Short Films, in Times of War

in 49th International Short Film Festival Oberhausen

by Sibylle Dahrendorf

No films, but words opened the 49th International film Festival in Oberhausen. “Media-War-Culture. About the responsibility of culture and the media in times of war”. This was the topic of a panel discussion that opened the Short Film Festival Oberhausen this year, exploring the role of the media in times of war and the responsibility of intellectualls, artists and scientists. This had been preceeded by a Festival press release which caused an uproar in the German press after the beginning of the war in Iraq because, quote, the Festival had decided “not to allow official representatives of the Aznar, Berlusconi, Blair and Bush administrations at the Festival”. One of the few statements that culture, theatre or film festivals had pronounced after the war began.

The discussion followed the main points, which already had been discussed in Germany during the war situation, followed mainly three questions: What is the responsibility of artists and how should they take up positions, polarizing and provoking positions or it’s their duty to mediate, far removed from poltical actionism and what kind of role does the mass media play?

A corresponding and better link could be found in the special program of the Festival “relocalization””. The program explored the effects of globalisation on politics, economy, culture and every day life in 14 individual film programs. That was one of the most frequened programs, beside the international and german competition. “War. Local Traces.” was one of it. Wars as a critical expression of conflicts between local and global interests formed the program’s starting point. One of the most amazing films was a portrait about a women, a conversation with the Lebanese activist Tina Naccahe. “Who hangs the Laundry? Washing, War an Electricity In Beirut” by Hrafnildur Gunnarsdottir (Island, Beta SP Pal, 20′). The film shows her, washing and talking in her apartement in Beirut, speaking about what she experienced during wartime: “People who never experienced war think that war automatically means bombs falling and people are dying. This is not war, this is only the beginning of the war.”

Another important short film was: “Dos Hermanos” by Juan Manuel Echavarria (“Two brothers”, Colombia, Beta SP, Pal, 6′). The short film used a simple documentary format but does not show the war itself. Two brothers sing songs about how they survived a massacre which is part of the civil war in Colombia which still is going on and on. The two brothers in a single big shot, their faces full frame, all the time. A film which also was presented in The International Competition which also presented lots of short films that dealed with the destiny in wartime. Another extraordinary example was “Exit” by Blerta Zequiri (Albanien, DV, 30′). The destiny of three men, hidden in a flat in Prishtina, during the war in Kosovo. As a consequence of the lack of information and the horror of the war outside, right in front of their house, the three guys go through different emotional states. Also “Exit” doesn’t show the war itself, because the camera remains inside the flat. But we could hear the snipers, the bombs, the spelling. Finally one of the three friends try to escape the enclave, goes out while the others stay and wait for the return of their friend.

With such short films, the International Short Film Festival Oberhausen offerered an opportunity to discuss political, social and of course human related reality. Most of the screenings were sold out.