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Film

Germany's most unique film festival marks 50th anniversary - without the man who made it great

The Hof International Film Festival is held in a tiny Bavarian village, but draws names as big as Werner Herzog. Germany's most creative film festival, it has lost co-founder Heinz Badewitz, film's friendliest host.

Hof International Film Festival may not be the largest in Germany, or the oldest. But it's definitely the festival with the most cult potential. The slogan "Hof: Home of Films" has managed to ingrain itself in the consciousness of the movie scene and accurately represents the annual event held in the tiny Bavarian village. Hof lives and breathes German film.

Located rurally in the central-easternmost corner of Germany, close to the Czech border, Hof is not exactly a whirring hub of activity. Nevertheless, it's home to Germany's most original and significant film festival.

Technically speaking, the Hof International Film Festival began in Munich, rather than Hof. In 1966, a couple of young film enthusiasts wanted to start a festival, but they weren't able to arrange anything with the local cinemas.

Heinz Badewitz (picture-alliance/dpa/K. Jens)

Heinz Badewitz (1941-2016)

So, a year later, they moved to Heinz Badewitz's birth city, Hof. Badeweitz was one of three co-founders of the festival, which got off the ground in 1967 with just a handful of screenings.

The following year, the festival developed further in an effort to keep up with competitors at the Oberhausen Short Film Festival.

Badewitz - a charming, cosmopolitan host

In the 1970s, Heinz Badewitz, with his unbeatable mix of charm and expertise, managed to make Hof what it is today: a key meeting place for both the German and the international film scenes. No other film festival in Germany is as closely identified with the name of its director.

Those who knew him quickly saw what made Badewitz so special: his unparalleled openness and friendliness, paired with a nose for new talent. The dedicated film fan was later able to draw world-famous directors to the tiny Bavarian village to attend the annual event.

New German Film, a movement associated with big names in German film like Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Wim Wenders and Werner Herzog, may have had its sights set on the Berlinale, but its heart beat firmly in Hof. Everyone enjoyed coming there.

During the Cold War, Hof was not far from the East German border. The train connection was poor in getting there, and going by car took hours. Even after reunification in 1989, Hof didn't exactly become an urban hub. But that didn't seem to hurt the festival's popularity.

Badewitz fostered talent at home and abroad

The Hof International Film Festival launched the careers of many German filmmakers, but it also maintained a strong reputation abroad. Year after year, Badewitz invited well known and not-yet-known directors from all over the world - from Europe and the US to Australia and New Zealand.

International guests always enjoyed their time in Hof and a few, who debuted in Hof, were honored years later with a retrospective, including Jim Jarmusch, Amos Kollek and Wayne Wang.

Scene from Die Blumen von Gestern by Chris Kraus (Filmfest Hof)

Chris Kraus's latest work opens the festival

In 2010, Hof presented a retrospective on American director Bob Rafelson, an icon of indie film ("Five Easy Pieces"). He sent his best wishes for the festival's big anniversary celebration: "If you spent time with Heinz Badewitz, that will be with you for your whole life. His films were unbelievable, but even more important was his passion for cinema. He changed that way you thought about things, in order to make room for new thoughts. And he was extremely generous. With him, even the sausage tasted good!"

Maren Ade: 'Heinz Badewitz was the festival'

Maren Ade, a rising star in Germany's film scene ("Toni Erdmann") said this about Hof: "My short films and my first feature, 'Der Wald vor lauter Bäumen' premiered in Hof. The great thing about Hof for me was always the fact that everyone really watched the films. I discovered a lot of international things and unforgettable retrospectives like that of Amos Kollek, Paul Morissey or Ulli Lommel."

As far as Badewitz goes, Ade said, "Heinz remains even more unforgettable for me - he was the festival with all of his energy and empathy and love for cinema. It's very sad, but I hope that Hof continues as he would have wanted it."

Hof wouldn't be Hof if it didn't do what Heinz Badewitz stood for: showing new films. This year's festival will be opened on October 25 with "Die Blumen von Gestern" (Yesterday's flowers) by Chris Kraus, an old friend of the festival.

 

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