Long Live Cinema!

in 61st Mannheim-Heidelberg International Film Festival

by Wilfried Reichart

How does an unmarried woman teacher in Morocco live? Or a Tehuelche Indian in the southern edge of the Argentine Andes? How do psychopathic sisters in the county of Kent, an incapacitated mother in Austin, a disturbed daughter in Sydney cope with their lives? What about Muslims in Montréal, mushroom hunters in the woods of New Jersey and Estonia, the employee of a phone company in the southern Indian state of Karnataka and a Dutch apprentice in the kitchen of a Japanese master for fish?

“Live! But how?” asked the 61st International Film Festival Mannheim-Heidelberg and assembled its International Competition and International Discoveries in this regard.The director of the festival, the intellectual Dr. Michael Kötz, reflected in a long essay on life and what really counts.

“We live in times in which people’s lives consist only of being connected to the great “economy machine” that never stands still: earning money, spending money, pursuing careers, being promoted, getting fired, consolidating an expanding consumption, one’s private life merging into all this until it ceases to exist.

The consequences are the dwindling in importance of a loving relationship, of family, children, affability, nature, lifetime, life and death, happiness and misery, self-awareness and friendships. So the consequences are anything but negligible. They are so serious that it has to be a surprise that the storm of protest has not yet begun… which is why it is time to make the film festival a place where this question is raised, about “Live your life! But how?”

The festival director’s attitude harbors a risk. He reduces films to contents, statements, messages, yet neglects to look at their aesthetic, the quality of image and sound. What makes a film outstanding isn’t the “what“ (the right topic) but the “how“ (its formal realization). Therefore several films could be found in the International Competition whose social commitment paved their way for the Competition. However, there were also films to be found that suited the theme, but convinced primarily by their dramaturgy.

Michael Kötz is originally a film critic. He used to write very pronounced and very sophisticated essays about films for the “Frankfurter Rundschau“. As a festival director he feels responsible for his audience from Mannheim and Heidelberg. Using the slogan “Live! But How?” he lured them to the two cinemas in the Mannheim “Stadthaus” and the tents at the Heidelberg castle grounds high above the historic city centre. And it works. People come together. They are encouraged to think about their own lives and about the lives of others in Morocco, China, Patagonia, Estonia, India, Poland… The cineastes may meet in an extra place to discuss montage, framing, images and sounds, the aesthetics of the material.

What’s next? What will be the theme of the 62nd International Film festival Mannheim-Heidelberg? A proposal: Loneliness. Inspired by a newspaper announcement I read in the “B.Z. Berlin” yesterday: Cult film director Wim Wenders (67) warns against isolation and therefore finds a growing significance of the cinema in times of Facebook and Twitter. “During the lingering physical isolation of humans, not least caused by the so called social networks, the cinema will gain importance.” assures the film director  (responsible for Wings of Desire (Germany, 1987) and adds “Being in a cinema is not a virtual but a real experience!”


Edited by Steven Yates