«Every festival should be keen to offer a good platform for young filmmaking»

    Nordische Filmtage Lübeck: Artistic Director Thomas Hailer on the festival's unique communal approach, evolution, programming philosophy, and more.

    With one of the longest running film festival traditions in Europe, Nordische Filmtage Lübeck. The only festival entirely devoted to films from the North and Northeast of Europe, Nordische Filmtage Lübeck features narrative films, documentaries, and shorts across its six days.

    This year’s festival takes place from 2 – 6 November 2022 and, in addition to films, also features a slew of children’s and youth programming, Nordic and Baltic drama series, as well as Immersive Media, including 360° + VR. Both an audience festival and an important meeting place for the film industry in Germany and Northern Europe, Nordische Filmtage Lübeck is put on by the Hanseatic City of Lübeck alongside film institutes and foundations as well as the corresponding film institutions in the Baltic countries.

    With the 64th Nordische Filmtage Lübeck kicking off this week, we spoke with its Artistic Director Thomas Hailer on its unique communal approach, evolution, programming philosophy, and more.

    Within the landscape of a festival team, which includes volunteers and programmers and everything, how do you define the role of artistic director?

    If you break it down, a film festival is about films, and artistic directors are on this mission to find the best possible programme for the festival. They usually, like me, do that in a line of sections with their programmers. In Lübeck, I’m programming besides the main feature competition the documentary competition, which is awarded a prize by an interesting non-professional jury, very film-minded film freaks from the trade unions. Driving and running the programme is a key assignment within the festival and out of the hierarchy. All this is an organizational monster show where so many new wheels have to click into each other. We’re in the middle of all that, with a strong focus on programming.

    Since you did assume this role, how did that evolve the presentation or mission of the festival?

    I have admired this festival for over 25 years. As a young programmer, people sent me here and said, «if you want to go if you want to visit a festival very focused on a certain region, and where you don’t ever ask the question, why are they doing that? Go to Lübeck.» Our mission is so clear. The North is a very, very interesting film region, and they expanded the theme to the Baltic republics when the time was ready. In terms of meeting its regional mission, this festival has an excellent focus and attracts the attention of many people. When you take over such a tradition, you first try to keep the structure the same. Then, of course, you will look at how certain things stand. Then you add this and that. Everybody who knows me knows I have a really strong focus on building young audiences. I encouraged the young audience programmer to include documentaries and offer the widest of all programmes. This is a very precious thing for a very precious group. We also added a Lifetime Achievement Award, this year Fridrik Thor Fridrikson will be honoured Lars von Trier, Thomas Vinterberg, Aki Kaurismäki,they’ve all been here when they were younger. If you look back at the festival’s history, you see the history of Scandinavian and Nordic cinema. And we kind of mirror that. I felt honouring one of these people every year helps the festival redefine its mission. And to make clear what a genius idea it was 65 years ago.

    This is a very precious thing for a very precious group.

    How are you defining «young»? Young filmmakers and producers that are doing first or second-time films? Or even younger people, in the sense of attracting children, teenagers, and young adults into the audience?

    We have a debut feature competition, which is awarded 7500 Euros. This is an award which comes from the Lübeck citizens. We have a circle of film friends, local people who support the festival. They select the best debut every year. I think that says a lot about the festival. I also think that’s why people come. We have a highly film educated audience, and they are not people you have to tell not to be astonished if you have never heard a director’s name. They will be the ones who have been there when this name entered the international stage. Every festival should be keen to offer a good platform for young filmmaking.

    And if you talk about how young, I say preschool. We want to get them as early as possible. The earliest programme we have is a less than one-hour short film compilation programme for kids the age of five plus. We offer them a first impression of cinema. Best of all is that in most cases we have the filmmaker at the festival. When having seen a film on the big screen for the first time and the privilege of meeting the person who directed it, this is the future of cinema.

    Aside from the regional aspect, are there any aesthetic, stylization, or presentation approaches that make a film appear on the lineup? Are you looking for a certain kind of film?

    Absolutely. You cannot not consider this. When I see a film I sense pretty soon whether it’s a classical interest-driven piece, an artistic piece or whether it’s a 45 minute TV format. As programmer of a competition you have to be careful to highlight specific titles. But to give you an idea, we will present Natasa Urban’s The Eclipse. As a film, it’s a blessing. She doesn’t make her own life easy by going back and analyse her family’s activities during the war. Her process is so cineastic. After shooting the physical film material is processed with coffee or salt water. And then you have these interesting visual results, which highlight the pain of going back to the place of your childhood where you didn’t realize that incredible crimes were committed. So it’s a beautiful example of a very ambitious film withn so many different layers.

    Music for Black Pigeons Jørgen Leth
    Music for Black Pigeons, a film by Jørgen Leth and Andreas Koefod

    There will also be a documentary opening the festival, Music for Black Pigeons. Are there any criteria that differentiate a film on the overall programme from a showcase title like this?

    In this case, the film just fell into place. It’s a film celebrating life without being stupid or banal. It’s a film that clearly defines the necessity of art. The shittier our life gets, the more we need art as something like air to breathe or water to drink. The film does this in a very sincere and light way. All these primarily old musicians, got the same question from the diectors Jørgen Leth and Andreas Koefod: how do you feel when being creative. Of course, they don’t feel liketalking about this. By not answering this question, it tells a lot. I mentioned the old masters, which are the DNA of Lübeck. Of course, Jørgen Leth’s The Five Obstructions has been here ages ago, and it’s wonderful to have him back.

    The shittier our life gets, the more we need art as something like air to breathe or water to drink.

    One of the things I really love about the festival is that the Doc jury is not made up of industry figures. You mentioned they are members of Lübeck trade unions. What does this add to the ambience of the festival?

    They came up with this idea, and provising a prize for which they pick the award winner. I don’t think about juries when I select films. There is no second level of calculation. The juries see the programme as it is. I found it so appropriate for a festival like Lübeck that people take over responsibility for financing the award but also for finding the award winner. That’s a good package. If you look back on the list of award winners over the last few years, you see that they are absolutely capable of doing it.

    I’m also very much interested in the immersive programme. Can you talk about the immersive projections in the 360-degree dome? Why are these part of the festival programme?

    I’m glad you are asking. The festival did have domes in the last years, but more as a cooperation with science and educational initiatives in the city. This is the first year we have curated content, dealing with our regional criteria. It’s exciting. By being linked to the Nordic states, which are always driving cinema’s future, offering a platform that that deals with future platforms for moving images is a good move. So, for example, we have the German premiere of Arran 360° a project by the International Sami Film Institute, which encouraged seven Sami independent filmmakers to work on projects. It’s difficult to call it a documentary, but it starts with a short piece of documentary image where you are inmidst of a reindeer herd. Three or four of the younger ones are being selected, and you’re standing in the middle. You can feel this massive, physical power of this massive group of animals circling you. It reminded me of the early days of cinema, where they had the train running in the direction of the audience, and everyone was running out and having heart attacks from the sheer power of the visual.

    Steve Rickinson
    Steve Rickinson
    Communications Manager and Industry Editor at Modern Times Review.

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