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“We are almost painfully independent” – The Hollywood Reporter


For 30 years, the Oldenburg International Film Festival has kept the faith.

When Torsten Neumann founded Germany’s largest small film festival in 1994, it was a local answer to Sundance, a place to celebrate innovative, unconventional, and above all independent cinema. His North Stars were the new Hollywood movies of the ’70s he grew up with, and the new generation of independent filmmakers of the ’90s – Quentin Tarantino Pulp Fiction He had won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival just a few months earlier – who were defying convention and changing the mainstream.

Three decades later, not much has changed. As Neumann gears up for his 30th film festival (the 2023 event runs from September 13-17), that original Oldenburg spirit — a celebration of the odd, the weird, the wildly radical — remains his guiding light.

“I’m always more interested in cinema that takes risks, even ones that go too far, rather than films that try to satisfy expectations,” Newman says. “A punch in the gut has a greater effect than a tickle.”

Newman is still in the early stages of picking this year’s lineup, but if history is any guide, expect him to be surprised. Indie darlings always have a place in Oldenburg – new films by Steven Soderbergh, Darren Aronofsky, Brian De Palma, Larry Clarke, Johnny To and Takeshi Kitano have all premiered in Germany here, and the celebrity guest list over the years has included the likes of Nicolas Cage, Matthew Modine and Asia Argento , and Amanda Plummer — but the festival’s real magic comes from Newman’s tribute to people forgotten or overlooked, and his homage to the likes of cerebral directing team David Siegel and Scott McGee (sewingAnd Montana story), Greco-Italian exploitation king Ovidio G. Assonitis (tentaclesAnd What’s behind the door) or Laotian horror director Matty Du (Dearest sisterAnd long walk).

“We’re almost painfully independent,” Newman jokes. “The films we love are often too artsy for a fantasy film festival and a genre not for the art house festival. But I think that’s where some of the best cinema can be found, and it’s these kinds of films that often fall between the cracks.” “.

“Oldenburg plays a vital role in the future of independent filmmakers, as it showcases, encourages and celebrates stories that exist outside the confines of mainstream cinema,” said Mark Polish, a frequent Oldenburg guest, along with his twin brother Michael, who is part of the production-directed duo of Polish brothers. (Twin Falls IdahoAnd Northfork). “The sense of community that Torsten has fostered among like-minded artists is so strong that it really feels like family. [The Oldenburg festival] It reminds me of the power of cinema to bring people together and create lasting relationships.”

Actress Joanna Cassidy notes (Blade RunnerAnd who framed roger rabbit), a former guest of honor at the festival, “Oldenburg is a unique mix of movie fanatics from all over the world. It’s absolutely gorgeous.”

At his festival, Newman does his best to create a communal, even family atmosphere. Last year, he hosted a joint retrospective of the work of Peter Hyams – Cult Director Capricorn is single (1977), the outside (1981) and timecop (1994) – and his son John, whose genre production includes two Universal Soldier films (2009) Universal Soldier: Regeneration and 2012 Universal Soldier: Judgment Day) and the horror movie called Sick. Oldenburg’s 2017 tribute to legendary independent producer Edward R. pressman (the crowAnd Wall Street, American Psycho), attended by Pressman’s wife and children, was a question-and-answer show with the atmosphere of a 1970s bohemian coffeehouse: local film students gathered on the floor and commented on Pressman’s every word.

During COVID, when local restrictions prevent large gatherings and make a traditional festival impossible, Neumann, like any resourceful indie producer, found a creative solution. He organized “Living Room Premieres”, where fans of local festivals volunteered their homes as broadcast venues. The director and cast — all with negative COVID tests — arrived to watch the world premiere of their film on the couches of their hosts. Oldenburg even set the scene, bringing in red-carpet rolls, spotlights and local photographers to adorn each bungalow and semi-detached house with a festive Cannes look. The first performances were broadcast live for the rest of the city’s audience to enjoy.

The reopening of cinemas has led to a return to in-person showings, but Oldenburg continues to innovate. For its 2023 edition, Neumann is collaborating with German virtual reality platform MILC and film review site The Film Verdict to launch a “metaverse” version of the festival, where attendees can create virtual reality avatars, walk through computer-generated simulations of Oldenburg’s city center and attend World premieres of virtual festivals – but very real.

“It will be the first time at an international film festival where you will have physical premieres that will also be held in Metaverse,” Newman says. “We’re trying to classify them as a special kind of world premiere — a metaverse premiere — separate from the regular national or international premiere.”

It’s unclear whether the Oldenburg Metaverse will also include virtual versions of the festival’s legendary “secret” parties, which are held each year at various once-only venues across this picturesque medieval university town. Oldenburg party pop-ups in the past have included celebrations in bank vaults, fire halls, train stations, and even abandoned McDonald’s. In 2015, when Andrew Wilson and Luke Wilson brought their directorial debut, The story of Wendell BakerAt the festival, the brothers partake with the locals in an abandoned elementary school, sit on gym mats and drink beer like college mates.

“One of my favorite ‘only in Oldenburg’ experiences was dancing in underground clubs with every gorgeous long-haired German [I could find] “She was such a good dancer,” says Cassidy.

It was at one of Oldenburg’s legendary parties, in 2010, Canadian actress Deborah Kara Unger, star of the gameAnd thirteen And Fear X (and Chairman of the Jury that year), with the Festival Director.

“We were busy, so we didn’t see each other the entire festival, until the night before the closing ceremony,” Newman recalled. “Deborah came over and said, ‘I need five minutes of your time.’ I said, ‘You can have two hours.’”

Neumann and Unger have been together ever since — “The next day I called our travel desk and canceled the flight back, that was my big romantic move,” Neumann recalls — and Unger is now an integral part of the Oldenburg team.

Aside from the parties and Newman’s one-of-a-kind programming—”brilliantly eclectic,” notes Cassidy—Oldenburg is probably best known for its prison premieres. Every year, the festival hosts performances at JVA Oldenburg, a maximum security prison in Germany, where festival guests and inmates sit side by side.

When my movie [2013’s Gefährliches Schweigen] German actress and producer Veronica Ferris, whose new film was shown, said: passenger cDirected by Oscar-nominated producer Cassian Elwes, it will premiere internationally in Oldenburg this year. “And I would talk to them about my movie, what it did to them, and also about their lives, the events in their lives that led them to this place. It was a great honor to be there, to be able to have that experience.”

More than just a gimmick, Oldenburg prison checks are integrated into the facility’s rehabilitation programmes. Inmates interview directors and talents, produce programs for the prison newspaper and the television channel Gitternet TV (roughly speaking, “iron cage” TV).

“I have never experienced anything quite like this at another festival,” says Du, who is a guest of honor in 2021 and a member of last year’s jury, “to have a creative exchange on a personal level with the inmates there, so that I can talk to the inmates about how art, culture and cinema can influence a destination.” Their view towards writing a new chapter in [their] spirits.”

Newman admits that it’s “a lot, a lot” of work that pulls it all together: the extreme security shows, the secret parties, and the fiercely independent assortment of the overlooked or overlooked. But after 30 years, Mr. Oldenburg sees no reason to stop.

“If I had a regular job, I would probably go crazy,” he says. “When it succeeds, the festival gives me what the best independent cinema gives you – that sense of adventure, that feeling that there is something I’ve never seen before.”

Three unmissable films in Oldenburg this year

This trio of titles from the 2023 lineup show how, 30 years later, Germany’s Oldenburg Festival continues to shine a spotlight on independent, avant-garde filmmaking that defies the mainstream.

passenger c

passenger c

“Passenger C”

Andrew Park

Part high-rise thriller, part behind-the-scenes Hollywood industry docudrama, this black-and-white feature, the debut of legendary independent director and talent agent Cassian Elwes (Dallas Buyers ClubAnd Lee Daniels ButlerAnd muddy), recounting Elwes’ real-life encounter with an unruly passenger on a Bluejet redeye from New York to Los Angeles and the sudden, traumatic aftermath that would change both men.

Nothingness Club

Nothingness Club

Nothingness Club

Jose Caldera / Pando Party

A deliberately surreal, experimental, and polyfractural look at the world and life of Portuguese modernist surrealist, experimental, and polyfractural writer, Fernando Pessoa, who wrote under about 75 different “hetero”: fully anthropomorphic fictional characters with their own distinct histories, literary styles, and life philosophies. Cult director Edgar Pera – director Magnetic tracks And Oh Barao – imagines Pessoa’s many literary characters in a fiery world of smoky bars and female deaths where the greatest threat comes from the increasingly violent and mutilated Álvaro de Campos (one of Pessoa’s best-known names).

beautiful friend

beautiful friend

‘beautiful friend’

Truman Cooley

Constructed like a found footage movie with dispassionate voiceover, à la Terrence Malick and with a visual style reminiscent of a young Gaspar Noé, this debut feature from Truman Keewley is a disturbing first-person look at a violent movie. The kidnapper who talks to William Wheeler Mosque for age incel.

Joanna Swanson

Joanna Swanson is Europe correspondent at the Thomson Reuters Foundation based in Brussels covering politics, culture, business, climate change, society, economies and inclusive tech. With specific focus in breaking news, she has covered some of the world's most significant stories.