Director of the Hofs Film Festival Heinz Badewitz and German film maker Pola Beck talk about life in the metro

While the crowds came and went at this year’s Bangalore International Film Festival (BIFFES), one man was seen inconspicuously standing near screens, making small introductions to German films and greeting film buffs with an infectious smile. If you were at BIFFES this year, you may have caught a glimpse of this foreigner more than once, but might never have known that Heinz Badewitz is the director of one of the largest and most famous film festivals in the world.

The man behind the Hof International Film Festival was in the city to present the ‘Festival in a Festival’ organised by the Goethe-Institut/Max Mueller Bhavan Bangalore, which showcased a package of five German films.

The small town of Hof, popularly known as the Home of Films, hosts the Hof Film Festival, started in 1967 by Heinz with two fellow students from the film academy in Munich. What started as a three-hour movie night with a few motion pictures and a minimal audience 47 years ago has now become a pioneering international film festival.

The ‘Festival in a Festival’ was born in Hof. The idea was to take five films screened in Hof, one from each year since 2009, which had not been screened in India and show them here. “These Indian premiers are remarkable pieces of art. The opening film Eastalgia shows a very different side of Europe. Instead of Paris, London or Rome, you will see Munich, Serbia and Kiev in Ukraine. But the film has a universal appeal as the problems are all the same,” says Heinz.

Being the director of the Hof festival for 47 years, Heinz has seen a lot. “I’ve always supported film makers who make smaller films with stories that have a universal language.” Quoting Samuel Fuller, the American director, who said there is no need to look out for new stories when the next one is just around the corner, Heinz says the world is small and the problems worldwide the same. “Therefore, the personal, family, sexual or unemployment problems here can be told through a film and received by the world. The Indian film Lunchbox is one such sensational example. It is purely Indian with Mumbai at its best but it has a global perspective for everyone.”

The 72-year-old says he has nothing against mainstream films. “I enjoy them. But festivals like Hof support young talent for the future of cinema, especially German cinema. There are almost 3,000 entries each festival from which I select 70-75 feature films and 50 short films and documentaries.”

Every year, the festival concludes with a traditional friendly soccer match between a team of filmmakers, critics and actors and a local select team.

On a parting note, Heinz says: “A festival needs stars, but in Hof we make stars.”

Same difference

German film maker Pola Beck, was also in the city to introduce her award-winning film Breaking Horizons. Being in India for the first time, Pola says: “I love travelling to countries that are so diverse and learning about different cultures, religions and languages. I also enjoy being here at the festival and love that the screenings are always crowded.

Pola saw two Indian films at BIFFES – the Kannada film Lucia and Marathi film Astu (So Be It). “The Indian films are very different when compared to German cinema. Lucia is modern and entertaining made in a traditional Indian style while Astu reveals more of the Indian society and the strong belief in gods here. There is also more sound in Indian cinema while German films are minimalistic in sound. The reactions of the audience are also very different. Here people are singing, clapping and whistling. I loved the experience and was very entertained.”

On Breaking Horizons, her first feature film, Pola says she always wanted to tell longer stories. “My fictional short films have always had open endings so people said they seemed like the start of feature films. I found the whole experience exhilarating. This one took me five weeks. The challenge was not to get exhausted and stay in focus to treat each day as the first one.”

Screened in most places in Europe, Russia and Brazil, the 31-year-old wants to take her film to most festivals in Asia. “I want to reach more people in this region and will probably take part in another Indian film festival.” This she feels is necessary especially since the festival scene is expanding for years now.

“You could send a DVD almost every day for fests now. My film has being screened in 23 festivals so far and won numerous awards. I am practically living on the award money. What more can I ask for. Festivals and mainstream cinema are like two parallel streams now.” Her biggest message to aspiring film makers is to not entertain people who are negative and pessimistic. “Trust your own strengths and work with people who help you be optimistic. If you have a free soul, you can make films.”