The Prizes Awarded in Oberhausen

in 49th International Short Film Festival Oberhausen

by Bernard Bastide

No less than nineteen prizes or special mentions were distributed in Oberhausen, Tuesday 6th of May for the closing night of the International Short Film Festival. Let’s consider the main ones.

The Grand Prize of the City of Oberhausen goes to “Portrait” by Sergej Loznitsa (Russia, 2002). Refusing any action and the single word of dialogue, the director uses his caracters as models for beautiful black and white stating images. Standing in their every day life clothing, often in front of their house with their tolls in hand, they face us, obliging us to reconstruct their life and social status, but also to question the relationship between city and countryside, human and nature, poor and rich people.

The International Jury also gave his two principal prizes to “No me importa que se mueran las jirafas” by Gustavo Sidlin (Argentina, 2002) and “Dansa Med Dvaergar” by Emelie Carlsson Gras (Sweden, 2002). The first one tells the story of three teenage girls singing in a Rock Band. Trash images and a whirling camera try, without success, to hide the thinness of the script. The only things that lends credit to this clumsy film are the strong personality of three young actresses and a huge desire of the director (24 years old) to make it, in spite of Argentina’s crisis. But is it enough to win a prize?

Mixing still photographies, animation and real shots, the second, “Dansa Med Dvaergar” appears much more like a dream or a waken nightmare. Through the portrait of a girl working in an elephant factory, the director tells us, in a funny and surrealist way, how difficult it is for a woman to escape from standard models and to find a place in our modern societies. What a pity the director failed in giving a unity of style to her different sources of inspiration.

Arte Prize for a European Short Film goes to “Vacances” by Nicolas Dufranne (Belgium, 2002). Bluring frontiers between art video, serials and photo-novels, mixing stating and moving images, the film imprisons his three caracters – a family on journey – in a cyclic, sweet and sour world they can’t escape. Behind the style exercice, sometimes hermetic to the common spectator, “Vacances” can be regarded as the most innovatory film of the competition, the only one who attemps to open an unexplored way, to create a new cinematic language.

The International jury also gave special mentions to three films : “Conversation de salon” by Danielle Arbid (France, 2002), “Telega” by Shery Shashvorostov, Andriy Gunishew and Dmytro Tyajlov (Ukraine, 2001) and “A Margem do imagem” by Evaldo Mocarzel (Brazil, 2002). The third one shows, at first sight, the daily life of homeless people living in several areas of Sao Paulo, wondering about their place in society. But the film becomes really interesting when he overlays the usual daily search for food, roof and work to question the ethic use of homeless images. Why some people – as photographer Salgado – get rich selling these images? How homeless react to the projection of their own image on a screen? How can they control these “reflections”? A very rich subject matter for such a short documentary.

Last but not least, prize of the Fipresci went to “Lift” by Marc Isaacs (Great Britain, 2001).

In this humanist film, the director has the strange idea to set up himself for several days, ten hours a day, in a London tower block lift. Observing day per day how life is going on inside the lift, he becomes the privileged witness of the small theatre of ordinary life: unemployment, loneliness, the neighbourhood, what’s going right or wrong in their lives. As time passes, the observer becomes a friendly therapist, questioning people about their childhood, their feelings, their worries. Involved in this process, the spectator himself becomes more and more familiar with the characters, each of them an essence of humanity, abandoning them with regards.