When the editorial staff of nzdeutschland saw that announcement we asked ourselves whether it could be of interest for the intercultural communication and a better mutual understanding to ask for a guest post by a Kiwi author. We did via Twitter and immediately we got a positive answer by Wellywood Woman Marian Evans.
nzdeutschland was wondering about an objective assessment of the effect of that Short Film Ping Pong: Germany – New Zealand. We asked Marian Evans.
The Wellywood Woman holds a Creative Writing PhD from the International Institute of Modern Letters, and is an activist, writer and academic, whose globally oriented Wellywood Woman blog is for women who make movies and the people who love them.
… And I’m looking forward to a chance to say ‘trotzdem danke’ in my German class!
As a women’s film activist from New Zealand, Germany interests me, especially its many and diverse well-known directors, its exciting new directors like Laura Thies and the major Dortmund/ Cologne International Women’s Film Festival, (this year at Dortmund in April) where the idea for the International Women’s Film Festival Network was conceived and where the network continues to be supported. I’ve even started to learn German at the Goethe Institut in Wellington, thanks to their scheme that supports artists.
One of the early phrases we learned in class was ‘Tischtennis spielen’ so I smiled last week when I walked past the New Zealand Film Archive and saw a poster for a film evening called Short Film Ping Pong: Germany – New Zealand, curated by Stefanie Reis, a short film sales agent from Kurzfilm Agentur in Hamburg. And I decided to go.
Stefanie Reis obviously loves New Zealand, loves her work and is a passionate advocate for New Zealand filmmakers. “There seems to be a common ground, on which Germans and New Zealanders move,” she says. “There doesn’t seem to be a cultural gap, at least from a German perspective. New Zealand short films regularly screen in German movie theatres as preludes to feature films, and they are well received.”
Short Film Ping Pong: Germany – New Zealand was an evening with lots of humour and goodwill, in an almost full cinema. The first three films brought particular pleasure, I imagine, to all those like me who have sons. The first, not even a minute long, was the delightful We Have a Mission (German title: Mission Junge) by German filmmaker Mirjam Orthen, about a small boy who isn’t interested in going to the movies, followed by Jason Stutter’s Careful With That Axe (2008). Yikes, that was scary and no wonder it’s popular in Germany. Then a chat with Jason and his young star Cameron Stevens, who is now 12 and can’t remember much about the filming, though he did give away a secret or two! Jason Stutter’s hilarious underground classic, the feature Tongan Ninja (2002) starring Jemaine Clement was the only film of his I’d seen, so it was a delight to see his Careful With That Powertool (2009) too, at the end of the programme.
The next film seemed to introduce a theme of travel and transport that continued until Careful With That Powertool. Trotzdem Danke/Thanks Anyway (2006), directed by Mischa Leinkauf, is about a man who washes the windscreens and windows of Berlin’s public trains, buses and even a police car, because he wants to be helpful. His reward for this free service is suspicion and hostility. Another heart-warming short, much appreciated by the audience. And I’m looking forward to a chance to say ‘trotzdem danke’ in my German class!
Then there was Ellen Is Leaving, directed by Wellingtonian Michelle Savill, which has just won Best Narrative Short at SXSW. Although the director was out of town it was fascinating to hear from Martha Hardy-Ward, the writer. She and Michelle had wanted to make a short film about their own age group and chose to explore the ‘OE’, or Overseas Experience – a rite of passage for New Zealanders in their twenties – and the sacrifices that involves. I was especially interested that writer and director were very strategic in their choice of theme and in the changes that happened through the process, including the way the male lead’s story became more significant.
Schwarzfahrer / Black Rider (1993), directed by Pepe Danquart, won the Academy Award for Best Short in 1994. It’s set on a bus in Berlin and is clever and funny. I loved it and particularly enjoyed Senta Moira’s performance as the racist elderly woman. Superb. Then Taika Waititi’s also superb Two Cars One Night (2004, and nominated for an Academy Award in 2005), about three children in two cars in a country carpark, outside a hotel. Two more small boys, and a girl.
After these two films Stefanie Reis talked with Catherine Fitzgerald, producer of Two Cars One Night, who told some lovely stories about cooking for the cast and crew (and children) when filming on the coast where the work is set. Writer Rolf Brednich, an ethnologist, ethnographer and folklorist, was part of that conversation. He explained how his published story, which he heard somewhere in northern Europe and is widely believed to be the basis of Schwarzfahrer, was not, according to the filmmaker, who drew on a story from elsewhere in Europe. That led to discussion of urban myth (or legend) – a story which is not true but is real, and back to Two Cars One Night and the stories many New Zealanders have about waiting for adults in a car and being bored.
What a night! A fine partnership between the Goethe Institut, the New Zealand Film Commission and the New Zealand Film Archive. I’m on the lookout now for more connections between German and New Zealand filmmaking and I think many others in the audience will be the same. Perhaps German short films will start appearing regularly in cinemas here.