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Cologne 2008 Medienforum: Screenings

As noted in my comments posted on July 1st about the 2008
Medienforum. in Germany the dual television system with programming
provided by commercial and public stations creates an uneasy and frequently conflictual situation as exacerbated by the current neo-liberal economic approach espoused by the market and media commissioners in Brussels. Yet this year's screenings of unreleased German and foreign television program and numerous seminars demonstrated again the significant contribution public broadcasters have been making to the German television landscape.

The forum also reaffirmed the significant role of the (NRW) North Rhine Westphalia Film Foundation (Filmstiftung) in developing and internationalizing the German film. There have been numerous national and international awards for productions in which the foundation has been involved. To date Brussels has not objected to
these significant public subsidies which amounted for the European
Union in 2006 to about US$ six billion and helped to produce 700 feature films. Thus the European Union is after India the second largest producer of feature films, a frequently neglected fact. This mostly harmonious private and public sector partnership in the European film industry results in part from the comprehensive nature of the subsidies. They cover virtually all facets of the film industry, from rehabbing old film theatres to production funding, as carried out by local, state, federal, and Brussels based public agencies, a unique system benefiting all parties.

For several days before the 2008 Medienforum opened outstanding television program highlights were presented and projected on a large screen, Kino style, in a mini- television festival. To name but a few, they included the NDR production THE CAT a remake of the famed
1971 Simone Signoret / Jean Gabin psychodrama in which Goetz George
delivered a superb performance as he did in solving a murder case in the WDR production, SCHIMANSKI - SCHICHT IM SCHACHT (Shift in the Pit), a new installment for one of the most popular German crime series. On the lighter side were an elaborate RTL adventure event movie HUNTING THE TREASURE OF THE NIBELUNGERN, a German high production value response to INDIANA JONES and the comedy ALL THAT
MONNEY: WHAT A PITY contributed by the second German television
chain ZDF. Both the adventure film and comedy were co-funded by the NRW film foundation. Among the International companies present in the documentary section were National Geographic, the Discovery Channel, the History Channel, and the BBC, all with outstanding program, though the WDR documentary CHINA"S MEGLOMANIA AT THE YANGTSE seem to steal the show. Both concept and execution scored high in this documentation of the Chinese hubris of building the largest dam the world ever has seen in an earthquake prone region of China. Among the consequence of the three gorge dam project have been to date the relocation of millions of Chinese, the destruction of thousands of villages and towns and the creation of an ecological nightmare, not to speak of setting the stage for a future disaster of unparalleled magnitude. As the producer pointed out in the post screening discussion, the recent earthquake resulted in the dam's shifting already by three inches. The question remained open as to what could be done to avoid an impeding calamity.

During the Medienforum's film congress most features screened had received support from the NRW Film Foundation. They included, but were not limited to Wim Wender's PALERMO SHOOTING which had been shown in Cannes to mixed reviews; Eran Riklis LEMON TREE, an homage to the transcending strength of women in the Palestine Israeli conflict starring Hiam Abbass whose superb acting garnered for this film the coveted 2008 Berlinale Panorama audience award; LA SANGRE BROTA by Pablo Fendrik a compelling but disconcerting portrait of a dysfunctional Argentinean middle class family in its social context which had been shown in Cannes' Semaine de la Critique; and Volker Schloendorf's ULZHAN portraying a Western individual torn by "his longing for death and hope for life" in the overwhelming vast landscapes of central Asian Kazakhstan, a cinematographic masterpiece which received German 2008 camera price.

These screening were accompanied by numerous expert seminars attended by a mostly professional audience. Noteworthy interventions stressed the tremendous variations and creativity the short film format allows. There seemed to be a consensus on the rising demand for non-fiction and documentary productions in the television and film sector. Film making participants in the session on the role of art in the context of minority issues rejected the allocation of a didactic pedagogical role. Responding to comments about the German progress on integrating minorities Helga Truepel, a green member of the European
Parliament, reminded her fellow panelists that the notion of
progress and integration should be questioned given the plethora of economic and social problems Turkish migrants faced in Germany. Digital and funding issues were the focus of several meetings, ranging from new copyright issues in the internet marketing of film and television productions, the enormous costs of upgrading theatres for digital projection, and the discussion of proposed revisions of federal legislation governing support for film productions. A panel on digital and analog marketing of the ONCE
AROUND THE WORLD (Einmal um die Welt) feature generated few new
insights, specifically with respect to digital marketing. There the Grimme Online Awards, one of the concluding events of the Medienforum, provided an object lesson on the most innovative and creative used of the internet medium. Excerpts from the on line programs suggested effective pathways for the propagation of knowledge, culture and the arts, thus also feature films.

The Medienforum has retained its great appeal and continues its important function of an up to date market place for new perspectives and politics covering contemporary media, specifically if there is interest in film, television, and digital developments. Is with any other major conference some moderators and panelists were not prepared for their sessions lacking up to date research based knowledge, yet the remainder of the program more than compensated for these gaps. Our next contribution will cover the NRW Film Foundation which has been a crucial collaborator of the Medienforum from the very beginning.

Claus Mueller, New York Correspondent
filmexchange@gmail.com

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