... And The "Flying Ox" Goes To: Sterne Unter Der Stadt

in 32nd Schwerin Film Festival

by Bettina Hirsch

The Filmkunstfest Mecklenburg-Vorpommern is considered to be the most important film festival in eastern Germany and attracts visitors from all regions of the country. Located in Schwerin, the state capital of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, the atmosphere of the festival is wonderful, familiar and personal. The Baltic Sea is not far away and seagulls perch on the roof of the imposing cathedral. Hometown pride shows in the festival’s regional program section “Filmed in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern”, and the festival’s award trophies are in the shape of an ox, which is Schwerin’s heraldic animal.

Each year, the festival selects a featured country, and this time it was Norway. In January, artistic director Volker Kufahl traveled all the way to Tromsø in the Arctic Circle to bring a selection of outstanding Norwegian films from the world’s northernmost film festival all the way to Schwerin. In contrast to the heavy snow and sub-zero temperatures in Tromsø, holding the festival in the spring at the beginning of May meant that Schwerin was just coming into bloom, showing an array of terrific Norwegian features, documentaries and short films from the last two years.

Part of the selection was Ninjababy (2022) by Yngvild Sve Flikke, which had already won awards when it screened in the Generation 14plus section at the Berlinale and the Nordic Film Days in Lübeck last year. The story revolves around a likable yet maladjusted young woman who is always on the verge of a nervous breakdown and does not make it easy for those around her. It’s a great comedy drama that will surely make you laugh a second time around. 

There were indeed plenty of films on show at this year’s 32nd edition of the Filmkunstfest that evoke laughter from the audience. Hearts flew to the comedy First Snow of Summer (Sterne unter der Stadt, 2023) from Austria. “Director Chris Raiber succeeds in creating a cinematic fairy tale full of poetic images, whether painted, spoken or staged – you laugh, you cry and you are in the midst of this world full of joie de vivre and longing,” is how the feature film jury described this film, with its wonderful ideas and images. The protagonists experience in a poetic way how hard it is not to fall in love. In the dark tunnel system of Vienna’s subway underworld, whimsical film evenings and performances take place. A love unfolds like a storybook. The colors of the film underline the surreal events. Not only the feature film jury with Dieter Kosslick as president was enchanted by the film. It is a true gem, a little work of art. Since Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s The Fabulous World of Amelie (2001), not many films have managed to create this fairy-tale-like atmosphere without sliding into endless kitsch. Needless to say that Raiber’s film was also one of the favorites of our jury and a serious contender for the FIPRESCI award.

In the end, the Austrian production that had its German premiere in Schwerin won the main prize for best feature film, the “Flying Ox”. In addition, First Snow of Summer was honored in another category: Actress Verena Altenberger received the award for best acting performance for her portrayal of protagonist Caro. The jury stated: “Verena Altenberger truly awakens her character of Caro with a sense of lightness despite all of the heaviness and sadness. She embraces life filled with longing and strength and manages to fully let go through trust and love.” In response to her award, Altenberger sent probably one of the funniest video messages ever, because she couldn’t attend the festival in person: The actress was seen jumping across the lawn with sheer joy, several times from right to left, from left to right, out and into the frame, followed by her jumping dog, which most likely had no idea why she was so pleased. The role of Caro seemed all the more fitting for her after this brilliant performance in her video message.

It was a witty and entertaining end to such a wonderful film festival. The Filmkunstfest in Schwerin is a real insider tip among the festivals in German-speaking countries. We are definitely excited to find out which films will be shown next year in the city of seven lakes and forests.

Bettina Hirsch
Edited by Pamela Jahn