Max Ophüls Prize
Venue of Choice for the Young German-speaking Filmmaking Scene

Gabriella Bandel and Philipp Bräuer, the directors of the Max Ophüls's Prize Festival
Gabriella Bandel and Philipp Bräuer, the directors of the Max Ophüls's Prize Festival | Photo (detail): © Sebastian Woithe

Every year at the end of January the town of Saarbrücken is turned upside down by the new talents of the German-speaking filmmaking. The cause of all the fuss is the much sought-after Max Ophüls Prize. This film festival, so steeped in tradition, has spawned some of the German-speaking world's great directors like Dani Levy, Christian Petzold and Andreas Dresen. Even though this is the 33rd time this showcase for up-and-coming film talent has been staged in Germany, it still manages to attract more and more visitors every year. This is a conversation about the “Class of 2012” with Philipp Bräuer, who runs the festival with his colleague, Gabriella Bandel.

This year's festival with its 42,000 visitors once again broke all the records. What is it that makes this festival so interesting for up-and-coming filmmakers, the industry and film buffs in general?

I get the impression that the young, German-speaking film has undergone a tremendous development and has now become very attractive. We should also not forget however that for all the young filmmakers Saarbrücken is also a forum for meeting lots of interesting people. We have done quite a lot of work on honing the festival's profile, promoting lots of different sectors of the industry that are geared to the young film scene and its needs. We try to bring as many of the industry's decision-makers as possible to Saarbrücken so that the young film scene can have a chat with them and the reception is very good. We also get great response from the audiences. The atmosphere at the festival is just right – and that is why the participants come again and again, be it with or without a film to tout.

So the new talents are also very much interested in following what their colleagues are doing beyond the film festival?

Absolutely. And of course they are very much interested in talking to directors, distributors and producers, in order to gain their bearings and be on the cutting edge. In this respect the festival serves as an important contact forum, because there is actually no other place where young filmmakers can get together for four or five days and exchange views and information.

Well researched stories

Again and again Saarbrücken has proved to be a kind of seismograph that shows the mood the young filmmakers are in at that particular moment in time. Last year many of them dealt with the topic of “having no homeland”. What was the driving force at this year's festival?

On the whole there was a strong focus was on social topics and as always on family and the fragility of social relationships. Immigration was yet another popular topic, along with violence among juveniles. A new topic that was to be found in the feature and documentary sections was the necessity for personal, social involvement. This is a whole new aspect that in this form was not there over the last few years. There was among others the film Crashkurs (Crash Course), in which an elderly couple loses money in the world economic crisis and then takes to the barricades. This serves as a paradigm for this year's class and for a facet of the personal involvement issue – and the attempt to promote values.

Furthermore we noticed that the topics or issues were being dealt with in a somewhat more mature way compared to before. It is no longer a case of a generation of 30-somethings stewing in their own juices, telling stories about themselves and the way they feel, but a case of choosing topics that are socially relevant. A lot of thought has gone into the stories and they are well researched.

Provider for the young film scene

The festival sees itself not only as a showcase for films, but also as a “provider” for the young film scene. This can be seen in the range of “sections” that promote the exchange of ideas with well-established representatives of the industry. This time they included a whole event block entitled “Debut but What Next?” What are the hurdles confronting young filmmakers after their debut – even after a successful debut?

There are lots of young beginners who get off to a flying start with their first film, but the question is, how do they go about making their second film? There are all kinds of sponsoring possibilities for the first film, but for the second there is not really much support around at all. For a debut film friends and colleagues all lend a hand without wanting any money, but as soon as a film has been produced that usually comes to an end. This means that their second film is exposed to the pressures of the market and they have to start using your elbows. Production costs automatically start increasing – and suddenly they are faced with getting a film project off the ground that no longer has a budget of 50,000 euros, but of a million or even more euros.

Getting schools involved

The Max Ophüls Festival is not just a forum for new talent that is actively making films, but it has also become a tradition in Saarbrücken to get schools and schoolchildren more actively involved. How important is this aspect to you?

It is very important to me for this is the generation we want to get interested in cinema. We have now started to notice a certain increase in media competence in this field. A few years ago things were quite different. One example would be our cooperating with the Regional and Federal Agencies for Civic Education that have developed a very good concept with their program called “Kino Macht Schule” (Cinema Sets the Trend). This year around 1,300 pupils watched performances of festival films and then took part in discussions with media educators. We never cease to be surprised at how students deal with the films. Furthermore we have a German-French pupils' jury that also awards a prize. There, too, it really is gratifying to see how much thought goes into what they say about a film.

The Max Ophüls Festival that today is one of the most important venues for the young, German-speaking film scene started as a tribute to Max Ophüls, who was born in Saarbrücken as Max Oppenheimer in 1902 and who went on to become one of the most significant European directors of the 20th century. Back in 1979 it was Albrecht Stuby, a film specialist at Saarbrücken's Municipal Cultural Department in charge of the program of a cinema called Camera, who presented the most comprehensive showcase of the works of Max Ophüls ever to be shown in Europe – Max Ophüls had emigrated in 1933. In 1980 the Max Ophüls Prize for new film talent was awarded for the first time at the Camera. Today prizes are awarded in 12 categories. Among many of the famous names of the industry who climbed up the ladder to the silver screen in Saarbrücken we find Oscar laureates like directors Stefan Ruzowitzky (“The Counterfeiters”) and Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck (“The Lives of Others”).