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American Women's Club of Hamburg

The Filmfest, and Why I Love It

by Helen Kessler, guest journalist

Another Filmfest Hamburg draws to a successful close. Year on year the number of attendees grows and I for one am not surprised, having loved it for 12 years.

It was autumn 2005 (the festival year for ADAMS APPLES and IRON ISLAND) and my understanding of German was non-existent, but that didn’t matter. There were lots of films available from all over the world, if not in English then often with English subtitles. I had no job and I had time on my hands – I was in heaven.

Over the years many things have changed. I now have job commitments, I can speak German, and I live within cycling distance of several cinemas that regularly screen in English. But I’m still in love, even arguably obsessed. Why?

What can I say? The Filmfest is wonderful; it offers a wide range of genres, countries of origin, and styles. The variety available is dazzling and all on my doorstep. Some of the films I find there, I would never see any other way.

I can jump from mainstream to box office successes to break out surprises or to little known and soon-to-sink gems.

And where else, after viewing a film that raises discussions in your mind, are you given the immediate opportunity to join a discussion with the filmmakers? To ask the burning questions that the film raises then go home to your own bed?

I’ve sat with native speakers who laughed at different places than those of us relying on the subtitles, watched premieres with the stars of that film right in front of me. I’ve chatted with directors whose films I’ve long respected as they happily mix with fans after a screening, and entered into fascinating discussions where the topic of the film is dissected by creatives and experts in their field

Like a child in a sweet shop, I over indulge. I’ve been known to watch six films in a day, simultaneously processing the political drama I just experienced, while racing across town to a Japanese comedy. Even as I try to weigh up my options for the day after tomorrow that is, as yet, unplanned. By the fifth day, for fun, quiz me on what I’ve seen!

Don’t get me wrong, the Filmfest can bring me problems too. Like rushing to get to the next venue, only to find I’m at the wrong cinema and I need to head straight back again, or overdoing it totally and struggling to stay awake in the best film that day, which by misfortune is being screened just after lunch.

I’ve battled with motion sickness after too much cola or coffee, brought on in a rush of misjudgment and thirst. And of course there are the films I chose that really I shouldn’t have, that, as we say in England, were really not my cup of tea.

But that brings me to the best thing about the Filmfest; there is something for everyone, political, mainstream, comedies, sci-fi, action, art-house, documentaries and docudramas, even a children's section (adults also admitted!). And a range of venues too.

So I send my gratitude and admiration to the team behind it all, for the great films they select, and the fabulous wonder of the organisation involved. I take my hat off to you – though after all these years I should know better than to be wearing a hat to the cinema!

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