By Olivia Popp
This article is the third in a series of three articles on the 30th Hamburg International Queer Film Festival (Lesbisch Schwule Filmtage Hamburg), taking place from October 15, 2019, to October 20, 2019. The festival is Germany’s oldest and largest queer film festival.
Of the two shorts programs I saw, the great ones were clear in their concept, no matter the length. At IQFF, the shorts — holistically — were considerably stronger than any of the features I saw; by nature, a short will generally require less physical work due to its length, but that doesn’t mean a short film is less difficult to construct.
For me, film festivals are fun and educational to attend not merely for the individual works themselves, but for what one can glean from the creation of the films — whether that be a talkback with a filmmaker or artist, a conversation with a fellow attendee or a tidbit picked up from a screening or screenings. In the case of IQFF, most striking to me was that many of the short films were co-productions with or productions from German film schools, created by students enrolled in programs. Many film and art programs in Germany are either exclusively cinema-focused schools or considered vocational schools — with students of all ages and in all stages of their lives — but they’re often well-supported and heavily geared towards career-oriented work.
Thus, filmmakers from these programs create great content like these shorts (many of them even seen as educationally-produced works, even in their professional form). From honest and touching to absurd and comedic, the following films — all German! — tell a variety of standout stories with queer narratives.
Weit Draußen [Far Out] (2019, Jan-Peter Horstmann)
Two men, Nico (Joscha Eißen) and Kai (Knut Berger), meet each other in a square — amongst other men there for the same reason — as they cruise for sexual encounters with other men in East Berlin in 1987, prior to the fall of the Berlin Wall. However, their relationship moves beyond just that one night as we dive into the lives of Nico, a teenager who’s new to the queer scene in East Berlin, and Kai, an early middle-age man who’s experienced but jaded with the opportunities he’s afforded as a queer man.
Kai and Nico find themselves sharing an interest in life beyond simply a secretive one that they share at night on the streets of the city. But above all, “Weit Draußen” follows a relationship — however brief — that’s filled with consent, care and concern. After their sexual encounter, they go to a queer club together, and Kai expresses alarm over Nico’s apparent age. Every step of the way, the two men reflect on their positions, most likely never to meet if they hadn’t both been cruising at the same time. When Kai reveals that he’s been planning on escaping East Berlin, and thus Nico will never see him again — and perhaps most likely never know whether he is successful — “Weit Draußen” illustrates that a relationship doesn’t have to be long for it to be meaningful, impactful or important.
Notably, “Weit Draußen” has also received screenings at the Palm Springs International Film Festival and a variety of international queer film festivals — and deservedly so. What’s interesting about the film is that it could have ended at more than three other points in the story and it still would have been interesting and narratively fulfilling — but doesn’t mean it dragged on. This is a hallmark of a story well-crafted: at 24 minutes, director Jan-Peter Horstmann builds a relationship that the audience is invested in and selects to continue it for nearly half an hour, with great success.
Löwin [Lioness] (2018, Alexander Conrads)
11-year-old Leo’s (Zoe Lara Löhmann) friendship with her best friend (Mara Schmid) is complicated by the young girl’s feeling of responsibility to take care of her depressed father (Isaak Dentler) while her mother (Kathrin Marén Ender) works. Burdened with familial duty beyond her age, the aptly-named Leo (short for Leonie) finds comfort in her friend, but Leo finds herself thinking of her more than that.
The film is shot simply and realistically, placing the viewer directly into Leo’s place, complemented by an endearing performance by Löhmann. “Löwin” doesn’t feel like a film that’s being brought down to the level of an 11-year-old — because Leo is certainly mature enough to be making her own decisions and letting herself discover her emotions (not to mention practically taking care of a household!).
“Löwin” is a simple story with a touching ending that feels like a prologue to Leo’s life as she grows up and explores her sexuality, With so many films focused on teenage coming-of-age stories, “Löwin” gently pushes us to think about queer narratives from a young age, an angle that Conrads masterfully uses.
82 Quadratmeter [82 Square Meters] (2018, Dominik Hafenmaier and Elena Schilling)
“82 Quadratmeter” strikes a unique balance between absolutely bonkers and sociopolitically punchy. Not to say that this combination isn’t compatible — it’s just rare. For those coming into the film blind, “82 Quadratmeter” frames itself and is shot as a documentary and lets the viewer begin to unravel it as a mockumentary as the story grows more and more absurd. Beginning with a title introduction stating that the film follows three groups of people all applying for an apartment in Stuttgart, one of Germany’s worst cities for rent prices and housing shortages. With the festival taking place in Hamburg, I heard this all the time about Hamburg itself — another city with a massive housing shortage — so a documentary about this certainly seemed believable.
The groups consisted of a divorced father (Helgi Schmid) and his preteen son (Paul Schweizer), a single older woman (Andrea Leonetti) and a lesbian couple (Katharina Walther and Sara Adina Scheer). The older woman attempts to guilt-trip everyone into letting her get the apartment by stating her numerous health problems, but her laundry list is shifty. The queer couple is drilled on their experiences with homophobia in Germany while their relationship begins to disintegrate onscreen. The father tries to charm the agent while appealing to her with his son, but his anger issues create a larger problem.
As the housing agent pits the applicants against each other with increasingly absurd tasks, supposedly to “win” the apartment, the charade begins to crack while the structure holds up. To the applicants’ utter disbelief, they are told to paint the walls of the apartment with as much paint as they can in a certain amount of time (with hysterical effect, given that they are all wearing nice clothing). They begin to messily tear each other apart, both literally post-painting and metaphorically — yet the performances led me to believe that even this could have been part of a documentary.
The moment that finally got me was when the applicants are asked to secretly tattle on the other applicants. As the amazingly deadpan agent nods along to their increasingly desperate attempts to win the apartment by accusing people they just met of a variety of egregious faults, it finally becomes clear that it’s beautifully crafted satire.
But even — and especially — when you know it’s satire, it’s still brilliant.