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Film

Young directors vie for Max Ophüls Prize with films on freedom, migration and women

Hot-button topics like migrations and women's issues are on the lineup at the Max Ophüls Prize Film Festival in Germany. It was opened with an absurd Austrian tour de force that overcomes time itself.

"Night of 1,000 hours" is the enigmatic title of the third long film by Austrian director Virgil Widrich which opened the 38th Max Ophüls Prize Film Festival (January 23-29, 2017). It's a self-fulfilling prophecy as the 92-minute movie is indeed mysterious.

It opens with an established family in Vienna that owns an equally established company and sees itself confronted with the question of how the business can be led into the future - a question that triggers controversy between the various family members. After a few minutes, when the viewers are still under the impression that this is a conventional family saga, something totally unexpected happens. An aunt who'd just died while working on an important document at her desk suddenly comes back to life. 

A wild voyage through space and time

From then on, the strangest things happen by the minute. Family members who died years ago are resuscitated and bygone times return. "Night of 1,000 Hours" is a wild tour de force through space and time, a surreal, absurd and grotesque film that is nevertheless entertaining and funny.

Film still from Night of 1,000 Hours by Virgil Widrich (Max Ophüls Preis)

In "Night of 1,000 Hours," the son is set to lose his inheritence

The opening film of the 38th Max Ophüls Prize Film Festival - the most significant festival aimed at German-speaking young filmmakers - is, however, not typical for what will follow during the next few days in the southwestern city of Saarbrücken. But perhaps the idea was to show what is possible in the film world, and what young talented directors can achieve.

Virgil Widrich, born in 1967, is a jack-of-all-trades of the Austrian film scene. He's a filmmaker and author, a multimedia artist, an organizer of exhibitions, and a director of animated cartoons. His work was already presented at the Saarbrücken-based festival 17 years ago. He achieved his international breakthrough with the expressionist and imaginative short film "Copy Shop," which was nominated for an Oscar in 2002. 

Almost 160 films in six days

Audiences in Saarbrücken can choose between almost 160 films during the six-day event. A total of 28 films in the categories long movie and documentary will compete for the lion's share of the prize money, this year amounting to roughly 111,000 euros. More than half of these contributions have been directed by women - certainly a new phenomenon in the festival's history.

Already before the festival kicked off, the new head of the Max Ophüls Prize, Svenja Böttger, and program curator Oliver Baumgarten noted that an unusually high percentage of the participants this year were women. Not surprisingly, many of the contributions focus on women's and family issues. According to the organizers, other important themes are freedom and self-realization as well as migration.

Max Ophüls Prize (Oliver Dietze/Max Ophüls Preis)

Trophies and prizes amounting to over 100,000 euros will be awarded

German producer Peter Rommel will receive an honorary award. Rommel, who gained international reputation by working with director Andreas Dresen, is a regular guest in Saarbrücken.

Michael Verhoeven an honorary guest 

With the objective of promoting the exchange between young and old filmmakers, it has become a well-established tradition to invite old masters of the German-speaking film world to the Saarbrücken-based Max Ophüls Prize festival. This year, Michael Verhoeven will be honored with an hommage.

Verhoeven who celebrated his debut with "The Dance of Death" in 1967 then gained acclaim with his films "o.k.," "The White Rose," and "The Nasty Girl." Now aged 78, Verhoeven will once again visit Saarbrücken accompanied by his wife, German actress Senta Berger.

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