Speech from Manfred Eichel - Awards 2017


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THE „SEEFF“-SURVEY 2017 – Manfred Eichel, 28.5.2017:

Ladies and Gentlemen, I suppose that not all of you had the chance to follow the outstanding programme of this remarkable festival. As a member of the Jury I had this chance – and of course the obligation to see all of the invited films. My final impression is so extremely positive that I really want to share my experiences a little bit with you. Two reasons lead me: to establish a feeling of some regret in – I suppose most of you - that you missed at least some of these partially outstanding films. Reason two:  It would be wonderful - in your interest – not to miss the next SEEFF in 2018.

What motivates me to be so exited? It is the dipping in quite a  foreign world – inspite of the fact that this world is in our close neighbourhood. There is barely any splendor, the facades of the houses are broken, the necessity that children have to work is in some regions strking, but the warmness, the readiness to support each other is felt, it is obvious in some of the festival-films – for example in the rough atmosphere of agricultural and mining work in the Albanian film “Chromium” or in the Croatian “You Carry Me”. In the last film-minutes two small children, who escape with their father in an uncertain future and a woman, who knows that she has to die, meet by chance for only some glances – and they smile at each and all the three are happy in this special moment.

Such situations can happen everywhere – but after this festival I am convinced: They happen more often in South-Eastern Europa. The hospitality, the real living together which is touched in many films I have seen, reminded me of the view of the swiss author Nicolas Bouvier: “The heart of Europe is in the Balkans, and the mind of Europe is between Paris and Berlin.” I do not want to adorn myself with borrowed plumes. I found this apt knowledge in the warmhearted Intro-Text of the SEEFF-President Jordan Plevnes.

But of course this is only one colour in the programme which I have experienced in the last days. The pure contrast: It can be very dangerous in some of the Balkan Countries to get intermingled in the circles of very, very angry, very mean Mafia-gangsters. In “Lowdown” from Montenegro you follow the fight of a very courageous policeman against big bosses in his town – bosses whom you could have met in films with James Bond. But in the end you are not sure if these guys exist only in the phantasy of an overworked man. And in the imaginative “Kills on Wheels” from Hungaria you find out that the powerful and rather cruel villains are only products in the phantasy of two young guys who draw comics and that the Tarantino-like-fighter in the film is nothing else but the heroized father of one of the boys. The special wit: The two artists are enabled and one of them is movable only in a wheel-chair.

I am sure: Such films would attract each audience in the world. Sorry that most of you missed these exiting films. And very sorry that german TV-stations overlook such an attractive offer from southeast-european film-producers. I hope that this blindness is soon followed by a long period of looking closer at  the film-qualities in the Balkans

Exciting and entertaining as well are “Two lottery tickets” from Romania or “Eastern business” from Moldavia. In both of these films a group of men tries to get rich. In one case by playing lottery, in the other by the investigation of some light criminal energy. Both films are full of tension - and full of humour. And in both films you find a quite laconic description of the life in regions in which people really have to struggle to survive. And the winners at the top of those societies are exposed as new-rich and unscrupulously men - with bad manners. We find them as well in the western world – for example in the United States

In this context I will single out one special member of the high society. The bad guy in “The Very Last morning” is a real ambassador in Nikosia, in Cyprus: the ambassador of one of the SEEFF-countries. I wouldn’t trust my ears and eyes. The director of this film used such a real highranking position to discredit politicians at all. Because some of them really earn accusatory of bribery and corruption – as colleagues of them earn it in western countries. I could imagine that  filmmakers who concentrate in describing such sceneries really live in some danger.

And some of them touch a very sensitive part of the youngest south east European history – for example in the Serbian “A good wife” or in the Kosovar “Home Sweet Home”. In the years 1998/99 more than 14.000 people were killed in the Kosovo wars. The ”Good Wife” loves her husband – but when she finds out that he personally shot some helpless young Moslems in the war, she brings the case to court – loosing by that the center of her own life.

“Home Sweet Home” is even more cruel. After four years of absence, as a war-criminal in prison with a false identity, a man comes home. His family is happy – and at least a little bit unhappy as well. Because his best friend had told that he was a witness when his friend was shot – with other words: He should be dead and in the next days a sculpture of him should be revealed. The idea behind this testimony: The “widow” should get a pension and the daughter of a “martyr” had greater chances to study medicine. The homecomer is loved. But he disturbs. He decides to jump out of a window.

And shadows of the communist past cover the presence in “The Golden Five”, a very touching film from Macedonia. Five young students were shot. They were accused – without legal procedings. They had dared to criticize the unfree system. Some decades later it gets obvious that one of their friends was the traitor.

But the “South East European Film Festival” presents of course besides such history based dramas as well private drama-stories: films with only two acting persons within only one apartment. In the Greek “Afterlov” a young man tries to find out why a young woman has left him – a touching love-story. In “A Comedy of Tears” an old man in a wheel-chair terrorizes his housekeeper – and is totally frightened when she announces to leave him. He needs her and begs her to stay – although he is sure that she belongs to the actually deeply despised Roms, the gypsies. He incarnates those guys who still in these days cultivate anti-Semitic feelings. Perhaps he changes his attitude? I think he is ripe – especially in his peculiar situation!

You are ripe for my last remarks. Please allow me to mention two other historical films. “Sarajewo – Symbol of Civil Courage” is a documentary about the four and half a year long siege of Sarajewo and the unbelievable suffering in these years between 1992 and 1996 – with a lot of commentaries of old witnesses and regrettably such long translations that nobody could read all of them in the short time they were displayed.  

The Sarajewo-siege happened fifty years after German Soldiers occupied Bulgaria. In the capital city Sofia just started in these days, in the beginning forties, the career of the jazz-singer Lia Ivanova. The title of the bulgarian portrait-film is “The Singing  Shoes” – which means: Tapdance-Shoes. Lia was a heroine: She dared to protest against the Nazis. But in communist days she becomes an agent of the secret service.  In later years she repents this obligation. But she also enjoyed the benefits of her former position. After all she was even allowed to perform in the westgerman “Star-Club” in Hamburg or in the eastgerman Friedrichstadtpalast. “To Berlin, to Berlin!” – she calls out. That was her place of longing – comparable to the exclamation “to Moscow, to Moskow” in Tschechows Drama “Three Sisters”. 

If some of you live in one of the SEEFF-countries you can perhaps understand this yearning of Lia Ivanova. In this case we invite you: Come to Berlin again. And again.

Und den Deutschen hier im Saal möchte ich zurufen: Besuchen Sie 2018 wiederum das südosteuropäische Filmfestival hier in Berlin! Es lohnt sich sehr!

Harald Siebler and his crew made very good decisions when they composed this year programme. And exactly these decisions made the joy the see these film – and brought the enormous difficulties for the jury to decide which of the many excellent films should be awarded. Thank you dear Harald for this joy – and these difficulties.

Thank you, the audience, for listening me – and a final applause for Harald and his lovable staff.

Manfred Eichel from Germany belonged to the international jury together with Nela Lucic from Bosnia-Herzegowina and Lorand Balasz Imre from Hungaria.


Manfred Eichel, International jury