also speaks for an emerging common European culture whose values are broadly shared with other EU members. Germans grow up learn-ing about America through sources as diverse as Karl May and Elvis Presley; if Americans, and Hollywood, are to learn more about European attitudes about life, art, and politics, it must start with places like the Goethe Institut. Now under the direction of Ms. Ute Kirchhelle, GILA has become Europe's indispensable cultural center in Los Angeles.
For fourteen years, Goethe Institut cultural officer Margit Kleinman has been the best friend of every American film curator who needs information and insight into the German film scene. She helps all of us-the Sundance Institute, the American Cinematheque, the American Film Institute, UCLA, the Director's Guild, and any number of film teachers, critics, and cineastes. Her gifts as film programmer have brought Los Angeles its firstlook at talents as diverse as Andreas Kleinert, Volker Koepp, Veit Helmer, Andreas Dresen, and Viola Stephan. Margit played a key role in creat- ing the first Freedom Film Festival in 1997, and she has been both advisor and steadfast friend to the festival ever since. —Gary McVey
Cosmopolitan by nature, Berlin film producer Manfred Durniok knows where he has been every moment of his travels. He has the eye and the sensibility of a photographer. And his published album on "People–An Essay of Photographs" is remarkable in underscoring that there are few places on earth where he's not been.
His films are about people too. At 23, while completing his law studies at the Free University in Berlin after a year spent at Harvard University, he made a short documentary titled "People at Bus Stops" (Menschen an Haltestellen). Some 600 films later, mostly as producer, he can boast of an Oscar for Istvan Szabo's "Mephisto" (1981) and a flock of awards and citations gathered at major film festivals. His is a voice that's heard on numerous film and media committees both at home and abroad for international representation for Chinese and other national cinematographies, and as the West Berlin confidant of several key Eastern European filmmakers before and after Gorbachev.
Durniok bought the rights to Mephisto long before the opportunity finally materialized to produce the film in collaboration with Austria and Hungary. "Mephisto," directed by Istvan Szabo with Klaus Maria Brandauer in the title role, also featured actors from Poland and the GDR. In fact, this Academy Award winner for Best Foreign Language Film was as much an Eastern European co-production as it was one of the first major international ventures financed by a German producer.
My own preferences lean toward his film and television treatments of historical events and issues. He collaborated with Polish director Filip Bajon ("Poznan '56," Freedom Film Festival 1997) on The Consul as well as the six-part TV series "Sons of the Prince." Both offered remarkable insists into social and political conditions in pre-war Poland. Gunther Scholz, an ex-DEFA (East German film foundation) film director, was among the documentarians engaged for "Das war die GDR" (This Was the GDR, 1993). The seven-part series covers the 40-year history of the German Democratic Republic as both a TV chronicle and a pictorial album about a republic in the heart of Europe that now no longer exists.
One day someone may chronicle "The Manfred Durniok Years" by way of a biography or a string of interviews. But that need not really be. It's nice to be a legend in your own time.
If one wanted to find a particular phrase to describe Volker Koepp's documentary films, then it would be "warmth and distance." As few other directors do, Koepp understands how to make his figures–quite ordinary people–shine. He finds and directs characters whom we encounter at our own eye level. We come close to those people because Koepp comes so close to them. It is impossible for a documentary portrait to succeed in any other way.
That is why so many viewers recall the heroine in "Herr Zwilling und Frau Zuckermann," a Jewish woman from Czernowicz, whose irony had survived the terror which she had experienced. Or they remember Elspeth from Brandenburg, whose development from 1973 to 1998 was shown in Koepp's "Wittstock" films. As in fictional cinema, these are characters whose effect is concentrated. But this impression of intimacy has nothing in common with the exhibitionism of private television. This is a protected sphere–distance is always maintained.
And that's the reason why there are so very few "bad" characters in Koepp's films; there are no villains. Not because of the pressure for harmony which was dominant in the GDR (German Democratic Republic–East Germany)–where only homeopathic doses of truth could be smuggled in–it is a direct result of the director's attitude. Koepp creates space in which is characters (usually women) can develop, space where they can flirt with the presence of the camera.
... Even the radical political changes of 1989, the disappearance of the GDR, also happened on the sidelines in Koepp's films. His eye is always focused on detail, on small concrete things. We do not see the revolution by the Brandenburg Gate, but in the provinces, where no television camera was watching. And for precisely this reason, those who want to know–in fifty years time–what everyday life was like then will watch these films. ––Stefan Reinecke
The following films are part of the Volker Koepp screenings presented by the Goethe Insitut-Los Angeles and the Freedom Film Festival:
Herr Zwilling und Frau Zuckermann
126 min. Color
A delicate and careful documentary about two Bukovina Jews, who have survived the persecution of Germans and Romanians.
"This captivating film is a valuable addition to the cinema of the Holocaust" —Kevin Thomas, Los Angeles Times
"In [Koepp's] sympathetic hands, Mr. Zwilling and Mrs. Zuckermann become a slice of 20th century history and a treatise on old age, platonic companionship, and the ineluctable ties of home." —Hazel Dawn Dumpert, L.A. Weekly
110 min. Black and white
Part of a series of seven films, made over a 23 year period, observing the lives of women workers in a small town factory in Brandenburg.
"He moves us through the lives of three beautifully candid, funny, and sensitive women. And as they marry, have children, and share the changes brought about by their country's unification, the picture reverberates with a very real feeling of both history and human experience." —Hazel Dawn Dumpert, L.A. Weekly
(1993) 111 min. Black and white
By the time the GDR (German Democratic Republic; East Germany) came to an end, the Soviet-German mining company "Wismut" had produced 230,000 tons of enriched uranium with the help of half a million workers. Accompanied by a cameraman, a microphone, and a Geiger counter, Koepp visited the ravaged landscapes, radioactive villages, and citizens living with a life-threatening legacy.
Dr. Ron Holloway is not your typical Chicagoan. His dissertation at the University of Hamburg was called "The Religious Dimension in the Cinema, with particular reference to the films of Carl Theodor Dreyer, Ingmar Bergman, and Robert Bresson." Author of six books on film history and criticism, he has researched and originated The Holloway Files, a databank on film directors from the republics of the ex-USSR, which is on line at www.cinemafoundation.com. For the past 30 years, Ron has been a Berlin-based correspondent on film, television, and the media for Variety, The Hollywood Reporter, and Moving Pictures International. Since 1979, he, with his wife, actress Dorothea Moritz, has published the magazine KINO, an invaluable guide to central and eastern European film.
Dorothea Moritz graduated from the State Acting School in Hamburg. As a character actress, she made a memorable impression in Niklaus Schilling's "Der Willi-Busch-Report," Sohrab Shahid Saless's "Ordnung" (Order), Aleksandar Petrovic's "Gruppenbild mit Dame" (Group Portrait with Lady), Percy Adlon's "Die Schaukel" (The Swing), and Andrzej Wajda's "Eine Liebe in Deutschland" (A Love in Germany), among many others. She is well known in Berlin for her literary readings in the Dom zu Berlin (Berlin Cathedral), where a faithful fan club convenes for sold-out performances.
Both Holloways have served on numerous juries at international film festivals. In 1999 Ron was awarded the Bundesverdienstkreuz (Service Merit Cross, Federal Republic of Germany). In 2000, he received the Golden Medaille Cannes, awarded by Gilles Jacob and Pierre Viot. But among his most cherished prizes is the one he shares with Dorothea; they were both awarded Polish Rings in 1982, presented to them by Andrzej Wajda and the Association of Polish Filmmakers.
In partnership with the Goethe Insitut-Los Angeles, we present two documentaries directed by Ron Holloway and produced by Dorothea Moritz:
50 min. Color and black & white
Russian with English subtitles
Klimov is more than just a portrait of Elem Klimov, the charismatic leader of the Union of Soviet Filmmakers. It also takes the pulse of the Soviet film industry in the throes of change. As an award-winning filmmaker in his own right–Agonia (1975),"Farewell" (1981), "Go and See" (1985)–Klimov discusses the changing political climate that affected the degrees of acceptance of his films: banned, shelved, or embraced. He openly discusses the efforts of the Filmmakers' Union to fight back against state censorship and interference at the production studios, and demand authorial rights from Party Chairman Mikhail Gorbachev.
"The film manages to communicate the force and integrity of this charismatic figure... The battles he spearheaded, such as the unshelving of films banned for up to 20 years, come through strongly." —Deborah Young, Variety
Parajanov: A Requiem
57 min. Color and black & white
The film shows the unique world of artist Sergei Parajanov, whose brilliant images in films and collages aroused the suspicion of Soviet authorities. Unexpectedly, this last all-embracing interview, given at the 1988 Munich Film Festival, has become a film legacy. Parajanov was born an Armenian in Georgia. He studied at the Moscow Film School and worked as a director in the Ukraine. His stylistic vitality and "plasticism"–a term he used to describe his films–enabled him to creative universal images. Among his most famous films were Shadows of Our Forgotten Ancestors (1965/86, banned),The Color of Pomegranates (1969/86, banned), Legend of the Suram Fortress (1984) and Ashik Kerib (1988). "Parajanov" was invited to the Venice International Film Festival.
Since the mid-sixties,have championed visionary films that advance the art of filmmaking. Through the year-round program of Kino Arsenal, and for 30 years through leadership of the Forum section of the Berlin International Film Festival, the Gregors have helped open the eyes of millions of serious filmgoers to the national cinematographies of India, Korea, and Taiwan. Above all, they were pioneers in linking the Communist East to the capitalist West in the final twenty years of the Cold War.
As hard as it is to believe now, the festival located in the world's most emblematic East-West city did not pay a great deal of attention to eastern Europe until the turbulence of the late sixties. At that time, Ulrich and Erika Gregor were organizing Arsenal programs in parallel to, and independent from, the Berlinale competition. From 1971, they were invited to make that relationship permanent, creating the International Forum of Young Cinema as an official section of the festival.
Many of the Gregors' selections, and those of their colleagues, were heavily political in those early days, and, even after the cooling of radical passions, the Forum has retained its interest in history and politics. But politics alone has never been enough of a reason to extend a Forum invitation; the films have to have visual sense, innovative (not merely flashy) style, and some evidence of seriousness of purpose. And, like good doctors, the Gregors make lots of "house calls," travelling tens of thousands of miles each year to little known or out-of-the-way places that might bring us the next Alexander Askoldov or Yuri Mamin. And they do this while bringing calm, dignity, and intelligence to a field that is always badly in need of those qualities.
PANEL: Why Does the World Need Film Festivals
Los Angeles area film festival directors discuss the future of international film festivals with Ulrich and Erika Gregor, long time curators of the Forum section of the International Filmfestival Berlin.
Moderator: Hazel-Dawn Dumpert, film critic, L.A. Weekly