A. Kötzing u.a. (Hrsg.): Cultural Transfer and Political Conflicts

Cultural Transfer and Political Conflicts. Film Festivals in the Cold War

Kötzing, Andreas; Moine, Caroline
Berichte und Studien 72
Göttingen 2017: V&R unipress
Anzahl Seiten
169 S.
€ 30,00
Rezensiert für H-Soz-Kult von
Fernando Ramos Arenas, Department of Spanish and Portuguese, Georgetown University, Washington DC

Traditionally considered at the margins of film historical and theoretical accounts, film festivals have become central subjects of inquiry for a vast array of disciplines in the last fifteen years. Within film studies, scholars from different backgrounds (sociology, anthropology or cultural and economic history) have focused on festivals as important nodes in film cultural networks.[1] The present volume, which includes arguments originally presented at an eponymous conference that took place in Leipzig in May 2014, concentrates on the history of European film festivals from the 1950s to the 1990s and especially on their capacity to question political boundaries along the confronting blocks during the Cold War period.

There are good reasons for this: Film festivals were central to the renaissance of European cultural life during the postwar years. The introduction stresses their role as sites of “exhibition, sociability, and exchange” and as places situated “as much in the cultural history of cinema as of international relations” (p. 9). They provided a forum for international cultural dialogue while being also windows to other worlds and other cinemas as well as showcases for national cinemas (both for filmmakers and governments). They were places of encounter and exchange and also platforms of political and artistic conflicts. In this volume, and with the possible exception of Venice, best-known big festivals such as Cannes, Berlin or Moscow are mostly absent. Instead, the focus is directed towards the cultural exchange that took place in central and South European festivals, towards their institutional history and to the way this history was intertwined with the politics of each of the countries. The general impression, probably strengthened by the Cold War analytical frame, is that specific cinematic considerations were secondary in these processes. In this respect, the volume builds on some of the ideas originally developed in books published by its editors. Andreas Kötzing and Caroline Moine both noted historians on festivals during the Cold War have proven the rich potential of festivals as historical research subjects in their previous works.[2]

Kötzing sums up an important part of his research in his own contribution to the first part of the present volume, which deals with the function of festivals as crossroads in an international film culture. His essay presents the relations between Leipzig Documentary and Short Film Festival as well as its West German counterpart, the Short Film Festival in Oberhausen, against the background of a German-German entangled history as a good reflection of the tensions that characterized relations between both German states from the 1950s until the 1970s. Two of the other three contributors to this first part, Regina Câmara and Dunja Jelenković, analyze the fate of the Brazilian Cinema Novo and the Yugoslav Black Wave in different European festivals as good examples of the role played by these institutions in the launching of both movements. As is well known, festivals were central for these and other variations of the cinema New Waves; they provided access to the audiences and artistic legitimatization. A particularly striking and barely known variation on this narrative is proposed by Tobias Ebbrecht-Hartman in his analysis of the festival life of the East German Student Films produced at the state-controlled film school in Babelsberg. He shows the tensions that accompanied the international circulation of the films (usually without the presence of the filmmakers) and argues convincingly for its importance in the gradual opening up of the East German institution.

The two texts in the second, shorter part of the volume focus on institutional actors and the variations they posed to the traditional film festivals’ panoramas. They cover film festival policy of European institutions in the 1950s and 1960s (Anne Bruch) and Television Festivals in the 1960s (Yulia Yurtaeva).

The last part is dedicated to individual case studies on festivals in Thessaloniki (Maria A. Stassinopoulou), Venice (Stefano Pisu), Locarno (John Wäfler) and Belgrade (Dragan Batančev). In this last section, Pisu’s contribution stands out due to its capacity to combine cultural, political and film history. Within a general historical frame of a festival struggling to redefine its profile in the period of ideological radicalization and political tensions that characterized the years after 1968, Pisu concentrates on the 1977 Venice Biennale – the so-called Biennale of Dissent. That year’s edition was dedicated to the phenomenon of dissidence in the USSR and the Soviet Bloc and caused a bitter controversy both on an international level (in the diplomatic relations between Italy and the USSR) and in Italian domestic politics. The tension culminated at a workshop organized by the Biennale to bring to international attention the fate of the Armenian director Sergei Parajanov who was arrested by the Soviet government at the end of 1973. The festival managed to start an international mobilization that included the screening of forbidden films, the signing of a transnational appeal and further diplomatic advances and culminated with Parajanov’s release on the 31st of December 1977.

From Locarno in the 1950s to Belgrade in the 1990s: These ten essays cover a broad array of interests, regions and approaches over a period of almost 50 years. Sometimes, this richness runs against the cohesion of the volume. However, at its best, this heterogeneous collection provides very stimulating, thought-provoking examples for a creative intertwining of film, political and cultural history.

[1] Cf. as work of reference Marijke de Valck, Film Festivals: From European Geopolitics to Global Cinephilia, Amsterdam 2007; also the more recent volume edited by Marijke de Valck / Brendan Kredell / Skadi Loist (eds.), Film Festivals – History, Theory, Method, Practice, London 2016; as well as the six volumes of the Film Festival Yearbooks ed. since 2009 by Dina Iordanova.
[2] Caroline Moine, Cinéma et Guerre froide. Histoire du festival de films documentaires de Leipzig (1955–1990), Paris 2014; Andreas Kötzing, Kultur- und Filmpolitik im Kalten Krieg. Die Filmfestivals von Leipzig und Oberhausen in gesamtdeutscher Perspektive 1954–1972, Göttingen 2013.