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Sports

The 11mm Football Film Festival: Sports meets cinema in the middle of Berlin

For 12 years now, a one-of-a-kind event in Berlin has brought the beautiful game to the silver screen. DW looks ahead to the highlights of this year's 11mm Football Film Festival, which opens on Thursday night.

You can't get more star power than this. For Thursday's opening of the 11mm Festival, the organizers are leading with a film about no less than one Lionel Messi. The fleet-footed Barcelona forward may not be turning up personally, but "Messi (The Movie)" is the work of Alex de la Iglsia, director of the cult favorite "Perdita Durango," and former German national defender Arne Friedrich will be in attendance.

The fact that the five-day celebration of the joys of cinema and sports kicks off with big names is an indication of how far 11mm has come since its origins in Berlin's way-the-hell-off-Broadway alternative culture scene.

"We started in the Kino Central movie house in a back courtyard of the Hackesche Höfe complex and sometimes couldn't even fill all of its 80 seats," festival co-director Andreas Leimbach-Niaz recalls. "Now we're in a large cinema with 400 seats, and events like the opening of our Shortkicks short-film competition are sold out.

"It's fantastic to see that people remember us from year to year. There are people who travel 400 miles to be here and ask if they can buy a festival pass like at the Berlin Film Festival."

Yet despite the nearly 50 films that will be screened between now and next Monday, 11mm is still a long way away from Germany's biggest film events, with its Golden Bears and red carpets. Most of the people involved with 11mm, volunteer their time or work for token wages. Leimbach-Niaz says that the event has grown as far as it can without a major sponsor.

With that in mind, it's astonishing how wide-ranging the festival is. If moving pictures are a universe unto their own, then football films are at very least a relatively large solar system.

A scene from We are Moluccans

The film "We are Moluccans" shows how football can stop religious tension in Indonesia

Brazil, Bosnia, Borussia Dortmund

The festival encompasses both documentaries and feature films, ranging in length from 97 seconds (the Canadian short "Bounce") to two-and-a-half hours (the Indonesian melodrama "We Are Moluccans"). Many of the works to be screened are political. "Istanbul United," for example, tells of how supporters of the Turkish metropolis' three major football clubs put aside their bitter rivalry to launch a joint protest against Turkish head of state Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Other movies on offer in Berlin deal with racism in South Africa, impoverished neighborhoods in Antwerp or the civil war in Eastern Ukraine. There's even a whole series about Jews in football.

Moviegoers who prefer their soccer without politics won't be disappointed either. "The Class of '92" offers Manchester United fans a chance to walk down memory lane with the pre-Posh Spice David Beckham, Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs. Other films investigate the history of the Maracana Stadium, the best team in Cuba, the trials and tribulations of fans of the Bosnian national team and the founding of Bundesliga club Borussia Dortmund. And of course, the festival doesn't neglect the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

"There was no avoiding that," Leimbach-Niaz says. "Germany waited 20 years for this title."

Screen grab from film Meidericher Vizemeister

"Meidericher Vizemeister" relives MSV Duisburg’s first season in the German Bundesliga

True love never dies

The broad spectrum of movies featured at the festival represents the diverse professional backgrounds and experiences of the main organizers and employees. But everyone has one thing in common: a deep love for their hometown clubs.

"I come from the Ruhr Valley so the film "Meidericher Vizemeister" is especially close to my heart," Leimbach-Niaz reveals. "It tells the story of the Duisburg football club, which came out of nowhere to finish second in the league in the first season of the Bundesliga. It was made by three guys who've never done a film before and who joined forces with some of the players from back then. The captain of that team is coming to Berlin with them to be at the screening on Sunday at 1 p.m. That's my personal highlight."

The Zebras, as Duisburg are known, play in the third division these days – a fact that does nothing to dent the fervor of their hardcore supporters. And a similar sense of passion imbues the entire 11mm Football Film Festival, not least during the breaks between screenings when moviegoers often congregate in front of the cinema for impromptu games of kick-around. That's further evidence that an old footballing axiom hold equally true for the silver screen: you get the best results, if you remember to have fun.

DW's Bundesliga program Kick off! is a long-standing partner of the 11mm Football Film Festival.

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