Postcards from Oberhausen #1

1. Friday, May 6th, 2011

The first installment in the Shooting Animals: A Brief History of Animal Film program, curated by Cord Richelmann and Marcel Schwierin, was (to this pescatarian’s delight and frequent guilt) something like an impassioned plea for the ethical treatment of animals – a depressing, but never preachy, succession of anthropotistical curiosities from various corners of the globe, including a French fur showroom (an Éclair Journal from 1913), hippo hunting in “in the negro village” (Germany, 1914), and a “car-fishing” Chevrolet ad from the US (1936). The indictment, initially implicit and nuanced precisely by the appearance of the violence in the context of primitive or at least archaic needs and customs, assumed more conscious tones with the pairing, towards the end of the program, of the politely accusatory essay Swallows on a Spit (Schwalben am Spiess, Bernhard and Michael Grzimek, 1958) and Peter Kubelka’s 1966 masterpiece Unsere Afrikareise:

Grown necessarily more reflexive with the years, the filmic consideration of violence against animals reveals, in these pieces, also the element of cultural hypocrisy that subtends our unfailing self-justification in that regard. A cultural hypocrisy whose darkest side, as Unsere Afrikareise suggests, is the often overlooked kinship between animal abuse and racism (or the equation, so to speak, of human with white). Happily, the program was alleviated, somewhere near the middle, by the insertion of the delightful trick-féerie La Peine du talion (Gaston Velle, 1906) – in which a butterfly collector is taught the error of his ways – and ended on an up note with Stalking, a 1975 video by William Wegman – hypnotic and hilarious in equal measure.

In the International Competition, Friday’s stand-out pieces were Björn Melhus’s I’m not the Enemy (2011, Germany’s representative in the section) and Roee Rosen’s Venice-premiered Tse (Out, 2010). The two films, both dealing in some way with the relation between politics and possession, worked well together to end the first international competition screening on an inspiring note. Melhus’s uncanny enactment of the dissociative symptoms related to posttraumatic stress disorder made good use of both his own acting skills and his sensibility for the tragicomic: dressing up as various “stock” characters found in American war veteran films and delivering a disturbing mash-up dialogue derived, precisely, from a selection of such films, Melhus provided a portrait of PTS (and its social implications) that may have been even funnier than he intended, but that was not, for this, any less effective.

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Rosen, on the other hand, united bondage S/M, exorcism, and the public speeches of Israel’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Avigdor Lieberman in a three-part docufiction hybrid distinguished by an intellectual suspense, and an ultimate sublimeness, that made me immediately seek out more of his work. Amongst other things, I found his 2010 Oberhausen entry, Hilarious. I am now officially enthused:

The 57th International Short Film Festival Oberhausen runs in Oberhausen, Germany, from 5-10 May 2011.

Short film is still the prime source of innovation for the art of film – the experimental field in which future cinematic vocabularies first crystallize. Today its diversity of forms, themes and approaches across the globe is greater than ever – video or film, short fiction film or essay, installation, graduation film or artist’s video, animation, documentary, and all imaginable hybrids thereof.

The International Short Film Festival Oberhausen has been part of this highly charged field for over 50 years now, as a catalyst and a showcase for contemporary developments, a forum for what are often heated discussions, a discoverer of new trends and talent, and not least as one of the most important short film institutions anywhere in the world. Some 6000 films submitted on average per year, around 500 films shown in the festival programmes and over 1100 accredited industry professionals are proof enough.

In the course of more than five decades, the International Short Film Festival Oberhausen has become one of the world’s most respected film events – a place where filmmakers and artists ranging from Roman Polanski to Cate Shortland, from George Lucas to Pipilotti Rist have presented their first films. Oberhausen has managed to instigate various political and aesthetical developments, for instance through the Oberhausen Manifesto, perhaps the most important group document in the history of German film. Careful programming and a pioneering choice of subjects has helped the Festival to build up its exclusive position in an increasingly unpredictable market.

Tijana Mamula is reporting daily.