This year’s 11mm Football Film Festival was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic. Instead, the organization is sharing a selection of short films online every day, giving football fans a festival feeling from home.
This weekend, the customary green grass carpet will not be rolled out for football fans and cinema lovers after all. The doors of the "Babylon" cinema in Berlin are closed.
Just days before showtime, the 11mm International Football Film Festival was declared another cultural casualty of the coronavirus pandemic.
The 17th edition of the world's leading film festival dedicated solely to football was scheduled to take place from March 26-30. Yet emergency measures have brought public cultural life in the German capital to a grinding halt.
"On the same day the programs were supposed to go to print, we had to call it all off," laments 11mm co-organizer Jochen Lohmann.
"It's definitely irritating after spending nearly a year preparing. But the whole team agrees it was the logical and right decision."
However, the organizers of 11mm were swift to take creative measures to fill the void. After combing through the festival archives, the team of football film aficionados has curated a series of previously screened short films that are available online.
Every day at 11:11 CET the shorts are shared via their website and social media channels. The online edition, called "Shortkicks@home," is a virtual short film festival to enjoy from home.
Culture goes digital
11mm is not the only cultural outlet to have come up with an idea that brings culture into people's living rooms. It's becoming a global megatrend to go digital and adapt to the coronavirus crisis.
Many theaters, concert halls and cinemas are offering an online version of their events. For many, it's a matter of survival.
But while the world's quarantined football fans are still languishing in the absence of live sports to watch, 11mm's short and sweet flicks lend some football culture comfort.
"Fans are afraid, lonely or bored, and short films offer an escape," Lohmann tells DW. But aside from just escapist entertainment, the conscientiously selected "Shortkicks@home" provide material for intercultural exchange.
Show of solidarity
According to Lohmann, the three films chosen for Thursday, March 26 (the date the festival would have kicked off) are a nod to Spain - one of the European countries hit hardest by the COVID-19 outbreak.
In part, the selections mark the canceled international friendly between Spain and Germany - scheduled for the same date. But the gesture is also meant to express solidarity with 11mm's Spanish football film festival counterparts such as "Offside Fest" in Barcelona, which has also been postponed due to the crisis.
What's more, their online efforts are also intended to maintain a presence in their fans' minds until 11mm can be rescheduled. The festival management is hopeful the annual event will still take place in 2020, albeit in the latter half of the year. A fixed date is yet to be determined.
'You can't take the risk'
Every year, 11mm receives submissions across diverse cinematic genres from filmmakers around the globe. This year's attractive program was all set to go, featuring over 60 international films, ranging from a documentary about Afghanistan's national football team, through to an animated short about a feisty match between hippos and elephants.
German legends such as Paul Breitner and Pierre Littbarski as well as current Germany internationals Alexandra Popp and Almuth Schult were all confirmed to attend. Even the Oscar-winning director Asif Kapadia was due to present his most recent documentary "Diego Maradona” in person. Now, with the postponement, much is uncertain.
"We considered every option, but this was the logical end. We are very aware that we have a responsibility for our employees, our volunteers, and of course the public and our guests,” says Lohmann.
"You just can't risk having older guests like Paul Breitner visiting during a situation like this."
Football's coming home
While 11mm's "Shortkicks@home" is sure to spread some joy in these difficult times, it's no comparison to the festival experience itself.
Between screenings, passionate fans informally mingle with international filmmakers and athletes on the green grass carpet in front of the cinema. Juries made up of football pundits turned film critics present the awards. And the audience hollers for the best short film at the culminating event, the "short-kicks" gala.
Given the current situation, all 11mm can do is present a virtual retrospective of its films from the past. But hopefully, the 11mm 2020 films will still get to be shown — as intended — on the big screen.