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Albert Wiederspiel • Head of Filmfest Hamburg

“It is crucial to show that Europe is still plural”

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- Albert Wiederspiel, head of Filmfest Hamburg, talks to us about the gathering’s 2018 programme, politics and its handling of Netflix

Albert Wiederspiel  • Head of Filmfest Hamburg
(© Filmfest Hamburg/Wolfgang Schildt)

Yesterday, the 26th edition of the Filmfest Hamburg kicked off with the Icelandic comedy Woman at War [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Benedikt Erlingsson
interview: Benedikt Erlingsson
film profile
]
 by Benedikt Erlingsson. This year, the festival is presenting a programme brimming with 138 films from 57 countries. We talked to its head, Albert Wiedserspiel, to get the low-down on the event.

Cineuropa: Which issues are shaping the profile of Filmfest Hamburg?
Albert Wiederspiel: We are proud of the fact that 60% of the films in our line-up are European. Especially at times like these, when Europe is drifting apart, it is crucial to show that the continent is still plural and that there are some great films in many countries. And that also includes countries we don’t completely see eye to eye with in a political way. This year, we are presenting 42 films by female directors, and 36 movies by filmmakers who previously had a film at our festival in the past. Furthermore, we are showing 29 pictures by first-time directors because festivals have an important responsibility to provide a platform for newcomers.

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Will these films ever be released theatrically?
We are showing 138 films in our line-up. So far, 33 of those movies have a German distributor, which means that more than 100 are only being presented exclusively at Filmfest Hamburg. We are delighted to present films as previews before they open, but our core competence is to showcase titles that can’t otherwise be seen in cinemas.

Why don’t these films have a chance to be released theatrically?
We all know that the market is mature. The arthouse exhibitors are criticising the fact that there are too many movies on the market – and they are right. That is why many European films, as well as productions from more exotic countries, don’t have a chance to get a release in cinemas. 

Has this trend changed the role of festivals?
Absolutely, but in the meantime, festivals have their own position in the movie exhibition chain. For many producers and sales agents, festivals like Filmfest Hamburg represent their only source of revenue on the German market if the film can’t be sold. If we only had countries like Germany, and no strong arthouse countries like France and Switzerland, the sales agent would not be able to survive. Formerly, directors would only attend festivals for the glory; nowadays, the presentation of a film at festivals brings glory but is also a business case.

Is it a conflict of interest for you to present Roma by Alfonso Cuarón at the Filmfest Hamburg even though you are a member of the CICAE arthouse confederation, which called up festivals to persuade them to boycott films distributed by Netflix?
The fact that I am a member of CICAE doesn’t mean that I agree with the organisation on all points. Fortunately, we have freedom of opinion. There is a conflict between Netflix and the exhibitors, in which we adopt an advantageous position for the filmmakers. I think it is all about showing the best films. I do have a lot of respect for the honourable approach of Cannes director Thierry Frémaux and his decision to only show movies that will be released theatrically. I don’t think that this will gain acceptance in the long run. Netflix and Amazon are players that we can no longer ignore.

I don’t want to pass up good movies by the Coen brothers or Cuarón simply because they will be released by Netflix – on the contrary: I think that it is our task as festivals to show the audience these movies on the big screen. Therefore, we will be presenting Roma as a special event. 

What are the other highlights on the programme?
We will open with the power-to-the-people story Woman at War from Iceland, in which a woman is a choirmaster during the day while at night she commits ecotage against the aluminium industry. The Douglas Sirk Award will be presented to Jafar Panahi. We have a strong affinity with Iranian cinema, and Panahi was our guest before the international furore he caused. Therefore, it is the right time to honour him with an award. We are also presenting his new film, 3 Faces. He can’t attend the awards show, but we are expecting his daughter, Solmaz Panahi, and the lead actress, Behnaz Jafari. Russian director Kirill Serebrenikov, who is also very much "grounded" in his homeland, directed Summer [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Ilya Stewart
film profile
]
, an extremely light-footed film about the underground music scene in the 1980s. He directed the movie via Skype. He will also direct Nabucco at the Hamburg State Opera in April next year in the same way, if his house arrest isn’t over by then.

As the closing-night film, we are presenting Paolo Sorrentino’s political and grotesque Loro [+see also:
trailer
film profile
]
, about Silvio Berlusconi. This kind of bunga bunga culture already existed in England in the early 18th century, as Yorgos Lanthimos points out in The Favourite [+see also:
film review
trailer
film profile
]
. Even then, it was all about sex and power. And now, after 40 years, we have a sequel to the cult movie Halloween. We are delighted that lead actress Jamie Lee Curtis will be here to proudly present Halloween at the Filmfest Hamburg.

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