GERMAN FILM FESTIVAL
The Opening Night Australian premiere of Leander Haussmann’s A Stasi Comedy kicked off this year’s German Film Festival in Sydney on Tuesday 24 May. Set in East Berlin in the 1980s, it tells the story of a young man, Ludger (David Kross), who is hired by the East German secret police, the Stasi, to infiltrate the city’s countercultural underground that was home to artists, hippies and political radicals. The film opens in the middle of a family party, many years after reunification, when the now mature Ludger (Jörg Schüttauf) arrives home with his reclaimed Stasi file, but opening it doesn’t just recall old memories, it also exposes past indiscretions. Haussmann explains that, “after 30 years [we] should be finally allowed to laugh about the Stasi”. And you do! A Stasi Comedy also opens the festival in Melbourne, Canberra, Brisbane, Adelaide, Perth and Byron Bay - check the website for dates and times. It sets the tone for a festival with a packed program of over 20 features, including sections on New German Cinema, Kino for Kids, a retrospective entitled 5 Films from 5 Decades, and two smaller sidebars focusing on Austrian and Swiss cinema.
The Centrepiece film, selected from February’s Berlin International Film Festival, is Maggie Peren’s The Forger, based on the true story of Samson “Cioma” Schönhaus, a Jewish graphic artist who stayed in Berlin during WWII and forged documents to help people escape the Nazis. This remarkable story reveals one man’s extraordinary zest for life under the most difficult and dangerous circumstances and is a platform for charismatic rising star Louis Hofmann. The Special Presentation is Andreas Kleinert’s Dear Thomas, which deals with the artistic endeavours of East German writer Thomas Brasch (played by Albrecht Schuch), who was betrayed by his father to the Stasi and eventually left the GDR for West Berlin. The film was the winner of the Best Film Grand Prize at the Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival last year.
A special guest at the festival is the director and screenwriter, Franziska Stünkel, whose film, The Last Execution, is inspired by the life and death of the last prisoner executed in the former GDR, a system which had a destructive impact on a number of individuals. The director will be present at special Q&A events in Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra. Check the website for details.
A birthday celebration for the Goethe-Institut, which turns 50 this year, features a hand-picked program of five of the best German films from the past five decades. The titles include Volker Schlöndorff’s magnificent The Tin Drum, Konrad Wolf and Wolfgang Kohlhaase’s Solo Sunny, Tom Tykwer’s modern classic Run Lola Run, Wolfgang Becker’s Good Bye, Lenin! and Sebastian Schipper’s multi award-winning Victoria. This section is described in the festival program as “an exhilarating time-travel expedition through the 1970s, 80s, 90s, 00s and 10s!”
The Beyond Berlin sections host four Australian premieres, two each from Austria and German-speaking Switzerland. The Austrian films are Andreas Schmied’s Chasing The Line, a behind-the-scenes exposé of the commercialisation of competitive skiing, and Michael Kreihsl’s Risks & Side Effects, based on a play by Stefan Vögel, a comedy about love, secrets and a kidney transplant! The Swiss films are Oliver Rihs’ Caged Birds, a political drama about a female radical lawyer fighting the prison system, and Stefan Jäger’s Monte Verità, based on the true story of the world’s first hippie commune.
Presented once again at Palace Cinemas, the German Film Festival contains a mix of comedies, dramas, thrillers, family and kids films, so there’s something for everyone’s taste.