“The same industrial society produces the American movie and the American helicopter, spectacular machines that hover over alien lands, slaughtering to a haunting soundtrack, eliciting the reaction of pure sex from admirers. In the end, both the movie and the helicopter are more memorable to most of the world than the savages lined up in their sights.”
(Viet Thanh Nguyen)
In recent times, the compulsion to quantify the ‘value’ of everything has dramatically impacted the way we understand the world and, to some extent, each other. So it is that as I sit down to write this preview of Hamburg’s annual FilmFest, the question that pushes itself forcefully to the tips of my fingers is, in a rapidly unravelling international order, where is the value of the film festival to be found? Do we watch to understand or to escape?
“The Yanks have colonized our subconscious”
(Kings of the Road)
There will no doubt be a significant number of US productions at FilmFest 2017, the official program has not yet been revealed, but I have no doubt that the festival will select many fascinating and worthy Anglophone films. The initial impulse is perhaps to go to what you know. It is an interesting quirk of our times that a US production is rarely categorized as a ‘foreign’ film in the minds of many cinemagoers around the world. Our familiarity with the modes and conventions of Hollywood films, in particular, tends to outweigh our knowledge of film cultures that lie much closer to our geographical borders. This familiarity can also negatively impact our pereception of films that do not conform to the structure and themes that we have become accustomed to. Oftentimes an audience can become frustrated when their conditioned expectations of what a film ‘should’ be are not met. This is where a heterodox festival of films has an essential role to play. It is the scope for diversity that distinguishes and elevates such an event.
“It is a more dangerous world”
Jens Stoltenberg, secretary general of NATO, 8 September, 2017
This year’s FilmFest will offer its audiences a multitude of perspectives on the world. In an increasingly dangerous world, we can choose to become more aggressive, unleashing “fire and fury” (Trump) on ‘our’ official enemies and increasing military budgets (Mutti). Alternatively, we can listen to the stories of others. Stories that humanise those who are not like us, perhaps even stories that present people like us in a light that may make us uncomfortable enough to question what we think we know about ourselves and our place in the world.
“It was not that I was forgotten in these stories or that I did not see my reflection; no, I saw myself, but as the other, the Gook, and that, I knew, was how others might be seeing me…”
(Viet Thanh Nguyen)
This year I will be seeking out films from countries whose stories I have yet to hear. Countries whose voices on the world stage are too often sadly muted and ignored. It’s a deep pleasure to participate in this celebration of diversity each year, and I’m excited to discover which stories the FilmFest will bring to our attention this year.