Review of Oberhausen Short Film Festival

It is a major accolade for a short film festival to reach its 60th year. Oberhausen Short Film Festival was launched in 1954 and festival Director, Dr. Lars Henrik Gass notes: “The festival has now already been running for 60 years. This is surprising not just in view of the fact that short films are less than ever associated with the chance earning a decent living, but above all because of the economic situation of the city of Oberhausen itself, which for six decades has shouldered the costs of one of the most important events in avant-garde film. So if the festival still exists, it is thanks to Oberhausen and to the pesistence of a city that was not born to wealth, prestige of attractions.”

The event has grown to become one of the most highly revered film festivals in Europe with a delegate list to match. This year’s event included guests such as John Canciani, Internationale Kurzfilmtage Winterthur, William Fowler, British Film Institute, Isla Leaver-Yap, Walker Art Center, Sally Berger, MoMA, George Clark, Tate Modern and many more. Not only that, Martin Scorsese and George Lucas received their first break at Oberhausen. Think what this event has done to shape the history of contemporary cinema – it’s pretty incredible.

Even with its impressive delegate list and high-flying alumni, the festival still has an underground feel. The festival bar, for example, is adorned with graffiti and gathered old furniture. This uber urban feel works and there is something charming about it, although it seems to recall a different time and place. Oberhausen is famous for its experimental programming and active risk taking in its screening choices. Being the Editor of Aesthetica Magazine as well as the Director of the Aesthetica Short Film Festival, it’s wonderful to see a festival embracing works that are more bold and daring. This is essential for development and progression of the craft.

The Lichtburg cinema is an outstanding venue, and the cinematic quality of the screenings there is impressive. Two particular highlights were Time and the Wave (William Raban) and A Million Miles Away (Jennifer Reeder). Raban’s short film explores the crisis of late capitalism in London. The director examines the theme through the filming of various events in the city: the opening of Westfield Shopping Centre, the Saint Paul’s Occupy protest, the Queen’s Jubilee Thames pageant and the funeral of Margaret Thatcher. In contrast, Reeder’s USA film centres around female individuals. A Million Miles Away is built around an adult woman on the edge of failing and a group of teenage girls as they simultaneously experience a supernatural version of coming-of-age. The piece is equally tense and tender and unravels to the beat of 1980s heavy metal.

It’s a festival that puts short film on the map, and asks questions about the future of the genre. This is an important question that is worth exploring. For example, this year at ASFF, we have introduced two new genres – advertising and fashion. Traditonally films in these two areas were not really considered short films, but works that used film as a medium. The further we move into this technological age, the more film is being used to communicate messages and whether this is about Product X or Product Y, it shows that the form is evolving and is becoming ever more present in people’s everyday lives. This is only a good thing for raising the profile of the genre.

Oberhausen Short Film Festival 1-6 May,

Cherie Federico

1. Image courtesy of Aesthetica.