Shot in Mecklenburg

in 33rd Schwerin Filmkunstfest

by Wilfried Hippen

Schwerin Filmkunstfest, also known as Filmkunstfest Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, strongly focuses on the films of DEFA Studios, the production center of filmmaking in the former GDR. In this tradition, the festival features documentaries, and three of these documentaries shed light on aspects of the cultural life in Germany’s federal state Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania.

In his documentary Dann gehste eben nach Parchim (Then You Just Go to Parchim), filmmaker Dieter Schumann shows the inner workings of a small theatre in the provincial town of Parchim in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania. Two young actresses recently graduated from an acting school in Hamburg, and the filmmaker followed them for two years with his camera.

For Schumann, this theatre is a microcosm. So he shows much more than how the two young women grow into professional actresses, surviving the Corona pandemic and developing their acting skills. We also get to know the other people working at the regional state theatre, and Schumann shows how the production of one play takes shape from the first reading to the premiere. The film shows the ambition of these professionals who want to prove that the plays they are staging in a little town in the East German hinterland don’t need to be second class, even if all the fame and respect falls on the theatres in Hamburg, Berlin, and Munich. 

The same goes for this film. Schuman let two people working in the theatre compose and play the music score. Julian Dietz works as an actor but is also a pianist, and Björn Pauli, who works as the prop master, is also a professional drummer. Their score is amazingly effective and proves that there is enough talent working at this theatre to produce not only a stage play but also a film.

In the road movie and concert film Im Fluss der Musik -Auf Floßtour mit der Band SCHWESTER (In The Flow of Music—On Raft Tour with the Band SCHWESTER), the camera again follows two young women from Hamburg on a journey in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania. This film was financed without any support from federal film funding and is part of the marketing strategy of the two young musicians who plan to sell it after their concerts. 

Filmmaker Veronika Emily Pohl wrote the script, worked on the camera, and edited the film, which makes it an excellent example of what in Germany is called an “Autorenfilm “. Veronika Emily Pohl is also the third member of the band: the film offers a very subjective view of the concert tour the two singer/songwriters did last summer in the lake district of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania. 

The musicians Meike and Auline lived for a week on a houseboat that floated down the little river Peene. Along their way, they played little open-air venues. These turned out to be meadows, camping sites, and beer gardens. Their small audience was often distracted by food, drinks, and the fine weather. Because the musicians lived and worked with the filmmaker on the houseboat, the film increasingly becomes a travelogue (more a river movie than a road movie) with a bit of music by the band thrown in. 

Im Fluss der Musik is a lovely and atmospheric little film about three young women trying to make a living as artists. In the hot summer, everything is quiet and slow, but the lethargy also evokes the feeling of life in the backwaters of Eastern Germany, one of the poorest parts of Germany. In this sense, this film is more than just a well-made piece of merchandising.

Some little towns in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania are dying, and filmmaker Paul Raatz made his film Unendlicher Raum (winner of the promotional award in the festival’s regional section “Shot in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern”) in one of them. The title means “infinite place,” but that is a threat and not a promise for the future. 

The Western Pomeranian town Loitz has lost about a third of its population since 1990, and the city’s mayor is taking drastic measures that seem more desperate than hopeful. She calls for a cultural center to be a workshop for the city’s future. Annika and Rolando come from Berlin to build this centre, because they won a competition und have a contract for one year. If they finish the cultural center in that year, they will become the house owners. But this house is almost a ruin, and they are supposed to do all the work by themselves. 

Paul Raatz follows them around this year with his camera. Annika has a degree in cultural management, and Rolando is a photographer. They get off to a very hopeful start by repairing the house and making contact with the town’s cultural scene. But it soon becomes apparent that the project has yet to be thought through, and the idealistic young couple becomes increasingly disillusioned because there is a lot of talk and not much else. They plan to organize an art festival in the summer, but no one is interested, so they fail. The couple disappears more and more from the movie, as Paul Raatz himself seems to lose interest in them and concentrates on some local artists instead. One of them is the town poet who sings self-composed love songs about the beauty of his hometown, Loitz. Another one turns musical instruments into mechanical objects. Overall, Unendlicher Raum is a depressing film about a dying town. In the end, Annika and Rolando get their house, but they don’t know what to do with it.

Filmkunstfest MV is one of many local film festivals in Germany. Volker Schlöndorff, honored with the festival’s lifetime award this year, said in an interview that cinemas in Germany might be dying, but that the many festivals in Germany will save cinema culture. The festival in Schwerin proves this point with full screenings even at 11 a.m. and by showing films from the region, like these three documentaries. For the filmmakers, this might well be the only chance to reach a big audience.


Wilfried Hippen
Edited by Anne-Christine Loranger