Jury Talk, or What Was So Special at the Mannheim-Heidelberg International Film Festival

in 62nd International Filmfestival Mannheim-Heidelberg

by Bettina Hirsch

The second-oldest film festival in Germany is well established as one of the most important cultural events in the region, one with international appeal. The Mannheim-Heidelberg International Film Festival was founded in 1952 as the Kultur und Dokumentarfilmwoche, just one year after the foundation of the Berlinale. The festival has two main sections, the International Competition and International Discoveries. In addition to the International Competition, which includes 17 feature films, the audience is presented with a number of other works, ranging from films by the International Jury members and up-and-coming directors to special screenings.

Films in the International Competition are nominated for eight awards and special mentions:

1. Newcomer of the Year, the main award of Mannheim-Heidelberg for the best film in competition, awarded by the International Jury. This year’s winner: Molasses (Melaza)

2. Special Award of Mannheim-Heidelberg, for the best unconventionally narrated film in competition, also awarded by the International Jury. This year’s winner: Tangerines (Mandariinid)

3. Special Award of the International Jury, for an extraordinary performance by a director, actor, writer etc. This year’s winners:  Bending the Rules (Ghaedeye Tasadof) and Before Snowfall (Før Snøen Faller)

4. Special Mentions of the International Jury, for a remarkable film, outstanding acting, music, photography etc. This year’s winner: The New World (De Nieuwe Wereld)

5. International Film Critics Award, awarded by the FIPRESCI Jury, represented by five jury members. This year’s winner: Drift.

6. The Ecumenical Film Prize, awarded by the Ecumenical Jury. This year’s winner: Home (Hemma)

7. The Jury of Cinema Owners recommend films for theatrical distribution. They awarded three films as works that should be screened in German cinemas. This year’s winners: Class Enemy (Razredni sovraznik), Tangerines (Mandariinid) and Cyanide (Cyanure).

8. The Audience Award, issued for any film in the two main sections regardless of genre and length. This year’s winner: Tangerines (Mandariinid).

Being a member of one of the major juries at the festival included watching 17 films from all over the world, evaluating and comparing them with people I had never met. The juries did not know each other before the festival and yet we quickly had to develop a rapport in order to judge the films. This year a very special International Jury had been invited, composed solely of film directors: Kirsi Liimatainen from Finland, Matías Bize from Chilé and István Szabó from Hungary.

Szabó is one of the most important directors in Hungarian and European cinema. He won an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film in 1981 for his masterpiece Mephisto, which featured Klaus Maria Brandauer in the title role. Among his most important films are Colonel Redl (Redl ezredes, 1985), which was also nominated for an Oscar; Dear Emma, Sweet Böbe (Édes Emma, drága Böbe, 1992) and Taking Sides (2001). During the Film Festival in Mannheim-Heidelberg, Szabó’s latest film The Door (Az ajtó), starring Helen Mirren and Martina Gedeck, was screened. Szabó has been affiliated the Festival for quite some time. In 1964 his debut film The Age of Illusions (Álmodozások kora) was screened in Mannheim-Heidelberg, and he was a member of the International Jury in 1968.

Chilean film director Bize, currently a Berlinale scholarship holder, is the youngest member of this year’s jury. His international breakthrough happened in 2003 (at the age of 23!) when he was granted the Mannheim-Heidelberg’s Special Award for his parody Saturday (Sábado). In 2005 his film In Bed (En la Cama), was part of the festival’s “International Discoveries.” In 2010, Bize opened the International Film Festival Mannheim-Heidelberg with his film, The Life of Fish (La Vida de los Peces) as a German premier. In Mannheim-Heidelberg 2013, The Life of Fish could be watched in the section “Films of the International Jury”. The director honors this Film Festival by saying, “They discovered me. My international career started in Mannheim-Heidelberg.” His main movie plots are rather personal, concerning the complicated communication of couples his age. Matías Bize’s new project is called The Memory of Words, which tells a story about the grief surrounding the loss of a child.

Liimatainen’s debut feature film Fortress (Festung), had been invited to this year’s German Film Festival in Ludwigshafen, a town very close to Mannheim). Liimatainen was born in Tampere, Finland, became active in the squatter scene, experienced Marxism and spent a year in communist East Germany at the Internationale Jugendhochschule Berlin, (International Youth Academy Berlin). After returning to Finland and attending a Finish acting school for four years, she discovered that “acting felt somehow one-dimensional and empty”. Returned to a by-then reunited Germany, she studied film directing at the Hochschule für Film und Fernsehen Konrad Wolf in Potsdam-Babelsberg (Film and Television University Konrad Wolf). In 2002, she was a fellow at the Academy of Arts in the Film and Media Art section. Fortress was a much-discussed success with the audience during this year’s Festival in Ludwigshafen. At the moment she is editing her new project: a documentary about her former fellow students during her year studying Marxism in East Germany. What has happened in their lives, now that they have all settled in different countries? Are they still holding on to their ideals about a socialist society? These are the questions she explores.

So, this year’s International Jury had been one of a kind. Although they are all film directors, they represent different generations and show great variety in their future projects. Maybe this is what makes the Festival so special: “Jeder eine Geschichte”, which roughly translates as “Everyone a story”. That was the motto of the 62nd International Film Festival in Mannheim-Heidelberg 2013.

Edited by José Teodoro