"There are always new films to celebrate": Kino!2012 at the MoMA
(© Network Movies/Hannes Hubach)
For 33 years, the Museum of Modern Art has provided a coveted glimpse into current German cinema with its weeklong festival Kino!, where New York filmgoers are introduced to a sampling of brand new feature films from Germany on the big screen. MoMA curator Larry Kardish scours the world's major film festivals and sifts through hours of films sent by organizational partner German Films, searching for standout productions for the annual festival. These are presented alongside "Next Generation Short Tiger," a selection of short films chosen from Germany's elite film schools that premieres each year in Cannes.
The Senior Curator of Film and Media at MoMA is never wanting for inspiration, and Kino!2012 is no exception. The cinematic palette he's brought back this year is a broad and varied one. "It's quite a lively selection this year," he says, though the experienced film scout knows that not every film viewed positively by German standards will go over as well with a New York audience. Despite the cultural risk, Kardish seems to hit the mark more often than not- on average, two to three films make it to New York screens after a showing at Kino!, he says.
This year, the featured film at the festival is a multi-layered coming-of-age drama that "crosses many genres," describes Kardish. He stands behind it- title and all. "It took me a while to see a film called 'Lollipop Monster,'" he admits, noting that American audiences might expect to see "a production by Nickelodeon," but the film's deeply affecting themes have found a following in the US as well.
The MoMA looks for films that show "artists at work," says Kardish, which does not entail only obscure arthouse productions to the exclusion of widely known and successful films such as "Lollipop Monster." As a "guiding principle," Kardish approaches his selection with the aim to support films marked by the work of their writers and directors and to avoid an obvious "commercial enterprise that has no specific distinction."
There is a fair share of commercial enterprises to be found in German studios all over the country, to be sure, but as a source for film production, there is certainly no Hollywood equivalent.
"Do we want Hollywood?" counters Oliver Mahrdt of German Films, who has been navigating the small and highly competitive independent film market in New York for 20 years now. The seasoned film promoter handles a variety of film festivals, among them Kino!2012.There is always a new generation of promising filmmakers and actors, fostered by significant state and federal support in Germany, says Mahrdt. The Next Generation Short Tiger series, organized by German Films, provides evidence of the high bar set among German film schools. "There are always new films to celebrate," says Kardish.
Mahrdt has seen many German films "make it" in the American movie industry, as he also oversees the promotion of Germany's Oscar entry in the Foreign Film category. At the same time, he says, it's hard to measure a film's success: "Press coverage? Cinema attendance? The amount of money the film pulls in?" The goal is to reach as wide an audience as possible in the US, but it's different from Germany- prices vary from city to city." The key is to find an audience, says Mahrdt, and there's where Kino!2012 does its job.
Kino!2012 not only exposes its audience to films, but to the artists behind them as well. This year, Goethe-Institut New York hosted a discussion with Ziska Riemann, director of "Lollipop Monster," director Jan Zabeil and co-screenwriter and lead actor Alexander Fehling of "The River Used to be a Man," and Leo Khasin, writer and director of "Kaddish for a Friend." Together they represented the range of themes and styles, from a minimalist, creative-fiction approach found in "The River Used to be a Man," to a highly personalized and complex narrative on ethnic identity in "Kaddish for a Friend," to a stylized exploration of the volatility of being a teenager in "Lollipop Monster."
This year is one of anniversaries in German cinema: Studio Babelsberg, the famous German film studio that produced such classics as "The Blue Angel" with Marlene Dietrich and modern-day hits such as "The Bourne Identity" celebrates 100 years, and it is 50 years since the Oberhausen Manifesto, a short declaration by German filmmakers at the International Short Film Festival in 1962. "The future of German cinema lies with those who have proven that they speak a new cinematic language. The old film is dead. We believe in the new one," they wrote. Fifty years later, this new language has become common speech among film connoisseurs around the world, one of its most prominent cultural institutions included.