Taipei Film Festival shines the spotlight on Berlin

This year’s Taipei Film Festival celebrates the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall with a program that focuses on the German capital’s rich history

By Ho Yi  /  STAFF REPORTER

Fri, Jun 26, 2009 - Page 16

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This year’s Taipei Film Festival (台北電影節) celebrates the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall with an 18-day program that focuses on the rich history of Germany’s capital city.

The festival, founded in 1998, is an important showcase for local productions, which for the most part miss out on the Hong Kong- and China-dominated Golden Horse Awards (金馬獎). This year 141 films are being screened, from feature films and documentaries to animations and shorts.

Each year the festival showcases films from a different country. This year it takes viewers on a cinematic journey through the history of Berlin from the 1930s to the present day.

Among the earlier films are Slatan Dudow’s Current Problems: How the Berlin Worker Lives (1930). Massive unemployment, hyperinflation and other economic problems that contributed to the collapse of the Weimar Republic are addressed in this documentary, as well as in Dudow’s debut feature film Kuhle Wampe: To Whom Does the World Belong? (1931), which was scripted by left-wing playwright and theater director Bertolt Brecht. Both works are known as pioneering proletarian films. Also from this period is future Hollywood director Billy Wilder’s People on Sunday (1929), which paints a portrait of everyday life in Berlin and is among the earliest examples of independent cinema in Germany.

Covering the early post-war years is The Murderers Are Among Us (1946), the first and greatest of the Trummerfilme, or “rubble films,” bleak works shot literally in the rubble of Germany’s war-ravaged cities. Its director, Wolfgang Staudte, and art director, Otto Hunte, both worked on Jud Suss, the most notorious anti-Semitic movie made in Nazi Germany.

East German productions include the teen-centered romance flick Hot Summer (1968); After Winter Comes Spring (1988), a film about a railway journey that explores the lives of women of different ages, social statuses and cultural backgrounds; and Coming Out (1989), East Germany’s first and only gay movie.

Homosexuality is a popular theme among local film festivalgoers, and this year’s program also features Germany’s first homosexual movie, Girls in Uniform (1931), which was banned during the Third Reich; and Aimee and Jaguar (1999), a love story between a housewife and a Jewish woman involved in a resistance organization.

Moving on to contemporary times, Germany 09 (2009) is a collective effort by 13 well-known directors musing on current social and political issues. The film is a direct offspring of Germany in Autumn (1978), a collage of shorts by top filmmakers including Volker Schlondorff and Rainer Werner Fassbinder that offered critical perspectives on Red Army Faction terrorism in the 1970s.

Several filmmakers are highlighted in the German segment. In the semi-autobiographical The All-Round Reduced Personality — Outtakes (1977), which blends documentary with fiction, pioneering feminist director Helke Sander asks how a single mother could pursue her artistic ambitions, participate in social causes, and put bread on the table, all at the same time. Sander’s two-part documentary Liberators Take Liberties (1991 and 1992) examines the rape and assault of an estimated 100,000 German women by Red Army soldiers during their advance on Berlin in 1945.

Helma Sanders-Brahms, German’s best-known female director and a prominent figure in New German Cinema, will visit Taipei to screen her 1979 masterpiece, Germany, Pale Mother, as well as Beloved Clara (2008).

East Berlin-born Andreas Dresen is noted for his sober and sometimes-humorous portraits of ordinary people caught in terrible dilemmas. His Cloud 9 is a compelling story about love, passion and betrayal that besets a trio of characters at the sunset of their lives. It tackles the theme of sexuality in old age and includes explicit scenes.

Non-German films on the international program include a batch of movies from Latin America. Meet the Head of Juan Perez opens with the severed head of a circus magician recalling what caused its separation from the rest of its body. Peruvian director Claudia Llosa’s second feature The Milk of Sorrow, winner of the Golden Bear award at this year’s Berlin Film Festival, evokes magical realism in its tale of a daughter’s deeply buried secrets and fear.

The latest works of film masters can be found in the City Vision section, which includes Atom Egoyan’s Adoration, Claude Chabrol’s Bellamy and Bluebeard by Catherine Breillat.

Opponents of globalization will want to check out the hilarious and shocking documentaries The Yes Men and The Yes Men Fix the World, in which gonzo activists successfully pose as corporate and government spokespersons. Mike Bonanno, one of the directors, will attend the festival for question-and-answer sessions.

The festival’s international competition for emerging directors includes films by Taiwan’s Cheng Yu-chieh (鄭有傑) and Chung Mong-hong (鍾孟宏). Also vying for the NT$600,000 grand prize is Cannes-winner Pablo Aguero with Salamandra, about a boy raised in a hippie commune in Patagonia. Another strong competitor, Disgrace, examines the lingering impacts of apartheid policies in South Africa. It was directed by American actor-turned-director Steve Jacobs and stars John Malkovich.

This year also marks the 30th anniversary of King Hu’s (胡金銓) kung-fu masterpieces Legend of the Mountain (山中傳奇) and Raining in the Mountain (空山靈雨). There will be screenings of both films and an exhibition at the Red House (西門紅樓) of the late maestro’s film manuscripts, drawings, production photographs and other rarely seen documents.

German directors Wolfgang Becker, Sanders-Brahms and Martin Koerber, head of the film department at Filmmuseum Berlin, will hold a panel discussion at the German Cultural Center on Monday.

For more information, go to the festival’s bilingual Web site at www.taipeiff.org.tw. As of press time, the Web site’s English-language section was not fully operational.

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