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Lights, camera, action! The Braunschweig international film festival

grafische Darstellen von zwei Augen (Copyright: Internationales Filmfestival Braunschweig)

Initiated over 30 years ago from a citizens’ movement against the ‘idiocy of commerce’, the Braunschweig International Film Festival has become a permanent feature today, both amongst film buffs and on regional event calendars. ‘Keep your eyes open’ is doubly applicable here, but we’ll let you find out more below...

If you are out and about in Braunschweig and keep seeing a certain pair of eyes on posters and advertising pillars, in trains and buses, this isn’t necessarily a hallucination. More likely than not, the Braunschweig International Film Festival is coming up. The eyes of well-known actors have been the trademark of this film festival for many years. It celebrated its 30th anniversary in 2017 and has become famous well beyond the region. And every year, film fans try to guess whose eyes are featured on the posters. Films, actors and directors from around the world all come to the region and enrich the cultural scene with international flair.

(Photo: Internationales Filmfestival Braunschweig)

From a citizens’ movement to a successful model

When graduates of Braunschweig’s film school and members of the city’s film coop joined forces to form a ‘citizens’ film movement’ in the mid-1980s, they couldn’t have guessed what they were setting in motion’ The first Braunschweig International Film Festival was held in 1987 as an alternative to the ‘idiocy of commerce programme’, and had a budget of DM 66,000. The organisers, all volunteers with a love for the cinema, took a grassroots approach and demonstrated in impressive fashion that cinema can be so much more than just casual entertainment. And that Braunschweig is a great city for such a festival!

‘The region around Braunschweig is very international,’ says Frank Terhorst, the film festival’s head of media and public relations. ‘This is primarily due to the pronounced impact of the automotive sector, the Braunschweig University of Technology and the Braunschweig University of Art.’ According to Terhorst, there is a large international audience here that enjoys seeing films from their homeland. ‘And the regional audience is equally open to other cultures,’ he adds.

And you’ll find the film festival throughout the city – at venues such as the C1 Cinema, the Staatstheater (State Theatre), Stadthalle (City Hall) and the Universum Filmtheater, which has been operated by members of the festival association since 2009.

Focusing on first-class European cinema

The festival has increasingly developed into a magnet for film lovers beyond the region since its inception. No less than 6,000 visitors came in 1987, and that number has swelled today to some 25,000. The number of films presented also grew along with the festival’s popularity. ‘From 13 series with around 50 films at the beginning, the programme has grown to 19 sections with nearly 300 films,’ Terhorst reports. Nearly one third of them are feature-length films and the rest are shorts. No matter what genre you prefer, diversity is what sets the Braunschweig International Film Festival apart. Works from every area of cinematic art are presented, from romantic comedies to the horror/western/SF genre mix, to offbeat experimental films. The main focus is current European productions. Retrospectives, for example from film composers, science fiction or DEFA films are also part of the mix.

To make the festival even more interesting, the organisers present an annual theme-based series. The motto was ‘Unsentimental Encounters – New Polish Cinema’ in 2016, and ‘Real Surreal’ in 2014. New films from Lower Saxony’s partner region of Normandy are also screened, as well as a series of new experimental films by the current film class at the Braunschweig University of Art and students at Ostfalia University.

Five film awards add to the excitement

Five film awards add to the excitement

Since the twelfth edition of the festival, interesting prizes have also been awarded by a jury of artists and film journalists, chief among them ‘DIE EUROPA’. The award is presented to actors who set themselves apart with outstanding performances and merits which promote European film culture. In 2016, for example, the EUR 15,000 prize went to Brendan Gleeson.

‘Der Heinrich’, an audience award, is endowed with EUR 10,000. It is presented for debut and second films. The ‘Schwarze Löwe’ is another prize whose presentation attracts a great deal of interest. This prize is awarded within the BEYOND series to films that take visual or thematic risks and dare to experiment beyond cinematic or moral conventions.

The German-French youth prize KINEMA is awarded by a jury of five students between 16 and 18 years of age from both countries. The Braunschweig International Film Festival also presents a prize for the best film in the ‘Home Game’ series, and is dedicated exclusively to regional productions.

Beyond the films

The Braunschweig Festival places a special focus on the subject of the film score. In-depth profiles and interviews with internationally renowned film score composers such as Jean-Michel Bernard, Zbigniew Preisner and Shigeru Umebayashi are presented in the ‘Music & Film’ series. Film score concerts with the Braunschweig State Orchestra, a long-term partner of the festival which provides musical accompaniment for silent films, for instance (such as ‘The Artist’ from 2011), are also part of the festival programme.

Business economist Michael P. Aust has been managing the Braunschweig International Film Festival since 2014. ‘We have left the familiar series as they were,’ says the 52-year-old, ‘but further refined their profile. We also expanded the programme considerably with the aim of opening up the festival to new target groups.’ The festival’s current manager has responded to changing public habits when it comes to purchasing tickets as well: you can now conveniently purchase tickets using a smartphone app. 

An incredibly committed team

A festival of this magnitude requires good organisation and many helping hands. Under Aust’s direction, three full-time employees work for the festival year round, and are supported by up to seven seasonal workers. They are supported by the voluntary efforts of the 35-member ‘Internationales Filmfest Braunschweig e.V.’ association during the busiest times in particular. They also play their part in ensuring that the festival experience is unique by personally assisting guests and providing individual introductions to the films as well as lovingly designed brochure texts. Their number still includes three founding members who brought the association and therefore the Braunschweig International Film Festival to life in the mid-1980s. After all, tradition is important!