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‘Indo-German Film week Festival showcases India’s vibrant culture through colours, rhythms, sights, scents and flavours’

‘Indo-German Film week Festival showcases India’s vibrant culture through colours, rhythms, sights, scents and flavours’

Stephan Ottenbruch, Festival Director, IndoGerman Film Week, delves into the festival’s inspiring journey in an exclusive interview with The Sunday Guardian. From its inception rooted in a unique comedy series concept to becoming a celebrated cultural exchange platform, the IndoGerman Film Week has evolved significantly over the years.

Ottenbruch emphasizes how films, workshops, and cultural events help deepen the understanding and appreciation of Indian culture among German audiences. The IndoGerman Film Week remains a beacon of cross-cultural celebration and understanding.
With the 12th edition of the IndoGerman Film Week currently underway, he provides a glimpse into this year’s diverse lineup and highlights the festival‘s ongoing mission to bridge cultural gaps through the power of cinema.

Excerpts

Q. What inspired the inception of the IndoGerman Film Week? How has is it evolved over the years?

A. As a producer, I invented a comedy series that brought new comedy talent on stage. While looking for a suitable stage, I came across the Kookaburra Club in Berlin, which was run by an IndoGerman couple. I took the real-life background as an opportunity to tell funny stories about the culture clash in a fictitious IndoGerman family that runs the club.

Over the course of the 44 episodes, I came up with the idea of making a culture clash comedy about the operator family as a feature film. I wanted to find out more about India and travelled to the Mumbai Film Festival with a German delegation. The energy and creativity of Mumbai immediately captivated me, I fell in love with India in Mumbai and discovered and learned so many new things about Indian films and filmmakers that I organized a creative exchange program with creative professionals, professors and film students from India and Germany under the label ‘IndoGerman Initiative.’ I had invited Raju Hirani, Abhijat Joshi and Anurag Kashyap, among others, to Berlin and after a sold-out screening of ‘3 Idiots’ at Babylon, the managing director approached me and asked me if I would like to organize a regular Indian film festival at Babylon and that’s how the ‘IndoGerman Film Week’ was born.

In 2013, we started with many commercial titles, primarily from the ‘Bollywood’ film industry. Over the years, the digitalization of cinemas has extremely changed the distribution of Indian films in Germany. Today, all ‘big’ films from different language regions of India are released in cinemas worldwide on the same day – including Berlin. That’s why we now concentrate much more on smaller regional films in our film selection, which are first shown at film festivals worldwide before some of them find a national distributor. The 12th edition of IndoGerman Film Week runs from 4 to 14 July 2024 at Babylon in Berlin.

Q. What can we expect from this year’s festival line up? Also tell us about your selection process?

A. This year’s programme includes a number of World, European, and German premieres, as well as some new commercial releases and reruns. The festival competition includes films such as ‘Sthal,’ ‘Dear Jassi,’ and ‘1001 Nunakal’ or titles that were previously screened at A-list festivals such as ‘Agra’ by Kanu Behl (Directors’ Fortnight in Cannes 2023), Paradise or ‘The Scavenger of Dreams’ (both: Busan (BIFF) 2023). As world premieres, we are screening the directorial debut of Kamil Shaikh ‘Investigator’ and ‘Avni Ki Kismat’ (Fate of Avni), which we discovered at the film market in Cannes. The film is based on true incidents and deals with the topic of humans and tigers living together in the wild. Afterwards we will have a discussion with the producer Asit Ghosh. As commercial titles we show the current blockbuster ‘Kalki 2898 AD,’ the horror film ‘Munjya’ and the new release, ‘Sarfira.’

A special highlight will be the ‘Colors of India’ event on Saturday, 6 July 2024: there will be a packed program for children and families too: in addition to various food, jewellery and fashion stands, there will be workshops, talks, prize and quiz games, as well as dance and non-stop film screenings from the various regions of India and a Bollywood party at the end. The all-inclusive day ticket costs 5 Euros only. Information at www.IndoGerman-Filmweek.de and tickets at www.BabylonBerlin.eu

Q. How do you see the festival contributing to cultural exchange between India and Germany?

A. The festival opens a window into the diverse cultural landscape of India with all its colorful facets, its rhythm, all its eye catchers, smells and tastes. Through films we learn about characters and stories from more than 12 regions of India. Our framework program gives insights in artforms such as paintings, jewellery, nature, music, cuisine, dance forms and much more. Within workshops we train intercultural competence and support the understanding of cultural differences and their roots.

The name ‘IndoGerman’ refers to the fact that we see ourselves as bridge builders between German and Indian culture. Even if we concentrate on presenting Indian culture in all its facets with the festival, the aim is to reach Germans and fellow citizens of other nations in order to introduce and familiarize them with Indian culture. We are convinced that current contributions from film, culture and art are particularly suitable for building cultural bridges between nations and continents. We give the audience the opportunity to discuss the films and their culture with the filmmakers and participants and offer various forums for this purpose.

Q. In what ways does the festival engage with local communities and filmmakers?

A. The local Indian communities and Associations such as AMIKAL and Indian Associations like Creative Critics contribute to the cultural program and also support us in promoting the festival. For budgetary reasons, we cannot invite all filmmakers and/or actors of the competition entries, so every year there is a mix of directors, producers and/or actors present and others with whom we organize online Q&As. We are in contact with all filmmakers and offer film talks, usually after the premieres of the competition films or on the following day. The film talks are conducted by myself and our cooperation partners, influencers such as Tom, Tino and Neil from Masala Kraut, Prakash from PK Verdicts and editors of the India magazine ISHQ. They also ensure the publication of interviews and film reviews for the films.

Q. How do you believe film festivals like this one contribute to global understanding and appreciation of cinema?

A. Film festivals offer the opportunity to immerse oneself in foreign cultures, to get to know them and understand them better. Film festivals serve to promote diversity of opinion, but above all to ‘educate’ in the sense of ‘getting to know the foreign better.’ This ‘learning’ about other cultures is an important element of international understanding and can help to secure and consolidate democracy and peace. This is not only achieved by watching the films, but above all by the joint exchange of ideas about ‘what has been seen’ between the audience and the filmmakers, as well as the conversations between the viewers themselves. This is why personal encounters and cultural exchange are so important. The more diverse the audience, the more diverse the views, and the more lively the exchange between them. Only the cinema as a place of communal viewing and discourse can achieve this.

Q. How do you envision the future of the IndoGerman Film Week?

A. We are always good for surprises, be it by inviting artists like ‘Sonu Nigam’ or ‘Maithili Thakur’ for concerts in Berlin or actors and filmmakers like Adil Hussain, Tannistha Chatterjee, Farhan Akthar and Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra. Since a while we are focusing more on South Indian cinema and will continue to endeavor to bring the best Indian films to Berlin. Since Germany also wants to strengthen ties with India at the highest political level, we not only feel vindicated in our work but are convinced of its further development – India is a cinema nation and the world’s most prolific producer of films. This year’s diversity of Indian films at major A-list festivals such as Cannes, Berlinale and Venice gives us hope and with Payal Kapadia’s ‘All we Imagine as Light’ winning the Grand Prix at Cannes, a new chapter has been opened. We see the positive development of a diverse and vibrant Indian film scene. Lets hope for the better and best!

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