Maike Mia Höhne has been the curator and head of Berlinale Shorts since the summer of 2007. She is a filmmaker and curator. Between 1994 and 1999, she studied Visual Communication at the Hochschule für Bildende Künste in Hamburg, the Escuela de Bellas Artes in Havana as well as the Escuela Internacional de Cine y Televisión in San Antonio de los Baños, Cuba. After working in Buenos Aires, Argentina, she completed her postgraduate studies at the Hochschule für Bildende Künste in Hamburg with a focus on Film. She works as a curator and juror for several institutions and festivals worldwide and is involved in film funding on a regional and national level. Höhne teaches film at the University of Applied Sciences Europe in Hamburg. From March 2019, she will be artistic director of the Hamburg International Short Film Festival.
Ahead of this year’s Berlinale, Tara Karajica talks to her about the 69th edition of the festival and this year’s selection of Berlinale Shorts as well as the situation of women in film.
How has the Berlinale Shorts section evolved over time?
Maike Mia Höhne: With Berlinale Shorts, the Berlinale is one of the festivals that makes a really decisive mark on the short film canon and can establish trends with the films and filmmakers as well as the featured subjects. The Berlinale is an international multiplier and that is not any less the case when it comes to the short film program. Other festivals enable you to have a beautiful experience too, but they don’t have the same reach. That’s what we work so hard to achieve in the end: by showing the films so often and introducing them to an audience and to the industry people on the big screen only, we’re not only putting on eleven days of Berlinale, but we’re working sustainably too.
How many careers has it launched and how important is it to win a Golden Bear for Best Short Film on the short film festival circuit?
M.M.H.: At the 2019 edition of Berlinale Shorts, twenty-four films from seventeen countries will be competing for the Golden and Silver Bear, the Audi Short Film Award. Winning the Golden Bear is a massive empowerment for a director’s career. It puts the international spotlight on you and also the emotional push is very important. Several directors from past editions of Berlinale Shorts are returning to present their feature films in other sections. For example, Caroline Poggi and Jonathan Vinel who won the Golden Bear in 2014. For them, it was a crazy kick off for many international projects to follow. In 2019, they will present a dystopia in Panorama titled Jessica Forever, an abstraction of the surveillance state. Their aesthetic approach combines and gives equal importance to computer games, anime, pornography and everyday life. Winning an award like this spreads a great feeling of acceptance and it uplifts your confidence to continue shaping your own cinematic accent and aesthetics. Ruben Östlund won the Golden Bear for Incident By a Bank, Mahdi Fleifel the Silver Bear for A Man Returned, David O’Reilly who is basically a changemaker in animation and games, started his career at the Berlinale by winning a Special Mention in 2008 for the crazy boy leaves home story in RGB XYZ and won the Golden Bear a year later for Please Say Something. Change-makers were often discovered at the Berlinale Shorts: Symbolic Threats by Mischa Leinkauf, Matthias Wermke and Lutz Henke. Jennifer Reeder provides a particularly broad spectrum of cinematic possibilities. Reeder will present Knives and Skin in Generation, about the grieving of a community after the death of a fifteen-year-old girl. The mother metamorphoses into a Greek heroine and there is no holding back! Reeder is radical in her expression of the stages of mourning and insight. Her feminist view of the various realities embraces the full potential of Cinema and thus allows people to act freely beyond stereotypical social attributes.
The Berlinale is the first A-list film festival in the year and it therefore screens some of the (short) films that will mark the year, but how do you balance the program and films with other film festivals specialized in the short form such as Oberhausen, Winterthur, Go Short, VIS, Clermont-Ferrand? How much competition is there?
M.M.H.: Good question! *laughs* There is no competition for us. So, of course, we get most of the films first-hand and, of course, we do a lot of research and scouting too. For a filmmaker, it makes sense to start at the Berlinale and from there, go towards Winterthur, Go Short, etc. The difference we make in spreading the films is strong. And that makes sense: to start at A and later go to other places. To live your world premiere in a packed cinema is an incredibly empowering moment for every creative person. To see that your personal vision makes sense to many more. Our colleagues from many short film festivals come to Berlin to see and experience the films on the big screen too. That makes a big difference.
How do you eschew the short film program being engulfed by the Official Competition, the Berlinale Special or the EFM? How much justice do the audience give it and is there a faithful audience?
M.M.H.: We are almost sold out at every screening. The audience in Berlin is inspiring, funny, visionary and mirrors the selection. People want to get surprised and they get surprised! I guess that’s why they come back. I can say that we provide a hands on program for the industry people. Almost tailored for different needs.
What is your artistic direction?
M.M.H.: I look for change-makers, artists who are not afraid and dare to go beyond the familiar – cinephiles who know about the power of the short form, directors who want to participate in the ongoing social topics and discussions with a cinematic vision. As images shape our constitutional behavior, if we want change, we need new montages and concepts of storytelling.
Women in the film industry are a hot topic today. What is your opinion on it? What is the situation like in the short film world?
M.M.H.: The fifth diversity report from the BVR (German Directors Association) published its latest figures in November 2018. The frustrating realization is that it is nowhere near enough. In big budget productions, women are still rarely hired as directors or cinematographers and thereby continue to be paid less than many of their male colleagues. The quintessence of the analysis according to Prof. Elizabeth Prommer from the University of Rostock is that to date, the efforts made to increase the proportion of female directors can be best described as having the scope of “baby steps.” There will be no 50/50 by 2020 as women are often considered to be incapable to do the work. We need new role models and functions. We want new women and men for the society of the 21st century. And we are just at the beginning.
What can you say about this year’s selection? What are its focal points? How much space is there for women there?
M.M.H.: The films of the 2019 edition of the Berlinale Shorts’ International Competition treat diverse aspects of power, visibility and knowledge as integral elements in the section’s overarching examination of the nature of participation. We need a multitude of stories if we are to create a viable future for all of us. We do have a bunch of amazing women within our 2019 Berlinale Shorts program. Berlinale Shorts upholds the act of reframing. Take, for example, the story of the woman who longs to re-acquire her own ability to experience lust and enjoy an orgasm, both of which have been taken from her. Catalan director Irene Moray invites us to regard the couple in Suc de síndria, where he supports her in the most profound display of love. Unflinchingly frank, it is a far cry from voyeuristic contemplations of violent suffering. Here we experience the act of compassionate resolution. Hungarian director Flóra Anna Buda’s animated characters manage to liberate themselves from both capitalist and hetero-normative coercion in Entropia. Rise by Wagner & de Burca, whose work will be featured at the Brazilian pavilion of this year’s Venice Biennale, documents POC artists with post-migrant backgrounds engaged in an act of self-empowerment through music and spoken word performance in Toronto’s underground. Just to mention some of them.
This year’s Berlinale Shorts jury is made up of curators and no filmmakers. Can you elaborate on this choice?
M.M.H.: The choice was not so much about the working discipline, but more about the artistic environment in general. Koyo Kouoh, founder and artistic director of RAW Material Company in Senegal, was a curator of the 1:54 FORUM Contemporary African Art Fair in London and New York, as well as a member of several curatorial teams for documenta 12 (2007) and documenta 13 (2012). Vanja Kaludjercic works for the curated streaming platform MUBI as Director of Acquisitions. Previously, she was part of the International Film Festival Rotterdam where she headed the Masterclasses & Talks section. As a programmer, she has worked for the Sarajevo Film Festival, the Paris-based Cinéma du Réel and CPH:DOX. Jeffrey Bowers has served on juries and participated in speaking engagements at places like the Toronto International Film Festival, the SXSW Film Festival, the Slamdance Film Festival, the Palm Springs International Short Fest, the Guanajuato Film Festival, and the IFP (Independent Feature Project) in New York. He is a Senior Curator at Vimeo, where his responsibilities include selecting Staff Picks, managing Staff Pick Premieres, Staff Pick Awards and Vimeo’s Best of the Year Awards. I am looking forward to intercultural perspectives, which will lead to multilayered ways of reading.
In the past six years, many Golden Bears for Best Short Film went to Portugal. What do you make of it? Is it shaping the short film scene?
M.M.H.: Well deserved! We had wonderful films from Portugal. Portugal is shaping the short film scene and the short film scene is shaping Portugal and its visibility within the international world of Art. And from short to feature films and back!
Berlinale Shorts is present at festivals and events around the world throughout the year with “Berlinale Spotlight” programmes. Can you talk about that?
M.M.H.: We keep on spreading out network all over the world. It is necessary to travel and see a lot to understand what’s going on.
How do you see the short form today? What is your opinion of short films? What are their specific possibilities?
M.M.H.: It’s a good time for shorts. Due to new channels, streaming platforms and user visibilities, the short form is more important than ever before. Short films are radiant diamonds: condensed compounds of fine thought and observation. A treasure chest that is replenished anew each year, its contents at society’s disposal – for work in schools and training centers, for watching in cinemas and at home.
And, what can we do to preserve them and make them more visible?
M.M.H.: As mentioned before, in times of new viewing habits, short film is the medium of the present and the future. We will discuss this on 14 February at 7 pm at our network event “Get the Shorts Together.” You’ll find us at the Audi Berlinale Lounge next to the Red Carpet. Open to the public, no pre-registration required. Limited capacity.