Anna Henckel-Donnersmarck • Head of Berlinale Shorts
“I don’t have to create much of a buzz because the films themselves already do it and the audience trusts us”
- BERLINALE 2020: As Berlinale Shorts gets into full swing, Cineuropa talks to Anna Henckel-Donnersmarck about her first year as head of the section and the freedoms of the short form
A former animation and documentary student at the Filmakademie Baden Württemberg, Anna Henckel-Donnersmarck has worked at numerous festivals across Germany including Filmwinter Stuttgart, the ZEBRA Poetry Film Festival and the renowned International Animation Film Festival Stuttgart (ITFS). 12 years ago, she was asked by the then new shorts curator at the Berlinale Maike Mia Höhne to be part of the festival’s short selection committee. With Höhne moving on to the Hamburg International Short Film Festival last year, Henckel-Donnersmarck now finds herself as the new Head of Berlinale Shorts.
Cineuropa managed to catch Henckel-Donnersmarck to share some of her thoughts, as the Berlinale shorts programme gets under way.
Cineuropa: In your first year as Head of Berlinale Shorts, how are you looking to build upon what has gone before and to apply your own vision to Berlinale Shorts?
Anna Henckel-Donnersmarck: I think Maike Mia Höhne established a very good base for the short films at Berlinale. We get the big cinemas, we are part of the award ceremony and our filmmakers walk across the red carpet on Saturday. So shorts already have a great position in the festival, and this is very much thanks to Maike. It made it very easy for me to build upon. The team is also great. I kept most of the people — though some moved on to other positions — and these are people who know the festival, love the festival and enjoy working with one another.
When travelling to festivals — especially other A-Festivals — I realised what a great audience we have in Berlin, so that is what I am focusing on. We have these beautiful films, so how do we bring them to a wider audience, even outside of the Berlinale? And what is the potential of short film in general — in terms of curation and outside of the film festival context? That is what I am curious about.
Practically, this year, we had industry screenings for press and programmers, so they could watch one short film programme after another, which makes their life easier. At the end of public screenings, as we did in the years before, we have a Q&A with cast and crew of 2 or 3 questions. But this year, we added the events ‘Shorts take their time’, taking place in a smaller, cosier and more inviting cinema. There, we talk about the films together with the audience, which is an opportunity for viewers to join the conversation, and because we have more time, we can go into more details — it’s a three-hour slot and the screening lasts about 90 minutes.
We are also going to revive our blog (click here) which will host interviews with filmmakers. I also invited the curatorial team as well as other members of the team to share their thoughts on there.
This year’s Berlinale Shorts comes with the subtitle “On the freedom not to take away your freedom.” Can you expand on that a little?
I think the short form — maybe because it is a little under the radar — allows for great freedom and liberty. A short film does not have to fulfil established expectations. Within the medium of short film, you can constantly redefine your language, your aesthetics, your tools and also your themes and subject matter, and that’s a wonderful starting point for exploration and for making films. I’m very curious as to what people do with that freedom.
At the same time, if you look around in many countries, freedom is being taken away. But I also have the feeling that, sometimes, we take away our own freedom ourselves because we want to fulfil expectations. We don’t want to provoke or get things wrong. In German, there is this beautiful expression “Die Schere im Kopf haben”, which means, “you have the scissors already in your head”. In trying to avoid censorship, you already begin to censor yourself. So I am curious about the moments when liberties and freedoms are taken, but I am also interested in the way we sometimes take away our own freedoms ourselves.
How do you make the shorts stand out amongst the incessant buzz of an A-List film festival and all its attendant features and stars?
I think I can rely on the audience. All of today’s screenings are sold out, in cinemas screens that have between 700 and 800 seats. Berlin has a very curious and open minded audience. I spoke to someone the other day who has nothing to do with film. At Berlinale, he only watches the short films and I asked him why. He said that his time is limited and this is the only place where he can see good quality short films – or, indeed, any short films. That is a great audience. So I don’t have to create much of a buzz because the films themselves already do it, and the audience trusts us.
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