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Focus USA @ exground filmfest 34: Young Filmmakers and Diverse Circumstances


Wide-Ranging Film Selection // Readings, Panels, Presentations and Exhibitions

This year, exground filmfest (12 - 21 November 2021) has taken that which the festival's established American Independents section usually covers on the periphery and placed it centre stage: the 2021 Country Focus is devoted to the United States of America. A carefully curated programme, featuring 13 feature-length and 10 short films, as well as two productions in the International Short Film Competition, attempts the impossible: to represent the social, cultural and political circumstances and developments of a region that has been paid particularly close attention by people around the world over the past years. Funding for the Country Focus is provided by Kulturfonds Frankfurt RheinMain, whose managing director Karin Wolff calls it a "wonderful challenge". In addition to the film programme, the Focus also includes readings and presentations, as well as art exhibitions at Nassauischer Kunstverein and in the foyer of the Murnau-Filmtheater. The Country Focus will also be paying a visit to established post-festival venues beyond Wiesbaden, namely REX in Darmstadt and Pupille in Frankfurt am Main.

Courageous Debuts and Young Filmmakers

The Country Focus includes no fewer than nine directorial debuts among its 13 feature-length productions. In this respect, exground filmfest is above all aiming to give young voices a platform for their cinematic commentaries on life and conditions in the United States. From lyrical cinematic language to trenchant humour and experimental essays, all the way to surprising documentary insights, the films explore with great variety the perspectives of a young generation of filmmakers, who have been shaped by political ruptures, cultural battles waged in the streets and a society marked by stark contrasts.

The relationship between the individual films is also full of contrasts. The rapidly unfolding tragicomedy ZOLA (2020) by Janicza Bravo follows the eponymous stripper on a road trip to Florida. Amidst copious cursing, social media hijinks and lots of sex, the film concentrates above all on the perfectly exaggerated acting of Taylour Paige, who almost single-handedly carries this wild, entertaining, satirical work with her enormous presence.




© Anna Kooris / A24 Films 

Sky Hopinka's MALNI – TOWARDS THE OCEAN, TOWARDS THE SHORE (2020) on the other hand is slower and more poetic – almost melancholy in fact. Told from the perspective of the Chinook people, this calm documentary film treats questions of the interplay of life and death, nature and civilisation, the USA and its indigenous population.

The queer coming-of-age chamber drama TAHARA (2020) by Olivia Peace also takes place in the shadow of death. Though she is attending a classmate's funeral, protagonist Hannah doesn't devote her attention to the big existential questions, preferring instead to seek her own happiness amid strict Jewish customs. With black humour and great sensitivity for the emotional worlds of adolescence, combined with an aesthetic heavily influenced by Instagram and TikTok, the director shows great skill for contemporary mise-en-scène in her debut.

Short Films in the Focus Programme: Critical and Unconventional

The programme SHORTS FROM THE STATES is comprised of five works with a duration of five to 33 minutes that have one thing in common above all else: they use every second of their short running times to call out various injustices with great resolve. Largely experimental in nature, the films treat a range of subject matter, including the death penalty, the alt-right movement and homelessness. This trend continues in the US-American opening films of the feature-film programme, creating a multifarious picture of US-American short film art as an unconventional cinematic playground.

© Rainbow Timothy
Special Events in the Focus USA Programme

The accompanying programme is no less multi-faceted. In co-operation with the bookstore Vaternahm, a reading of US-American literature will take place, with actor Armin Nufer reading from the works of Anne Petry and Castle Freeman. In the panel discussion US Cinema? Was Is that? – In Search of a National Cinematography, US-American filmmakers will attempt to examine the contemporary cinema landscape of the United States and its diverse currents. Amnesty International will also be making a guest appearance for a presentation on unjust conditions within the USA's prison system.

Two accompanying art exhibitions represent further extra-special highlights: in Nassauischer Kunstverein, guests can marvel at video art from multimedia artists Orian Barki and Meriem Benanni under the title 2 LIZARDS, while the foyer of the Murnau-Filmtheater will play host to an exhibition of film posters and picture discs from cult director Russ Meyer.

Find the complete programme ofe the Focus USA here.

The full festival programme will be announced on 21 October in the scope of this year's exground filmfest press conference.

exground filmfest would like to thank all its funders and sponsors.






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