Experimental documentaries take centre stage at the 2019 Berlinale.
Neil Young
Young is a regular contributor to Modern Times Review.
Published date: March 23, 2019


Berlin does things differently. Last year the main competition jury at the hipster-metropolis’ venerable film festival the Berlinale caused considerable stir by awarding the Golden Bear to a wild-card documentary-fiction hybrid which few regarded as a major contender for awards: Adina Pintilie’s intimate essay on sexuality and body-image, Touch Me Not. Twelve months later, the triumvirate responsible for bestowing the festival’s short-film equivalent – also a Golden Bear – went even further. 

«Our formal ambition in all our films is to create an audiovisual experience that is very similar to wakeful or lucid dreams» – Florian Fischer and Johannes Krell

Koyo Kouoh (Senegal), Vanja Kaludjercic (Croatia) and Jeffrey Bowers (USA), in what was an unusually bold move for such a high-profile film festival, opted for a non-narrative, experimental contender. Umbra, by German duo Florian Fischer and Johannes Krell, is a semi-abstract, alluringly enigmatic 20-minute exploration of natural darkness, making especially striking use of the bizarre shadowy effects that can result from a solar eclipse. «Our formal ambition in all our films,» commented the directors, «is to create an audiovisual experience that is very similar to wakeful or lucid dreams and thus to question the boundaries of our own perception.»

Umbra a film by Johannes Krell, Florian Fischer

Swan song

While the piece itself is subduedly andante, the allocation of the short film Golden Bear to a picture like Umbra – remarkably, the first «home» win since Helke Sander won for West Germany in 1985 – was a somewhat sensational finale to the Berlinale career of Maike Mia Höhne, boss of the shorts section since 2007. In contrast to other departments of the Berlinale – a sprawling behemoth of an event which many reckon has steadily lost its way …


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