Founded in 1954 as the Westdeutsche Kulturfilmtage – the West German Culture Film Festival – the International Short Film Festival Oberhausen recently celebrated its 60th anniversary, and continues to screen work which pushes boundaries, challenges the cinematic establishment and gives a platform to new, exciting short filmmakers from around the globe. From its humble beginnings where 45 films from a handful of countries were shown, it has grown to become what is widely considered to be one the major international events for short film and is now one of the oldest festivals of its kind in the world.
Located in the Ruhr Valley in western Germany, the city of Oberhausen is compact, vibrant and industrious, much like the festival which bears its name: its programme consists of six days of busy screenings, lively (and often heated) debates, themed sections, industry symposiums and much more. Established names such as George Lucas, Michel Gondry, Werner Herzog, Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Spike Lee all showed early work at Oberhausen and many regard it as the festival which proved invaluable to their nascent careers.
The fest explores the art of short film across various genres, styles and forms, including documentaries, experimental creations, animation and fiction, with a particularly impressive annual line-up which is renowned for its progressive and thought-provoking nature. Not for nothing is Oberhausen famed for its ‘Manifesto’, which in 1962 declared that ‘The old film is dead. We believe in the new’ – a bold statement of innovation and reinvention typical of the fest’s history and character. As well as its manifesto, since 1958 Oberhausen has had the motto Weg zum Nachbarn, meaning ‘Paths to the Neighbour’, a nod to the festival being used as a means of discovering people and societies you would otherwise not engage with or investigate.
Such is Oberhausen’s size and stature that its most recent editions have seen almost 6,000 entries from nearly 90 countries whittled down to a prestigious – and packed – screening programme of 450 films and videos for the world’s longest-standing international short film competition, with more than 1,000 accredited guests and industry insiders and an audience of nearly 20,000 attendees. Alongside the International Competition, there are awards and prizes – with a money pot totalling around 50,000 dollars – for an International Children’s and Youth Film Competition, a German Competition and the annual MuVi Award for best German music video. Also, in 2009, a NRW Competition for productions from the state of North Rhine-Westphalia was introduced to shine a spotlight on films and filmmakers from that region of Germany.
Each year the festival runs a particular theme for its screening programme, with previous editions including Shooting Animals: A Brief History of Animal Film and Flatness: Cinema After The Internet, while its extensive supporting strands include Archives, which contains restored and valuable experimental films from over 60 years, Podium, where short film luminaries address audiences about contemporary issues and ideas covering the art form, and Profiles which focuses on particular filmmakers or organisations who are deemed invaluable to the format. Oberhausen places great importance on directors and creatives attending the festival to present their work in person, and engage in post-screening panels and Q&A sessions.
Heading into its 61st year, the International Short Film Festival Oberhausen continues to welcome the innovative, the unexpected and the quirky with open arms. It runs from 30th April to 5th May 2015 in its dual homes of Lichtburg Filmpalast and Kini im Walzenlager in the city.