World Cinema! Culture in the Grid! These are the two mottoes for the 65th Mannheim-Heidelberg Film Festival in Bad-Württemberg. Built where the Rhine and the Neckar meet, the thriving industrial city of Mannheim is twenty minutes by train or car from romantic Heidelberg. At both venues, the seventh oldest Film Festival in the world presented forty films to film-goers this year. A first-time visitor to the city of around 240,000 is charmed by the wide avenues forming what is called the Mannheimer Quadrate. Up to 65% destroyed in the Second World War, Mannheim was rebuilt in the grid system set up in 1811. It is hard to go astray here. Yet, with his flair for the comic absurd, Milos Radovic the director of a delightful Serbian comedy Train Driver's Diary (Dnevnik Masinovode) got lost on his way to the Festival Centre! Happily, he was present to enjoy the general enthusiasm for his cinematographic prowess as the lights went up. And to receive at the closing ceremony the main jury's special mention, while acknowledging both the Audience's award and the recommendation of the jury of cinema owners. The audience voted for the Scottish coming of age road-movie Moon Dogs, by Philip John. Also recommended by the cinema owners, it about a budding rock group. Throughout the year, arthouse cinema is warmly defended in Mannheim by the Cinema Quadrat. Run by an association with various fundings, one of its specialities is an annual festival on the theme of Cinema and Music.
The hallmark of this Festval is its function as an international spring-board to talents hitherto known only to their own countries. To celebrate its 65th anniversary, as well as his own 25th year in office, the Festival's dynamic director, Dr. Michael Kötz, aided and abetted by the Programme Organizer, his wife Daniela, has concentrated on the International Newcomer Section, the Discoveries Section, in Competition or not, and National Independent Cinema. Nineteen films representing the participations, coproductions included, of sixteen different countries,vie for the prize in the International Newcomers Section. A special Newcomer's Award for unusual style went to the Turkish director Cigdem Sezgin for her début film Wedding Dance (Kasap Havasi).The Discoveries selection enriches the programme with films from Algeria, Afghanistan, England and Bangladesh. In keeping with the overall international spirit, the Juries met for a friendly exchange with the Ecumenical Jury under the auspices of Mannheimer Catholic and Protestant churches. We learn that Pope Francis recommends Babette's Feast as an incitement to celebrate the joy of Life. Indeed, the Ecumenical Prize went to The Nest of the Turtledove (Gnizdo Gorlytsi) by Taras Tkachenko from the Ukraine, for its depiction of a married woman working as a maid for a well-off family in Genoa in order to send money home for her husband to build a new home. For her performance, Rimma Zyubina was given a special mention by the international jury, as was the actor Majid Potki in Another Time (Zamani Digar) by the Iranian woman director Nahid Hassanzadeh.
Among the numerous films dealing with women's rights, the Iraqi-German coproduction The Dark Wind (Reseba) by Hussein Hassan, whose subject is the abduction by Daesh terrorists of young women from the Yazidi ethnic and religious group, won the International Jury's main prize. As it happens, the première of the film in Heidelberg was interrupted by a group of some 20-30 protestors from the Yazidi association called Yazidi Worldwide. They stormed on to the stage in opposition to the purportedly distorted representation of the treatment by their own people of some of those victims who succeeded in returning. After the demonstrators were led away from the premises, a public debate took place between the film-director and the audience. Dr. Kötz gave a speech the next day to the effect that such daring films were a programming choice to encourage debate on socio-political issues.
Set in a French style mini-park with Jugendstil lamps along the neat paths, Mannheim's architectural centre-point is a 19th century Romanesque water-tower topped by a statue of the Greek water goddess, Amphitrite. Appropriately perhaps, the FIPRESCI prize went to a first feature fiction about a light-house keeper To Keep the Light by Erika Fae, who also played the title role and wrote the script. Set on an island off the coast of Maine in the mid 19th century, it tells of a thirty-year old widow's struggle to maintain a position as a light-house keeper following her husband's death. Judicious editing and composition, a finely balanced script and beautiful photography combined to make up this striking portrayal of an historical setting with universal appeal. (Eithne O'Neill)
International Film Festival Mannheim - Heidelberg: www.iffmh.de