47th Viennale - Vienna International Film Festival

Austria, October 22 - November 4 2009

The jury

Jan Lumholdt (Sweden), Milan Vlajcic (Serbia), Dennis Lim (US), Thomas Taborsky (Austria)

Awarded films

The word “obstinate” is sometimes used to describe the philosophy of the Viennale, just finishing its 47th edition since 1960. Obstinate in regards to relying on experimental and avant-garde cinema, on obscure filmmakers, unknown or barely known to the staunchest of cinephiles, on documentaries completely void of any Michael Moorish jestings, on unearthed treasures from yesteryears, sometimes silent but with live musical accompaniment. Here, Straub and Mekas are mainstream fare. If there’s a star at the Viennale, it will be Jane Birkin or Fay Wray. They will be treated imperially, but they will have to do without a red carpet, for such fabric does not exist here. Still, 90,000 tickets are sold every year (almost 95,000 this year), proving that “obstinate” indeed pays off.              

2009 proved a typically obstinate Viennale year, presenting tributes to Scottish maverick actress Tilda Swinton, Filipino auteur director Lino Brocka and American cult character actor Timothy Carey. An extensive retrospective devoted to “Transgressive Comedies from the U.S.”, billed The Unquiet American, was lovingly curated by Feinschmecker critic Jonathan Rosenbaum and included titles such as The King of Comedy, The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T and Duck Soup. You can’t go wrong with that.            

Though (as to be expected) the Viennale shuns a regular competition, a FIPRESCI jury is regularly present, awarding its prize to a debut or follow-up feature film, be it fictional or documentary. Picking the Top Banana from an incredibly, almost provocatively mixed basket of exotic fruits, indeed proved a challenge. Actually, a mandarin was finally chosen — the utterly fascinating Survival Song (Xiao li zi), a harsh, yet beautifully poetic documentary portrayal of the industrialisation of China and of the disappearing culture of forest ranging in the wilderness of Manchuria. Director Yu Guangyi is as yet fairly unknown, but shouldn’t be, is the staunch opinion of this obstinate jury. (Jan Lumholdt)

Viennale – Vienna International Film Festival: www.viennale.at