Locarno film festival digs up postwar German classics | Film | DW | 01.08.2016
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Locarno film festival digs up postwar German classics

In 1962, young West German filmmakers rang in a new era for movie-making in the country. German post-war cinema, they said, is dead. The Locarno film festival tries its hand at a reinterpretation.

"Papas Kino ist tot" (Dad's movies are dead) was a popular outcry in the 1960s. German postwar was on its way out. While in France, directors including Francoise Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard were starting the Nouvelle Vague movement, a group of young German film enthusiasts was carrying German postwar cinema to its grave.

In 1962, 26 filmmakers signedthe so called Oberhausen Manifesto, which listed what the young men didn't like about the older generation's films. After all the corny "Heimatfilme" (simple, sentimental films in rural settings) and uptight war dramas, after silly entertainment and harmless crime thrillers, they were ready for a new beginning.

Enter New German Cinema, which brought German filmmaking a great deal of international recognition.

Directors Alexander Kluge and Edgar Reitz won international awards; soon Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Wim Wenders, Werner Herzog and Volker Schlöndorff joined the list of renowned directors. New German Cinema was a development that enriched both the German and the international film scenes.

On the set of 'Black Gravel' (1960/61) with Helmut Käutner Copyright: DIF Frankfurt

On the set of 'Black Gravel' (1960/61)

But as is the case with revolutions - France's Nouvelle Vague ran into the same problems - people overlooked the fact that not everything filmed before 1962/63 was bad.

To rehabilitate that particular era of German film, the Festival del Film Locarno (August 3-13) and the German Film Institute have compiled an extensive retrospective on German postwar film.

Popular film genres in particular were "sorely ignored" in the 60s, the organizers say. Perhaps that was a way of showing contempt for popular culture, says Claudia Dillmann of the Frankfurt Film Institute, adding that in any case, it's the reason why even today commercial and art films are fruther apart than ever.

Unjustifiably neglected

"We're highlighting an era in West German filmmaking that we feel has been unjustifiably neglected," says Locarno film festival artistic director Carlo Chatrian. "Not everything our fathers and grandfathers did was meaningless." It's time, Chatrian addds, to salvage buried cinematic treasures and make them available to the younger generation."

Piazza Grande Copyright: Festival del film Locarno

Locarno's Piazza Grande is ready for the festival

The assumption that the New German Cinema was in any way special is in fact a "huge misunderstanding," says Olaf Möller, who helped curated the retrospective in the Swiss city of Locarno.

Some of the New German Cinema directors only had the chance to try their hand at something new because the much-maligned producers of the commercial films helped them, Möller argues.

Off to the U.S.

About 80 films are on the program at the Locarno retrospective "Beloved and Rejected: Cinema in the young Federal Republic of Germany" - documentaries, feature films, animated films by well-known and lesser known filmmakers of the era. It's certainly worth taking a look at films produced in the young West German, even if some of the curators' arguments come across as slightly exaggerated.

After the Locarno Film Festival, the retrospective travels on to several German and Swiss cities, and it's also booked in Italy and the U.S., where West Germany's "beloved and rejected" films will be shown in Washington and New York.

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