Barbara Wurm • Programmer, goEast Film Festival
“My primary interest is to address contemporary questions by looking back on film history”
by Ioana Florescu
- We chatted to Barbara Wurm, goEast Film Festival programmer and head of the festival’s Symposium section, to get the low-down on this year’s edition
We spoke to Barbara Wurm, goEast Film Festival programmer and head of the festival’s Symposium section, about the recently concluded 2019 edition of the German gathering (10-16 April). A lecturer at Humboldt University in Berlin and a regular collaborator with DOK Leipzig, she is also part of the newly appointed selection committee of the Berlinale.
Cineuropa: The theme of this year’s goEast Symposium was “Constructions of the Other – Roma and the Cinema of Central and Eastern Europe”. What were the reasons for choosing to focus on this topic?
Barbara Wurm: Our aim was to put together a critical review of the (yet-to-be-reconstructed) history of “Gypsy cinema”, analysing the quintessentially discriminatory methods of representation when it comes to depicting “Gypsies” on screen. And we wanted to do this even if the stereotyping – especially in the context of romanticism, such as the theme of the “desire for freedom” – may present a positive image, thanks to the many initiatives, undertaken by Roma and non-Roma alike, to make Roma (film) culture an integral part of our society. We wanted to discuss the boundaries of the imagination, projection and the realities of perception. Of course, we are not the first to deal with the topic of the Roma. Other festivals such as the one in Cottbus had a similar focus, but they showed more recent (and documentary) films. I wanted our programme to cover a wider range of historical and political periods, and thus a broader array of issues. What’s special about the goEast Symposium is the combination of screenings, discussions and lectures. For me, this section is unique and corresponds with my primary interest: to address contemporary questions by looking back on film history.
Are there any new trends or developments in CEE cinema that are becoming more noticeable in this year’s main competition?
I don’t necessarily see any new developments. As part of the selection team, I think our aim should also be to show an interest in certain directors, in discovering them and in continuing to exhibit their work. goEast is a small festival, but we have strong ties to a number of filmmakers. That Krzysztof Zanussi, Sergei Loznitsa and Želimir Žilnik come here to present their work is very important, especially for young film directors who are always looking for inspiration. The competition might not be as strong as it was in previous years, but I think we have high-quality films, also in relation to our interest in political history, such as the feature Jan Palach [+see also:
film profile] and Eszter Hajdú’s Hungary 2018 [+see also:
film profile]. Also – and maybe this is one trend – in the last few years, the number of genre films has increased, and I am happy that we have been able to include some of them. Take The Riddle of Jaan Niemand, for example, and also the new György Pálfi film, His Master’s Voice [+see also:
film profile], which is a sort of genre parody. The competition often brings back directors who we discovered at the very early stages of their career. That was the case last year with Zhanna Issabayeva. This year, that filmmaker would be Adilkhan Yerzhanov, who is here with his film The Gentle Indifference of the World [+see also:
interview: Adilkhan Yerzhanov
film profile]. We had his film Constructors in competition here when he was not yet widely known.
You are part of the newly appointed selection committee of the Berlinale. What are your aims and expectations? How important will CEE cinema be in terms of your activity there?
I cannot say much at this point, because I have only known about this change for the past few weeks. I don’t think it should be a problem for Central and Eastern European films to attract attention at the Berlinale, especially considering the fact that Locarno (where Carlo Chatrian and some of the other programmers come from) already provided some pretty strong coverage of CEE cinema. As a member of the Berlinale 2020 selection team, I will watch films from all around the world, of course, but in advance of that, I will especially be monitoring new films from Russia and all of the other “post-soviet” countries. As for CEE cinema, many countries have well-established sales structures and industry networks. That’s a good thing. But as a curator, I also refer to my own experience, instincts and preferences instead of relying on what the national agencies are promoting, especially at this unique moment in history, when political and ideological issues are on the rise again.
Is there anything you think should be emphasised more strongly from now on in the Berlinale selection? Is there anything that should change? The festival has been on the receiving end of some strong criticism in recent years.
It would be more fitting for the new artistic director to answer that question. I can only comment on that from my position as a film critic who has also been attending, observing, loving and criticising the festival over the years. I believe that the Berlinale has a major structural issue: trying to merge the huge public interest, its tradition as a politically relevant festival, and its many sections. The biggest change is that Carlo Chatrian, as artistic director, will have an overview of what’s going on. He will put the jigsaw together. There’s a lot of fresh air, and I would say even great expectations, wherever I go. I am looking forward to the challenges; we have a strong, experienced new team, so any changes will come naturally.
You have been working as a programmer for a long time. Has your method of evaluating and selecting films developed or changed?
I think that over the years, one gets a bit more mature and relaxed when it comes to judging films. Watching is exciting, whereas making decisions usually isn’t (even if it does get quite emotional). When I started programming, I used to pay attention to all kinds of details, such as camera movements, angles and the aesthetic aspects. In the beginning, you always think there are some rules that one has to follow in order to understand whether a film is good or not. Now I look at the work in a bigger context. I am interested in a film’s political potential, even if it’s on a small, personal scale. I prefer projects that don’t follow mainstream tendencies. By that I don’t mean that arthouse cinema will save the planet; actually, it has become quite conventional over the last few decades. Thus, blockbusters should also be eligible. The ideal combination for me would involve both new trends in auteur film, and (genre) projects that pay close attention to the history of cinema and that go far beyond straightforward or “lullaby mode” narratives.
Did you enjoy reading this article? Please subscribe to our newsletter to receive more stories like this directly in your inbox.