Max Ophüls’s Prize Plenty of New Things on the Western Front

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

The Max Ophüls’s Prize Festival is held annually at the end of January in Saarbrücken.Since 1980 it has fostered up-and-coming film makers, as the festival directors Philipp Bräuer and Gabriella Bandel explain.

Many festivals in Germany have emblazoned “the fostering of young talent” on their banners. What is special in this respect about the positioning of the Max Ophüls’s Prize Festival?

Philipp Bräuer: We carry out this fostering most consistently. In our programme we show only films by young directors. This is a very clear focus.

Gabriella Bandel: We provide the opportunity to make discoveries among young film makers in German-speaking countries. If this is to be efficient for visitors to the festival, they must be offered a concentrated programme. We’ve therefore removed, for example, foreign-language films.

What were the highlights this year for you?

Philipp Bräuer: I was particularly pleased that our guests of honour, Corinna Harfouch and Benno Fürmann, enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere of the festival. Both felt visibly at ease – and had animated conversations with visitors in the festival café until the early hours of the morning.

Gabriella Bandel: We don’t have a VIP lounge; we initiate creative dialogue between all the guests on an equal footing – professionals, young film makers, cinema fans. And that this works so well delights me as the hostess.

We offer the young film makers a sustainable platform

You’ve both been directors of the festival since 2008. How has the festival developed strategically in this time?

Gabriella Bandel: In addition to the already mentioned consistent focus on young talent, we’ve also placed a strong accent on the development of the industry days. Beginning with a speed dating, which is still an important component today, the industry days have been expanded to include, for example, a master class. With this we offer the young film makers a sustainable platform where they can continue to educate and constructively network themselves.

Philipp Bräuer: The industry days, by the way, go down well not only with young film makers – established directors, film editors and distributors also like to attend them regularly. Some come to the festival even specifically for the industry days. In addition, we’ve launched the “Honorary Award”, which has enabled us to honour people – such as Gabriele Pfennigsdorf, the award winner in 2014 – who have for years and with great commitment supported young film makers.

The shifts in themes in recent years

How does the saying go? “You never forget the first time!” Do directors who show their first films here remain loyal to the festival?

Gabriella Bandel: There are many fine examples of this, such as Isabell Šuba, who this year won the award for socially relevant film with her full-length film debut Männer zeigen Filme & Frauen ihre Brüste (i.e., Men Show Films & Women Their Breasts).

Philipp Bräuer: Or Nico Sommer – the winner of the Saarland State Premier’s Award for Familienfieber (i.e., Family Fever) – who already appeared at the festival in the short film programme.

In your programme there is also a competition for medium-length films (35 to 60 minutes). A format that has a hard time in terms of commercial exploitation. Why did you decide to include it?

Gabriella Bandel: I noticed more and more that this format has been gaining importance at film schools. It’s particularly interesting for talent scouts from production and editing – they can see here whether a director is able to stage longer dramatic structures.

Philipp Bräuer: Moreover, it’s exciting in terms of contents to see the shifts in themes in recent years. If before it was dramas about coming-of-age or immigration, today film makers dare a much freer approach to the entire spectrum of subjects. You can see this in the romance Love Steaks by Jakob Lass, the 2014 winner of the Max-Ophüls’s Prize. It’s also interesting that documentary film has also gained an increasingly significant place in our programme. The boundaries between documentary and feature film aesthetics are dissolving more and more, even within the genres themselves.

A budget increase is very necessary

How many visitors did you have in 2014?

Philipp Bräuer: Over 42,000 – across all age groups. They’re not just the young cinema-goers but also older visitors, who take a week off and go to the movies every day.

How important is the local aspect?

Gabriella Bandel: We naturally feel very attached to the Saarland location and its borderland, France. We have, for example, a German-French Youth Jury.

Philipp Bräuer: But the spectrum of our programme goers beyond this – we show films from all over Germany and German-language films from Austria and Switzerland.

What are your hopes for the next edition of your festival?

Philipp Bräuer: Our budget has remained the same since 2003. Considering the inflation rate and the significantly larger number of films in our programme, it’s clear that we’re underfunded, although we’ve been able to increase our revenues. In order to meet our high standards in future, a budget increase is very necessary.

Gabriella Bandel: For many years we’ve had highly motivated employees who have a commitment far beyond the usual. We’d like to pay them fairly. For this we need funding that is more reliably oriented to the long term than it has been.