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Internationale Kurzfilmtage Oberhausen 2014

In its 60th anniversary, Oberhausen sets out to discover a "cinema without film" between experimentation, memory and absence.


We are at the opening of the 60th edition of the International Short Film Festival Oberhausen, the lights go down in the old “Gloria” theatre, one of the five cinemas of the historic Lichtburg FilmPalatz founded in 1931, and main venue of the festival. The screening starts, but the audience can only see itself projected on the screen: an infrared camera is pointed on the attendees. In no time, a kind of sound-collage comes out from the speakers, now broadcasting news from the U.S., commercials and early ’60s music. About 40 minutes later, something unexpected happens: four buff security men pounce on one of the spectators, tugging him away from his seat and then draggin him quickly out of the room. The petrified spectators observe the scene, but after a few moments an applause erupts. It’s not an anti-terrorism action, but a “performance”, part of the this year’s Special Program (Sonderprogramms), created by the organization to introduces the theme of the 60th edition: Memories can’t wait – Film without film, inspired by the eponymous Talking Heads’s track. Always a seismograph of political, social, cultural changes, a privileged window (“Way to the Neighbour”) on works coming from beyond Iron Curtain during the darkest years of the Cold War, then cradle of the so-called New German Cinema of the 60s and its famous motto “Papas kino ist tot”, the festival this year celebrates its past with a wide selection of short films and multimedia works dedicated to its long history, the memory and the future of cinema, and of course, visual experimentation, its distinctive trait. For a brief history of the festival, read here. Here below an old picture of the Lichtburg FilmPalatz once called “Europa Palatz”.


Now in its 60th edition, the International Short Film Festival Oberhausen is a major international crossroad for short films, a must for those who want to stay updated on the state of the visual arts in general, and probably one of the most experimental events for cinema and art, thanks to the variety of forms and genres that it presents to the public. During more than five decades, filmmakers and artists ranging from Roman Polanski to Cate Shortland, from George Lucas to Pipilotti Rist, from Rainer Werner Fassbinder to Werner Herzog and Wim Wenders, have attended the festival and presented their work. The Festival features 5 competitions: the Internationaler Wettberg opened to productions from all over the world, the Deutscher Wettberg only for German works , the NRW for North Rhine -Westphalia productions, the Kinder und Jugendkino focused on short films for children, and the MuVi award for best German music video. The Oberhausen Festival is widely known for its thematic choices – often “dissident” ones –  on which their programs are built, such as “From the Deep” in 2010, which featured many early cinema works from 1898 to 1918; “Shooting Animals” in 2011, dedicated to the history of the “ethological” cinema. In 2012  they celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Oberhausen’s Manifesto of 1962 with its signatories including important figures such as Haro Senft, Alexander Kluge and Edgar Reitz. For this year’s theme Memories cant’ wait – Film without film the Festival has presented an astounding selection of experimental films with the intent to cover the entire spectrum of emerging cinematography, ranging  from the 60 seconds of Peter Pix – Æon by Heller Trine Jensen (Denmark, 2014) to the 65 minutes of Loading Ludwig by Mara Mattuschka (Austria, 1989), the longest work of the entire event, actually a medium-length film – but who cares? Here below a young Werner Herzog at the information point.

werner herzog young

The festival featured around 440 short films from 66 countries, 82 programs in total, 134 films for 5 competitions, 30 world premieres selected from 5,000 submissions received from around the world. The prize money was also pretty impressive: 40,000 euros distributed on the various sections. The most important was the Grand Prize of the city of Oberhausen, which amounts to 8,000 euros, assigned this year to La Estancia by Federico Adorno (Paraguay, 2014): a political shortfilm narrating of a group of peasant entering a forest in search of their missing relatives.  Details about the othere awards can be found here. Among the discussions, panels, seminars, meetings at the coffees and random encounters on the road, Oberhausen is a unique opportunity to meet people from the world of art, culture, institutions and cinema, and to establish contacts. There were in fact about 1120 accredited guest among curators, programmers, producers, distributors, from more than 50 countries, including John Canciani, Internationale Kurzfilmtage Winterthur, Dorothee Richter, OnCurating, Cherie Federico, Aesthetica and ASFF, William Fowler, British Film Institute, Isla Leaver-Yap, Walker Art Center, Sally Berger, MoMA, George Clark, Tate Modern and many more. Here below a still from winner short La Estancia.


This year’s challenging theme, Memories can’t wait – Film without film, was chosen by the curator of the event Mika Taanila, one of the most renowned artists and filmmakers from Finland, who raised a question as bold as fundamental: what becomes of cinema when its key element, the film, is absent? As a partial answer to this inquiry, the programmers have presented an entire sub-genre of obscure and sometimes unintelligible films, difficult to program and almost impossible to see. In many cases these “films without films” were actual performances engaging with the participation and the sensitivity of the audience. By removing the key element – the film itself – from the filmic experience, these works found a new proper function on creating an unpredicted scenario of observation that allowed the memory of the spectator to back-project its visions on the screen so displaying its own personal movie like a daydream. An very intellectual challenge indeed, that through the presentation of films without a specific genre, raises questions about the film as a whole, both in terms of formal and conceptual way. Is cinema still a cultural institution? Does it still have a social function as a place of meeting, mutual experience and aggregation?  These questions are raised by  the current shift of films from cinemas to  galleries and museums, digital media and the internet. Is film really made for the movie theater? Or is its future located elsewhere? What is the difference between a movie watched on your tablet and one projected on a screen? Is cinema still a partecipatory event or has it become an highly individual experience ? Several international artists such as Young- Hae Chang Industries, Chris Petit, Walter Ruttmann, Ernst Schmidt Jr., Michael Snow, Pilvi Takala, and many others have tried to answer with a mix of performances, lectures and projective experiments, and of course, with films. Here below a still from Stillness by Edgar Pêra (Portugal, 2014) one of the films in competition that well-represents the theme of the festival.


Tommaso Fagioli

Tommaso Fagioli

Tommaso Fagioli

Founder @ Good Short Films. Fond of great stories, great thinkers, great food. My motto is: your motto.

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