(This blog was submitted by Nancy Moya. She is from the El Paso area and a NAHJ member. She recently relocated to Germany and writes about issues in Germany with a perspective as a Tejana.)
Europeans including Germans do not always agree on having a strong American influence, but there is no denying that they are drawn to many elements of the American culture.
The American occupying forces in Germany and Austria, the sounds of American entertainers from Elvis to Madonna, the influence of Hollywood movies and several other aspects have all combined to lend a distinctly “American Flavor” to the German cultural scenery.
More than 85 percent of the movies playing in German Kinos are Hollywood films. After Japan, Germany is the largest market for American movies abroad. But where can Germans go if they are also attracted on American independent films?
This month Berliners are quite open to discovering at the Babylon Cinema new and unknown films during the Third Annual American Independent Film Festival, best known as the Unknown Pleasures Festival. This event is been considered for the past three years a celebration of the best in America’s independent cinema.
History & Development of the Unknown Pleasure Film Festival
Swiss-born Berlin resident Hannes Brühwiler, Director of the Unknown Pleasures Festival and editor at Revolver Magazine, has created this festival described by him as an invisible cinema with complex difficulties to be seen on the big screens not only in the US, but also throughout the world.
“The real truth is that German distributors are quite conservative and consequently they are not attracted in most of these types of films. Because of all these facts, we are always interested on introducing these kinds of non-commercial films to our people.”
Unknown Pleasures has had two very successful years and the concept stays the same: to present the German audience unknown films which are produced independently and are never seen in Berlin.
“The reaction from both, the audience and the filmmakers was very successful during the first year so I decided to keep doing it; a year after we had the second film festival for Unknown Pleasures and this year the third one.”
The Third Annual Unknown Pleasure Film Festival at Babylon in Berlin
More than ten American independent filmmakers are taking the chance of showing their materials to the European audience, slated for Jan. 1-16. They include two of the America’s most celebrated filmmakers, Francis Ford Coppola and Steven Soderbergh. The two directors are not only well known for directing commercial Hollywood films, but also for smaller conventional and commercialized works such as And Everything Is Going Fine released by Soderbergh and Tetro by Ford Coppola. Both films that were financed independently without aid from Hollywood are screened at the Third Annual American Independent Film Festival.
Brühwiler also said about this year’s special films directed by Chicago’s filmmaker Thom Andersen and New York’s director and producer John Gianvito, who share independent movies in connection with the US socio-political issues with extraordinary characters who face the real American Dream.
John Gianvito told Deutsche Welle in an interview about the German impact on American movies. What strikes me as useful about the Unknown Pleasures Film Festival, says Gianvito, is that, as a consequence of its discerning programming, it affords audiences in Germany the opportunity to become more aware and ideally further appreciative of the fact that a vibrant, unconventional, alternative film practice still exists within the U.S., many examples of which can open a wider window onto the realities of the purported most powerful nation on earth.
“We get out of the German market the opportunity to be seen, to share. I hope to receive some feedback from viewers. While I’ve been fortunate to have my works seen in various parts of the world the past years, I believe this is the first time any of the three films of mine that Unknown Pleasures is showcasing have been exhibited in Berlin.”
Support for Independent Film Makers: Funding & Grant Programs
Although American micro-budget indie cinema collects a reasonable amount of exposure at several other regional festivals throughout the US, chances to see such works in Europe are few and far between.
As with many film festivals, Brühwiler’s main trouble is about obtaining funds to produce these types of events. “Even if we get assistance from the US Embassy in Berlin as well as other organizations, I don’t receive any financial support from the state or the city; this is a challenge in Berlin, where there are at least 50 film festivals each year.”
However, the creative freedom to program the festival precisely as he sees fit is a benefit he would not give up for any amount of Euros. He believes he has learned about films from online research, talking with festival-goers, as well as seeing a few films at other European festivals.
“In general, independent films are well received in Germany, but unfortunately only mainstream, bigger-budget titles such as ‘Little Miss Sunshine’ find distribution. I want to show audiences that there is another, truly independent American cinema.”