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17. Filmfest Hamburg: films in the focus of "Vibrant Metropolises"

From 24th September to 3rd October 2009 the 17th Filmfest Hamburg focuses in on films treating the topic of "Vibrant Metropolises". Claus Friede, the curator of the Focus' section, says that the selection of 12 international feature and documentary films presents: "metropolises of extreme contrasts. The films contain social criticism, deal with radical strategies of survival, and depict breathless hypermodernity alongside urban traditions that have developed over centuries." Festival Director Albert Wiederspiel sees the films "reflecting current global developments and changes, seen from very different perspectives of urban life, and that show disturbing realities or allow their protagonists to casually drift across town."

The Focus' programme "Vibrant Metropolises" consists of the feature films "Al Ghaba (Demons of Cairo)" (2008) by Ahmed Atef, "Beirut, Open City" (2008) by Samir Habchi, "Black Dogs Barking" (2008) by Mehmet Bahadir Er and Maryna Gorbach, "Bombay Summer" (2009) by Joseph Mathew Varghese, "Burning Down the House: The Story of CBGB" (2009) by Mandy Stein, "Here and There" (2009) by Darko Lungulov, "Low Lights" (2009) by Ignas Miškinis, Fatih Akin's "Soul Kitchen" (2009) and "The Firm Land" (2008) by Chapour Haghighat as well as the documentary films "A Virus in the City" (2008) by Cédric Venail, "Examined Life" (2008) by Astra Taylor and "Tehran Without Permission" (2009) by Sepideh Farsi.

Multi- and subcultures, scenes and alternative ways of living are often considered as counter-cultures of established structures, and function as innovative catalysts of societal and cultural developments. They always come into existence where living and working space is cheap, where ethnic and social minorities are housed and quarters evolve that are demarcated sometimes more, sometimes less consciously from the rest of society. In this way, Hamburg has seen such different quarters evolve as Sternschanze, Karolinenviertel and the Portuguese quarter as well as Ottensen, St. Pauli and St. Georg. These wanted and unwanted changes are today referred to as "Gentrification". The opening film of Filmfest Hamburg, Fatih Akin's "Soul Kitchen" (2009), immediately introduces this thematic focus. Of course, this phenomenon of change is by no means limited to Hamburg - it can be found in metropolises worldwide, and that is what this year's Focus' films have as their central theme. In the following, a selection of them are introduced.

"Al Ghaba (Demons of Cairo)" (2008) deals with the brutal struggle for survival of two million street children in Cairo. Everyday life is marked by violence, both for the children and the adults: street fighting, arbitrariness and brutality, but in a few isolated moments there is also care. The feature film depicts the Egyptian capital city as a merciless Moloch and designs an apocalyptic world that can only grow better.

"Examined Life" (2008) approaches the topic of life in metropolises: philosophically, ponderingly, knowingly and intelligently. The film entices thinkers to leave their offices and desks and go on a trip through that town or to those places that one would never suspect any thinking being done at whatsoever. The protagonists speak about moral philosophy, social sciences, autonomous individuals, the environment and topics pertaining to cultural theory.

These two cities could hardly be less alike: New York is not Belgrade. Robert has been rendered indifferent by New York while the Big Apple will not forgive his Serbian friend Branko a single mistake. In order to bring the latter's girlfriend to the USA, Robert is to travel to Belgrade and marry her there, so she will be given US immigration documents. The enterprise seems to go horribly wrong. Belgrade evokes the impression that every other person would like to leave the town as quickly as possible: people are sitting on packed suitcases. With a portion of stoic humour, "Here and There" (2009) demonstrates how a New Yorker can indeed gain something from the Serbian capital.

Istanbul is a reservoir for millions of pettiest bourgeois, who must work hard for their social rise or else slide into poverty. The suburbs consist of criminal macho societies. They decide on whether someone can be successful or not. The men in suits have the say! All boys want to make something of themselves - just how difficult that is can be seen in "Black Dogs Barking" (2008), a social criticism from Istanbul, rapid, violent, exaggerated.

"Low Lights" (2009) is about two men and a woman, who spend their nights going Night Driving: cruising aimlessly through Lithuania's capital, Vilnius. The nighttime ride transforms the city; they reach places that no-one would notice during the day, they discover youth cultures and trendy bars and allow themselves to drift further and further.
"Tehran Without Permission" (2009) captures the atmosphere of the street as well as of private living environments within the Iranian capital. Filmed exclusively with a mobile phone camera, sometimes hidden, this documentary film is a personal, high spirited portrait of Teheran and its population, caught up in contradictions and extremes.

Within the framework of the "Vibrant Metropolises" Focus', the artist Stefan Szczygiel will show his film "Zeitflug Hamburg - Warschau", an homage to both cities, on 27.09. at 9pm in the foyer of the Metropolis cinema. Using calm images, Szczygiel creates an own urban rhythm, introducing both of the vibrant metropolises in a contemplative tempo. Focus' curator Claus Friede will give a brief introduction to the film.

In 2009 Filmfest Hamburg presents the following sections: Agenda 09, Northern Lights, Vitrina, Voilà!, Made-for-TV Movies, eurovisuell and New Zealand Deluxe.

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