Tradition and Innovation

in 62nd International Filmfestival Mannheim-Heidelberg

by Maya Dimitrova

This year’s 62nd edition of the International Film Festival Mannheim-Heidelberg maintained its tradition of showcasing new films from young and aspiring filmmakers. It also offered innovations, mainly in the way the jury was selected and in the omission of Rainer Werner Fassbinder prize, which was awarded to films with attractive narrative structure and low budgets. (A similar function was assigned to one of the jury prizes.) This year the main jury consisted of directors exclusively. According to the director of the festival, Dr. Michael Kötz, this makes the decisions of the jury more respectable for the filmmakers participating in the festival.  And that kind of selection was precisely justified by the chairman of the main jury, the world famous filmmaker Istvan Szabo, and the presence of a director from Tampere, Kirsi Liimatien. The directors’ choice was reflected in the decision to give the Grand Prize of the festival to the Cuban film Molases (Melaza, Cuba, France, Panama), which has a woman producer, Claudia Calviria.

Other films by women directors didn’t stand that chance, although those films gave the impression of the quality of the selection made together with Mrs. Kötz.

Among the many narratives about family values in peril and deaths affecting a profound change in the lives of the ordinary people, some films from different corners of the world stood out. This made a cinematic geography of dangerous circumstances, changing the lives of families from different continents in a way that brought them together in an unwitting spiritual agora, all of them going along a path of mutual discovery and human continuity. The families depicted were very much alike, in spite of the ethnic differences and racial and religious prejudices.

In the  Taiwanese film My Mandala (Yuan Lai Ni Hai Zai), an elderly woman that has lost her son long ago manages to compensate for his absence by her dedication to a young Buddhist monk she accepts at her home as a spiritual guru. In fact, that guru himself needs education and spiritual elevation. He is hiding from both the law and his former bandit clan. He is first made known to the spectators Wearing Buddhist garments, and we accept the plot as a mix of criminal intrigue and family drama with comic elements and a happy ending. This is a happy case of genres blending seamlessly, thanks to the efforts of director, writer and co-producer Elsa Yang. She has made the eclectic choice of casting a young actor with an experienced actress. Their duet makes the poetical values of the film domineering and takes us beyond the contemplations of morality high and low and into an oneiric territory of spiritual compassion that does not need a religious rank.

The intimate interpretation of an intrigue with social repercussions in another film grabbed the attention of the jury and received one of the special awards. The Dutch film The New World (De Nieuwe Wereld) is also a family tragedy. An African fugitive, who has lost his wife in tragic accident on the way, meets a white woman at the threshold of the “New World”: Holland, the dream country. But this is not a love story — at least not at the beginning. The white woman is very corrupted by her circumstance — she is a janitor at the airport terminal where unwanted immigrants are kept. She has easy access to all the best items carried by the desperate people stuck in immigration limbo, and she makes them surrender those items to her in exchange for a telephone call.  This way of life makes her a sort of outsider in her own country. She breaks not only the law, but the relationship with her immediate family. The money she extorts is used to lure her son back home, who she refused to take care of following the death of her husband. Gradually, the woman succeeds in getting her son back with the help of the African, who awakes a dormant sense of compassion in her. They fight together with the obscure world of immigration bureaucracy, riddled with bureaucrats who seem to be normal people only when they are off-duty. Just when everything is just heading towards a happy ending, the bureaucracy prevails — but it cannot deprive the main characters of their hope.

Part of the festival’s good tradition is the MMP, or Mannheim Meeting Point. This is a lab for filmmakers creating co-production film projects. And the lab works. This year with the help of MMP, a co-production was initiated between Bulgaria, Germany, the Ukraine and Georgia.

In fact, the film getting the Grand Prix of the festival — Melaza — was created with the help of MMP. This highlights the resources of the culture fest for moving ahead with innovations.

Edited by José Teodoro