German Bandwagon


New Films From Germany, Switzerland, Austria Still Going Strong After 15 Years

If you love foreign films, mark your calendar for Jan. 19 to 25. The “New Films From Germany, Switzerland and Austria” festival returns for its 15th year, organized by the Goethe-Institut in Washington, the Embassy of Switzerland and the Austrian Embassy.

Formerly, the series was just “New Films From Germany,” but its German-speaking neighbors jumped on the bandwagon last year. A partial cause might be the increasing integration of Europe and perhaps globalization in general. (The growing Turkish community in Germany has also been duly represented by first-class work.)

Over the years, the series has traversed various locations. Sadly, some are now defunct, including the Key Theater, Visions Cinema Bistro Lounge, and the American Film Institute’s National Theater at the Kennedy Center. Recently, the festival’s home has been Landmark’s E Street Cinema in the revitalized Penn Quarter neighborhood, just blocks southwest of Chinatown and Gallery Place, which is home to the Goethe-Institut. The German cultural center has its own screening room, but it’s too small to accommodate the size of the audience expected for the popular films.

Following the opening screening at E Street, the Goethe-Institut will host the post-reception—sure to be a bit livelier than the usual staid embassy scene thanks to a DJ spinning trendy tunes. Patrons will enjoy complimentary Beck’s beer, German wine, and nibbles from the Embassy of Switzerland, Old Europe Restaurant, Café Mozart, Heidelberg Pastry Shoppe, Marvelous Market, Whole Foods Market, and the Swiss Bakery and Pastry Shop.

The festival kicks off with “Summer in Berlin,” directed by Andreas Dresen. The film won a shared Silver Hugo in Chicago for the pair of lead actresses, as well as Best Screenplay at the San Sebastian Film Festival, the Bavarian Film Award, and Germany’s Ernst Lubitsch award. Following the opening night screening, Dresen will personally interact with the audience during a question-and-answer session moderated by festival programmer Eddie Cockrell, who’s moonlighting from his regular gig as a critic for Variety. The discussion will also likely delve into the current and future state of German cinema.

Culturally aware moviegoers in Washington have been uniquely positioned to reap the benefits of living in the nation’s capital, seeing the best of German cinema, including titles that may never get U.S. distribution. Recently, however, U.S. distributors have been in the unusual position of picking from a sizable number of German films to be released here in the fall and winter.

Programmer Cockrell remarked: “As the 15th annual edition of this yearly round-up of recent German-language cinema of note was taking shape in the fall of 2006, the organizers were faced with a classic good-news, bad-news scenario. The good news was that an extraordinary number of fine new German films were in the process of being acquired by American distributors…. They have, are, or will be playing soon at an art-house near you.

“The bad news? To be honest, that would be the same as the good news. The U.S. distributors of these films have little use for regional festivals such as this one, nor should they. As an alert and informed moviegoer, they depend on you to reliably patronize this fare. And you’ll be glad you did,” Cockrell said, noting that among this year’s unique offerings is “The Cave of the Yellow Dog,” a hybrid of documentary and fiction from German-trained Mongolian filmmaker Byambasuren Davaa (“Story of the Weeping Camel”), which opened Nov. 24 at E Street. Financed with German money, Davaa sets and shoots the film in Mongolia. The director stated her intention to film the project to The Washington Diplomat during her interview two and a half years ago. Apparently, her patience paid off. Other releases include Tom Tykwer’s “Perfume: The Story of a Murderer” (reviewed this month; opening Jan. 5), Hans-Christian Schmid’s “Requiem,” Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s “The Lives of Others” (see Dec. 7, 2006 news column of the Diplomatic Pouch; opening in late February), and Fredi M. Murer’s “Vitus” (to be released in 2007).

“For a more complete picture of where German-language cinema is now and where it’s going to, you should check out these movies as well,” Cockrell added. “You’ll find family stories, thrillers, multi-character meditations on the new Europe, dramas both reassuringly linear and tantalizingly inscrutable, sly comedies, and urban tragedies. These are the films made for the truly adventurous by the truly committed—stories of universal appeal told with uncompromised voices.”

He concluded: “There’s little doubt that a good number of the 10 filmmakers whose work appears here will go on to make films that will be acquired by an American distributor. When that happens, you can say you were among the first to see their early work, at the Landmark in Washington.”

New Films From Germany, Switzerland And Austria Festival

Tickets: .50; .75 students, friends of the Goethe-Institut; .75 seniors

Opening Night Screening and Reception:

(202) 333-FILM (Code #781),

Where: Landmark’s E Street Cinema 555 11th St., NW (202) 452-7672,

Goethe-Institut 812 7th St., NW (202) 289-1200,

About the Author

Ky N. Nguyen is the film reviewer for The Washington Diplomat.