As a first time visitor to the Diagonale 2003 in Graz, it was hard not to be impressed by the visibility of the national Austrian film festival. The festival was held in a nice city proudly presenting its Cultural Capital 2003 programme on each and every street corner on both sides of the river. A huge banner on the mountainside formulated a protest against the war. Very readable indeed, lit by a beautiful warm summer weather bringing festival guests to the squares with their red and white Diagonale paper bags full of documentation on films, discussions and special events. Diagonale seems to function perfectly as a national festival: lots of people attend, cinemas are full, press coverage is extensive. No complaining at all, on the contrary. On opening night, festival leaders Christine Dollhofer and Constantin Wulff received a minute-long ovation for their leadership that is now ending, Wulff of his own free will, and Dollhofer because of politics and her opposition to the right-wing Minister of Culture.
I was there to watch new Austrian documentaries. Of the sixteen listed in the catalogue, I watched eight. This year there were no new films from Ruth Beckermann (Jenseits des Krieges/East of War), Michael Glawogger (Megacities) or Nicholas Geyerhalter (Pripyat, Elsewhere), whose international renown, together with the controversial Ulrich Seidl, have made Austria a leading documentary country in the German language area. Compared to most European countries, Austria has a rich public funding system for film production and promotion. It is possible to produce within your country and without any considerable support from the national tv channel ORF. The Austrian Ministry of Culture (BKA Kunstsektion), the Austrian Film Institute (ÖFI) and the Vienna Film Fund (Filmfonds Wien) are the main supporters.
That could be the reason why most of this year’s films dealt with Austrian themes, contrary to the situation in many other countries where documentarists look to other continents for their stories. Austrian documentaries deal with personal, social and political issues. Many of the films are post-war reflections on the traumatic Nazi era that still seems to haunt the country, even the younger generations. And many films examine the present political situation where years ago Jörg Haider turned the country upside down as the prelude to a more massive turn to the right all over Europe. The films are done with a ‘Gründlichkeit’ (thoroughness) that bears witness to a film community with a strong tradition for proper, solid research into complicated issues. A salute to this ambition. The flipside is of course that to persons from outside Austria, some films are quite loaded with information, with the result that the filmmaker’s unifying principle and/or the point of the documentary are sometimes concealed by the storytelling.
I Am from Nowhere by Georg Misch was shot in neighbouring Slovakia whose small town of Miková has achieved world fame because it is the hometown of Julia Warhola. She left for America in 1921. You guessed it: Julia is Andy’s mother, and many films have already been made about Miková and that ‘kitsch’ factor. “What percentage of Warhol is in your blood,” characters are asked in a film that toys with communism and coca cola and has many fun moments.