More or Less Insignificant

in 50th International Short Film Festival Oberhausen

by Rolf Rüdiger Hamacher

Lengths of wallpaper are being rolled down, a man riding a horse crosses the picture and illustrious figures find themselves in romantic moments. And no – this is no commercial for the summer sales of “Wallpaper-Müller” from the 50s nor is it advertising the next (CHIO-) Riding Championship. It is the jubilee trailer of the International Shortfilm Days Oberhausen which in its insignificant substance reflects perfectly the majority of this year’s festival contributions.

The tendency had been predictable over the last years when digital cameras more and more became the handicraft of filmmakers, and since the productions’ aesthetic suitability for the large cinema screen has not been questioned for a long time now.

The fear of the pre-selecting jury to develop clear criteria to avoid dilettantism and “arts and crafts” begins to show its foul results: almost 4000 filmmakers from 87 countries simply had a go at it. And this year’s chosen 68 contributions from 36 different countries had – even with “cinematic nonsense” – high chances to get into the competition of the only A-festival following Berlin: a two-minutes-long picture tainted in blue in which blurry features leave no possibilities for interpretation…”This is the last view of someone in coma”, explains the Aserbaidschan director Rauf Khalilov to the irritated audience.

Many of the works surprisingly resulted from this filmmakers’ unability to communicate any content to their audiences in an artistic way. In a depoliticised society where it is “out” to lay fingers on the wounds of this world and fun has been declared life’s maxim – most of the filmmakers at this years festival sent their audiences into the screenings with a cheerful “Enjoy!” – the Short Film, too, has been sacrificed to artistic vagueness.

This is taken as far as to infantile tastelessness, like in “Habana Holiday”, a “holiday video” by the American director Chris Maher, in which Cuban callboys masturbate in front of the camera and the insert “sells” this as a symbol of US-Cuban togetherness.

And even literary works, like those used by the Norwegian director Knut Asdam in his relationship-drama “Filter City”, seem almost ridiculous as here they are deprived of their context. Yet to mention is Asdam’s director of photography Chung Pai . His (video) pictures are of a clarity and beauty rarely seen even in traditional 35mm-productions.

This year’s festival blur was definitely shaken by two “pupils” of Ken Loach and Mike Leigh whose social realism is continued in Andrea Arnold’s well-felt (youth) study “Wasp” and Duane Hopkin’s “Love me or Leave me”. Maybe it is no coincidence that these two English productions are made by women whose society-critical view proves – like in further female-directed films in Oberhausen – to be much sharper and more original than that of many of their male colleagues who don’t seem to have grown out of (artistic) puberty yet.

Old qualities of the Short Film Days had to be brought back to life by Japanese director-veteran Kanai Katsu. His “Super Documentary: Zeneisenjutsu” – defined by humanity and self-irony – told us more about man and his culture within half an hour than thousands of other minutes of film at this more or less insignificant festival.