Cottbus 2014 - A Festival To Remember

in 24th Cottbus Festival of the East European Cinema

by Frank Blum

The annual film festival of Cottbus, a German city near the Czech and Polish borders, has to those that determine their schedule according to geography achieved during recent years the status of the most important showcase of Eastern European cinema. So on the one hand it is easy for Eastern guests to attend and keep in contact in general, but of course the procedure of selecting the best films for the programme is as difficult and weighty a task as it always is for festivals. The result this year was generally convincing, with most of the movies interesting and well-made in terms of content or form.

The satisfying result has its basic motivation probably in the specific situation of Cottbus, which has a special interest in this event as a highly vulnerable promotional tool for the city and region. This is mainly for two reasons. As with many other towns, it had to manage a fundamental change of economic structure in the two decades after Germany was redirected from coal-mining to other economic aims, a change which is always difficult and expensive, and even more expensive for the general East German situation, which still needs support from the federal German government.

The Festival again had a lot of funding support from many businesses, which almost gave the final show in the Stadthalle (Town Hall) the character of just one long advertising campaign, but in reality the whole costs are the common citizen’s burden because the privatised economics give cultural support only under the condition that they get the money back via saving tax –  a German businessman gives not even 10 cents for culture if he isn´t sure that he will get that 10 cents back from public money. So the whole festival budget is financed in the end by the common people’s taxes, which seems to be not quite fair.  However, that rule applies for every festival in Germany, and I fear in most other countries.

The movies in detail took the form of either high art, like The Test (Ispytanie)  from Russia, which had no dialogue at all, through to the Polish crime story Hardcore Disco (Hardkor Disko) with murder and titillating scenes such as a naked woman taking an overlong shower. The FIPRESCI prize went to     Corrections Class (Klass korrektsii), an interesting study of youth behaviour in contemporary Russia. A remarkable film from Kazakhstan, The Owners (Ukili Kamshat), describing the problems of owning private property in that country, got no prize at all, which was an oversight in my eyes. Shot without any support money, which is already remarkable, and banned in its own country because of its critical view on politics, the film should have earned more recognition.

But in general the decisions were right. By the way, among the several festival venues there was Germany’s oldest cinema, the Weltspiegel (World Mirror), which opened in 1911 and still has its beautiful Art Deco facade. So Cottbus has at least one attractive feature that no other German festival has – and every event like this must try to profile itself in a way that appears unique and special. It would be even more unique and special if they had refrained from the queer programme with gay and lesbian films because this is already business as usual at today’s festivals; but of course refraining, if it was intended (I guess it wasn´t), would have appeared provincial and politically incorrect. But a real mistake were those bloody translation machines with headphones lent before the performances starts to people who do not understand either the original language or the English subtitles well; no bad idea, aimed especially at older people who grew up in the communist system and had no English at school, but like in subways, buses and so on they were turned on so loud that sometimes you could get really distracted.

Was it a typical German event? In some ways yes: it was well-organised and the English translation by hosts during the speeches and on papers was considered more important than German, their own language. Imagine this in France –  impossible. Nevertheless, the final impression, after all, was: Well done, Cottbus.

Edited by Carmen Gray