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Lindsay R. Bellinger


Lindsay is a film journalist and an aspiring playwright currently based in Berlin.

Attending film festivals, reviewing films and collecting vinyl keeps her busy. Let her know what you think of her reviews.^^


Interview with Weihnachtsfilmfestival's André Kirchner - Berlin's eclectic Christmas Film Festival

(© Teresa Vena)

The third annual Weihnachtsfilmfestival 2018 is right around the corner, running from Friday, December 21st to Monday, the 24th at Moviemento Kino Berlin. It may be centered around Christmas but don't be fooled, it's an eclectic mix of festive and not so festive films. Festival director André Kirchner says that although his first unconventional Christmas Film Festival in 2016 started out as an experiment, he and his festival partner Teresa Vena have come a long way. That first year they weeded through almost 900 submissions and this year they were faced with more than 1500. That would be a lot to handle for a larger festival team so imagining just Kirchner and Vena, a dedicated team of two, is a bit of a marvel. Seven feature films and 78 short films will be presented this year, with the the Kurzfilmtag/Short Film Day opening the festival with 36 short films shown in the following categories: Variations of Snow, Circles of Life and Holiday Horrors. I sat down with Kirchner to discuss the origin of Germany's first Christmas Film Festival, how he strives to avoid the kitsch associated with the holidays and which films he's really excited to share with festival attendees this year.  
Christmastime and films go hand-in-hand; we all grew up watching holiday films that we hold near and dear to our hearts. This time of year also tends to be popular for new releases and many families have a tradition of going to the cinema on Christmas day. Did any of this factor in when you started thinking about creating Europe's first Weihnachtsfilmfestival? Can you talk about the origin of your unique festival? 
André Kirchner: I think that's not a factor for me and this festival because we are not showing only current films. We are allowing films from 2000 to be submitted but most of them are really new ones, like from 2018 or 2017. And the original idea to start the festival was to gather films from all over the world to see how Christmas is spent in their countries and to look over the rim of the teacup and see how other countries spend Christmas or if they do at all. What was most important for me was to get away from all of this kitschiness like speaking reindeers, you know? This magical kitsch stuff where the tradition of family values are put really high and everything has to be perfect, everything has to end well. 
Right, we really get bombarded with that stuff.
AK: And I never was a big fan of that so I wanted to see what's out there, what more is out there. So I was really happy with our first episode. We had nearly 900 submissions. 
Wow, that's a lot. 
AK: [laughing] Yeah, that's really a lot. And I was really surprised at how many topics there were in these films, like war or jobs or relationships, in general, or queer topics as problems and stuff like that. All of the variety there. 
That's quite diverse. I recently had the chance to watch two films that you screened, "A Christmas Horror Story" from your first year and the documentary "I Am Santa Claus" from last year. Those two films are vastly different, the former being interwoven horror stories taking place in Canada and the latter following professional Santa Clauses throughout the US as they prepare for Christmas and deal with their day-to-day lives. It's interesting how you curated your festival, having found a place for such dissimilar films. Can you share a little bit about your team's selection process? How do you weed through all of your film submissions before narrowing it down to the final program? 
AK: We have a really, really, really small team of two people for the festival. So we are really lucky that we can watch the films during the year. We don't sit down and watch them all at once because that would be difficult, and it would be overkill to watch that many movies. And as you can imagine, not all of the movies are good. [laughing] 
Yeah, I understand. I once helped a friend pick the films for his indie festival in Seoul and there was a lot of crap to go through.
AK: Yeah, but sometimes it's kind of funny to watch the not that good films; it could be uplifting, as well, but some of them really aren't that good. But then with some of them you have a real gem, like a real treasure. 
Then to find those true gems it's all worth it. So were you and your partner really able to watch all 1500 films? 
AK: Yes, I mean if we know it's really bad then we don't watch it to the end. I think that's fair. [laughing] 
Of course, that's totally fair. You even see lots of journalists walk out of press screenings at Berlinale, some after just a few minutes. One Australian producer told me that there's not enough time in the day to waste watching a bad film.  
AK: And then we have a big variety, like a pool, of really good films and this is the first year where we set topics for the shorts, for example. And unfortunately some of the really, really good films we couldn't put in because they didn't fit the topics we chose. It's really unfortunate and maybe we can show them next year if the topics fit. But, yeah, it's somehow hard to let go of a really good short. 
Well, they'll be put on the back-burner and hopefully find a place next year. 

You had your festival on the three prime Christmas days, the 24th to the 26th, in 2016 and again last year. Were you at all concerned about low attendance? 
AK: The first year was an experiment, I would say. And for me, it had to be on Christmas, the 24th to the 26th. The 24th and the 26th worked really well. The 25th really was not good, definitely not good. So what we've done now, we shifted the festival to the weekend before Christmas and we want to do it in future years as well. Fortunately, this year Christmas is on Monday so we'll do four days. And maybe next year we do three days again like the first years but it's not set yet. 
I was curious to find out which Christmas films you grew up watching again and again?
AK: My all-time favorite is Home Alone. Even if it's a classic, I think that it's a really unconventional film. It's a kid who has to deal alone with burglars and set traps and it's super creative. I think that even if it's a Hollywood production, it's really a very unconventional Christmas film. 
For sure. It's one of those special and unique films. Have you thought about including Home Alone or some other classics as part of a retrospective? 
AK: We are thinking about that and we are hoping to do that in future years. But we do need proper funding for that. Getting 35mm rolls is kind of super expensive with all of the insurance and shipping. It's not that cheap. But we definitely have that in mind. It would be a great addition, I think. 
The lack of proper funding must be quite challenging when putting together a festival like this. 
AK: That's the saddest part, I would say, because we put so much energy in and so much sweat and blood. We apply for funding, we try to get sponsors but it's super hard. Maybe next year. We will see.
What can festival attendees expect differently this year?
AK: I think, all in all, that the movies this year are dealing with more personal topics. Last year, we had a variety of general world problems and big problems and also political stuff. And this year it's more intimate, private and more personal topics. A lot of the films deal with relationships. Are you alone? Or about friendship, health or wealth. And I think it's definitely more intimate this year. 
Did you and your partner go into this year with that in mind, looking for more intimate stories? 
AK: No. And Teresa is her name by the way. No, I think that it's really funny to see at the end of the process, when we look through all the submissions there's a more general theme about everything. And I think this year if I had to use words, it would be like private cosmos. Something like otherworldy to it. And that's why this year we have this kind of a motif. [gesturing to their festival poster] Do you know the film The Cabin In The Woods? You don't? 
No, I don't. Is it a Christmas film that I should put on my list? 
AK: No, it's not even a Christmas film. But I think it really reflects this mood, being alone in the woods, a cabin and Christmas. Like the strange thing happening with the shift of the buildings and flying into the air. 
Sounds interesting. I'll have to check it out. 
Was there anything about this year's programming that you wanted to share? Maybe some of your personal favorites.
AK: That would be nice. I'm super proud that we can present exclusively Moomins and the Winter Wonderland (Muumien Taikatalvi) because I personally adore the moomins.
I'm not really familiar with them.  
AK: I think it's well known in Germany. They always have this dark winter mood in this animation. It's not that kitsch, it's more a dark winter spirit but made for children. I really adore that. And we have the really awesome Merry Christmas Mr. Mo from South Korea. That's a one-of-a-kind film that's really rare to be shown anywhere else. And of course all the short film programs. It's really, really fun to put together short film programs. I think for me it's like creating a music album with a flow, you know? Where all the different stories come together and tell a story as a whole. I really love that. 
AK: And in North Pole, NY this documentary about this theme park, Santa's Workshop, in the state of New York we have the filmmakers here from the US. 
Oh, nice. Hopefully I get to chat with them. 
AK: Yeah, the communication was super nice and I'm really looking forward to meeting them. We have the Italian filmmaker Giorgio Amato from Oh My God! (Oh Mio Dio!) who will be here as well for a q&a. It's a really special comedy, made in a documentary-style about Jesus coming back to Earth and the problems he deals with because nobody believes he's Jesus. For the short films we have several filmmakers as well. 
It sounds like an exciting program. What do you hope that festival-goers take away from the Weihnachtsfilmfestival this year? 
AK: My greatest hope is that they go out wondering, wondering what they saw. I really like that, when people wonder about things. It could be a question mark, it could be a smile, and it's always a look beyond things. 
The best films are often those that leave people wondering, having a newfound curiosity.  
AK: Yeah, yeah. 
Were there any surprising or super special moments during the first two years? Something that really sticks out in your mind that you'd like to share.
AK: The first year we had as a guest Ian Kevin Scott from Canada, and his film was Alchemy. He was the writer, actor and executive producer of the film. We were honored that he came here, all the way from Canada. And he just looks like Santa Claus. He honestly looks like Santa Claus and he spread such a good mood throughout the audience. It was super magical. [laughing] It was like, "Where's this guy from?" He was so good. He was like a good spirit. And this year we have a lot of filmmakers present. Filmmakers from the US, Argentina, Italy, Slovenia, Switzerland, Germany. We are super honored to have them. They just come for the festival. We are a really small festival but we are the only ones doing this in Europe, so it's something special I would say. 
Yes, very special. This is really getting me in the mood for Christmas. Thanks for sitting down with me, André! 





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