Munich springs back to life with July filmfest

After months of pandemic hibernation, the rebooted annual film festival will be largely taking place outdoors

Photo: Filmfest Muenchen The courtyard of the University of Television and Film Munich (HFF) will be transformed into the POPUP SOMMERKINO powered by M-net as it presents a colorful potpourri of FILMFEST MÜNCHEN programming.

The motto: "Citywide Live." The event: 38th Munich Film Festival. The vibes: A city waking up from the seemingly endless pandemic night to celebrate films, actors, directors and other celebrities and enjoy the events - perhaps a bit more subdued than usual - that make up the fun of an international filmfest.

From 1-10 July , the Bavarian capital city will be alive again with the thrill of film fans attending screenings of flicks from around the world. It's a feeling people in Munich badly missed last year when the festival fell victim to the pandemic.

"We're back," said a jubilant festival director Diana Iljine in welcoming the press to a preview of what in comparison with previous festivals will be a smaller-scale, yet still high-calibre, celebration of films.

"This festival has always been about the shared experience of people enjoying films together. But this year, that feeling is even more special," she added, as quoted by dpa.

A total of 70 films from 29 countries make up this year's programme, far below the pre-corona slate of 180 films two years ago. This year will see 33 world premieres, also lower than in past years. But for Iljine, director of the filmfest since 2012, the main point is that the festival will be taking place at all, and in a larger audience-friendly fashion than she could have dreamed of just a few months ago. Amid declining coronavirus infection numbers, the city of Munich has now opened up cinemas to indoor viewing.

"We're going to have nine outdoor sites around the city - thus our motto 'Citywide Live' - as well as indoor viewing in seven cinemas and screening venues," Iljine said. This latter aspect - indoor viewing - is a late development in the festival's planning.

"We've had to rethink our festival several times and find creative ways to keep adapting it to the constantly evolving circumstances of the pandemic. This has been a Herculean task."

Iljine also said there would be a feeling of caution once the filmfest gets underway.

"We'll be keeping an eye on the daily (corona) numbers and what the authorities will be saying about the situation. First and foremost is our concern for the health of the film audience, festival guests and staff members. But hopefully the infection numbers by then (early July) will be even better than they now already are."

All this is a far cry from the 2020 film festival, a makeshift programme of several "pop-up" open-air screenings around the city just to keep the Munich Film Festival on the map. It was the best that Iljine and her staff could manage under the circumstances, and in fact the "pop-up" concept served as a model for last winter's Berlinale, also a pandemic victim.

For many film aficionados, the Munich filmfest is a poor cousin to the Berlinale. The festival in the German capital is much larger and better financed with the kind of funding to afford flying in some top-name Hollywood stars for a few days.

But the Berlinale also takes place in February, during Berlin's cold winter. The Munich festival, by contrast, is famous for bringing the film-going public into closer contact with film actors, directors and producers.

The relaxed summertime atmosphere of Munich's beer gardens, cafe terraces and outdoor restaurants provides a special flair to the festival.

As to this year's programme, the Munich Filmfest will again be presenting the full slate of awards, prizes and special honours. In this last group, under the headline "Cineastic Quartett," the festival will be honouring four women: Munich-based grande dame of film Senta Berger, US actor and director Robin Wright (via satellite linkup) and "Run Lola Run" actor Franka Potente will all receive awards. Finally, a special tribute will honour multiple award-winning Polish director Malgorzata Szumowska.

The most attention will be on the filmfest's two major prizes, the Cinemasters for best international film and Cinevision for the best film by a new director to be awarded on closing night of 10 July.

Among the 13 entries in the Cinemasters competition are "Sommer 85" (France) by Francois Ozon, "Wife of a Spy" (Japan) by Kiyoshi Kurosawa, "Sun Children" (Iran) by Majid Majidi, "El Perro que no Calla" (Argentina) by Anna Katz and "Sainte-Narcisse" (Canada) by Bruce LaBruce.

Previewing this year's selection, filmfest director Iljine said: "Many of the films revolve around issues of community and belonging, sexual identity and journeys into imagined worlds."

Themes that resound, with or without a pandemic.

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