You Waguih / Civil Status Personal Narratives and Closures By Tonci Valentic

in 7th Oberhausen International Short Film Festival

by Tonci Valentic

As one of the biggest and most known short film festivals in Europe, Oberhausen Kurzfilmtage is abundant in screenings and characterised by professional standards in each festival selection. Founded more than five decades ago, its main goal has not changed essentially, although one might observe some new approaches regarding treatment of the socio-political issues. This years’ international competition consisted of 64 films from 38 countries with great variety in genres and with a focus on Southeast Asia’s films. Beside the national selection (German Competition) and Radical Closure program which offered films and videos that deal with political closures exploring visual representations of war and impact of different ideologies, the festival offered several retrospectives and discussions as well.

The short film is perhaps the most suitable medium for articulating socio-political issues, due to its possibility to present innovative aesthetic concepts and due its length which seldom goes over thirty minutes. In this years international program there was an even distribution of genres, meaning that both experimental/artistic and narrative/feature, animated films and classical documentaries were shown. Among those screenings there were at least ten films that presented both aesthetic innovation and social relevance. Neither transforming themselves into the radical political manifesto nor becoming vague or too subjective interpretation of documented material, they subtly deal with social issues, emphasizing the objective standpoint as a precondition for understanding personal stories which lay behind them. From the documentary genre, three screenings should particularly be mentioned.

Civil Status, directed by Alina Rudnitskaya, is a documentary filmed in Russia which provides viewers an insight into the marriage place and a registry office. Filmed in a pretty old-fashioned way (b/w photography, neutral directors standpoint and still shots), it nicely and very accurately describes peoples’ lives and marriage problems, deaths and matrimonial celebrations. Confronted with the bureaucracy and personal tragedies or joyful moments, our film’s heroes (citizens which have been filmed while getting married or divorce) represent the life itself, especially in the last sequence where the director portrays office registers and books in a single shot moving the camera. Rudnitskaya’s movie is a simple and old-fashioned one, but nevertheless a very sincere and humorous documentary.

You, Waguih (Toi, Waguih) is a story of a man who was a political prisoner some forty years ago in Egypt during the time of Nasser. The film is a series of dialogues and scenes made by his son, the movie director Namir Abdel Messeeh, who tries to reveal his father’s emotions and to find the reasoning behind his political activism in the past. The simplicity of the movie as well as the revealing of a personal narrative through the director’s lenses are the main features of this expressive and emotional documentary.

Not only the people but also stories from cities have been shown. In one of the most compelling (and also the most humorous) ones, we are faced with the everyday life in Beijing. City Scenes, directed by Zhao Liang, is a movie which could be best described as a somewhat bizarre serious of images taken from the streets of Chinese capital. Those everyday scenes are short cuts focusing on human violence, life on the streets and in remote areas, outskirts of the city. The aesthetic innovation is not only in subtle and quite objective use of hidden camera but moreover in portraying vast spaces and exteriors which are given a metaphorical meaning. In this half-hour film the focus is on the emptiness in human lives, lost in the constant rebuilding of the city and the bizarre events that sometimes occur, making for powerful imagery.

As mentioned above, the festival offered a variety of film genres and a huge range of aesthetic visions. The percentage of classical documentaries in comparison to animated or experimental movies is quite high and therefore reflects the willingness to cope with contemporary events. Oberhausen is traditionally associated with its tendency to pose socially relevant questions and to present works of a fine art, but in addition, this years’ program was especially focused on personal narratives, untold stories and subjective standpoints, thus introducing a new artistic perspectives into the documentary genre.