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Oberhausen Short Film Festival: The hour of the cinema storyteller

The Oberhausen Short Film Festival saw its second online edition – with more award-winning works than ever before.

The “way to the neighbor”, the motto of the Oberhausen Short Film Festival since the days of its founder Hilmar Hoffmann, is no longer the same. The pandemic has put it up to us, which inspired the Austrian experimental filmmaker Siegfried A. Fruhauf to create a compelling piece of conceptual art. His “Distance Film” consists of a hundred individual images and shows a tape measure. “The length of 100 frames in analog 35mm film is 1.91 meters,” he explains. “Keep other people at this comfortable distance. Stay healthy. ”The four seconds are a short feast for the eyes, even in its most minimalist form, the hand-copied analog film still retains a surplus compared to the digital world.

The Short Film Festival has been relegated to this for the second time, and one could almost say that they have established themselves there: three new competitions have been added. The existing competitions (international and German) now have their own online counterparts, and the traditional German music video award “Muvi” now has an international variant. The list of winners this year comprises 16 pages with 27 winning films and 17 honorable mentions. Not even Cannes can match it.

To start with the music videos, both award-winning films are more than just evidence of life of one of the still most popular forms of short film. In Clara Balzary’s clip for Kim Gordon’s “Are You Hungry, Baby”, the song by the former Sonic Youth bassist gets a rousing reassessment: after a sexist insult in a parking lot, a female cleaner breaks into an ecstatic dance and makes the deserted place to the stage of a knowledge of autonomy. The German winning film, “Young Billionaires” by UWE, is the perfect match. This is also a solo performance, but the male protagonist of a self-loving mirror dance is none other than Tesla founder Elon Musk – here as a gorgeous fragile digital double.

As popular as the music video is as a film form, it would have a clear competitive disadvantage in Oberhausen’s major competitions: Traditionally wordless, it is not suitable for being accompanied by autobiographical monologues. In an estimated every second film in the International Competition, the artists accompany their image montages with self-spoken, usually very personal, metaphorical texts, often with an emphatically intimate sound and close to the microphone.

From style to convention

This film form has a long tradition in essay film; Jean-Luc Godard has only worked in this style for decades. But it has also become a convention at festivals and exhibitions. Caution is always required when stylistic devices become fashionable. “People no longer understand the images,” warns the filmmaker Mirjam Baker, who has long observed the preference of festivals over works that comment on themselves. The films are rarely illustrative, text and images are often contrapuntal. But a spoken text often seems to be a certain guarantee that an experimental film will be understood at all in terms of content.

The winner of the Grand Prix of the City of Oberhausen is an example of this, which does not mean that “Transparent, I am” by the Japanese Yuri Muraoka is not a good film. But does the grandiose second half of the twelve-minute film, an animated collage that chooses the form of the everyday mask as a playing surface for deeply emotional picture cascades, actually need the voiceover of the beginning? Do you need the preceding explanation of a psychological crisis in order to recognize the depth of the images?

Even if the offer of this type of film is particularly rich at the moment – Oberhausen is still also rich in grandiose works without words. But maybe they’ll go out of style with the juries?

Matthias Müller and Christoph Girardet, the important representatives of the artistic found footage film, presented a new masterpiece with their new work “Misty Picture”. They searched for images of the Twin Towers in countless New York films, both well-known and obscure. They add up to an otherworldly odyssey of quiet grandeur. As if they had dried the powerful images of the Hollywood cameramen on blotting paper beforehand, the pathos seems to have driven them out and replaced by something dreamlike and hypnotic. As in many of their earlier films, the artists formulate a counter-narrative to film and cultural history, a new addition is a grandiose use of original music. Should Oberhausen start to honor composers, too: Chris Jones – like the film itself – would have truly deserved an award.

Aus „Misty Picture“ von Matthias Müller und Christoph Girardet. Foto: Kurzfilmtage


From “Misty Picture” by Matthias Müller and Christoph Girardet.

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