I learned on Saturday that in German ‘bergwerk’ means mining, and ‘zwerg’ means dwarf or gnome. The name ZwergWerk is therefore a play on words that means ‘dwarf work’ or short films. Hence the Oldenburg Short Film Days zwergWERK. It’s been going for 13 years, and Christian Wichmann has been there throughout. Tall with white hair I did not miss him at the train station when I arrived Saturday afternoon, to attend the screening of my animated short They Look Right Through You.
After meeting the other two attending filmmakers, British Andrew Brand and British but Berlin-based Bryn Chainey, we launched right into a film-filled evening. Zwergwerk is not an animation festival, so most of the shorts were live action, which was interesting for me.
Some standouts were ‘Anacos’ by Spanish filmmaker Xacio Bano. In this film the screen was divided up into five sections, showing slices of the life of a woman, mother, wife. In one scene in particular each of the five segments had a subtle zoom, either zooming in or out, creating a rich tapestry that wasn’t overpowering.
Stew & Punch is a 17 minute short film by British Simon Ellis, consisting of three unbroken takes. A couple is hosting their housewarming party and as the evening progresses the boyfriend’s insecurities are revealed and the evening deteriorates as everyone gets progressively more drunk. Wonderful acting, timing and camerawork, and funny – a really nice piece.
My film They Look Right Through You screened in the 19:00 program of shorts, films thematically linked by the appearance of animals. The smallish cinema was quite packed, which was nice. Christian arranged for the Q&As to happen either half way through the program, or right after the film screened, creating one or two breaks. I really liked this structure because the Q&As were close enough to when the film actually screened so that it was still fresh in the audience’s mind, but there weren’t so many breaks that it felt the evening was dragging on.
Andrew Brand and Bryn Chainey’s films both screened. Andrew’s was a charming short called Exercise, which he created opportunistically when he saw foxes had discovered his downstairs neighbor’s trampoline in the backyard. Bryn’s film, Moritz and the Woodwose was an impressive twenty minute short about a boy who discovers a creature living inside a tree trunk. In exchange for being properly buried, the creature offers the boy one wish. The boy’s own dark nature is revealed in the process and the film definitely has a dark fairy tale quality to it. The film is in German and was shot in Berlin, where Bryn has been based the past five years. It was great for me to observe someone building their career in a foreign land.
My film was one of three animated shorts in the program, one of the others being the Polish Ziegenort, which I had already seen at the Klik! Animation Festival in Amsterdam last week. I was a bit worried during my Q&A as my short had been screened without subtitles, because of a file issue, and I thought that some of the dialogue might have been lost on the audience. But actually no one seemed to mind so maybe everyone’s English is really that good in Germany.
That evening there was a special retrospective of a Swedish filmmaker’s work, Daniel Wirtberg. I have to admit I hadn’t heard of him before, but I really appreciated the event. Unfortunately the filmmaker wasn’t there in person due to a missed flight, so he had to be skyped in, which is almost always horrible. But he was very gracious and quite good at it – offering up information about the work unprompted and generally saying interesting things. We saw six of his short films, spanning his career from a student in Prague at FAMU, to his early films after moving back to Sweden. We also saw four or five of his music videos. I’m always fascinated by live action filmmakers, because their process seems, correctly or not, to be very different from what I do. It was nice seeing Daniel’s whole career in one go, and hearing what he has learned over the years. A lot of his films, especially the early ones, seemed to deal with children’s perspectives, and almost all of them involved some kind of abandoned building or landscape. A highlight for me was a film he was actually producer on, called Out of Erasers, that involved some animation composited into live action scenes.
That evening was spent in a bar around the corner with the other visiting filmmakers and the festival organizers, a really lovely group of people. Turns out Christian, Andrew and Bryn have bumped into each other quite often over the years at the International Short Film Festival Hamburg, which they try to attend every year, and recommend highly.
Sunday there was a morning program of shorts in which Andrew Brand had another short screening. This one was called Something for Nothing, was only five minutes long, but packed an emotional punch. A young man creeps through an open window into a living room, where an elderly lady dozes in a chair. He creeps around the house opening drawers and cupboards looking for something of value, but finds nothing. I don’t want to give away the ending but let’s just say that it was a simple concept, without dialogue, beautifully executed. The lighting especially was lovely and really made it seem like a lazy sunny afternoon. Andrew said in the Q&A that the whole thing was shot in four days because a friend had access to some equipment for free.
The rest of Sunday was spent eating Middle Eastern food, chatting and playing scrabble. Overall a lovely weekend, and I hope to be back. Thank you Christian Wichmann and the rest of the organizers!