Tucked away in a quiet corner of northern Bavaria, the small industrial town of Hof seems an unlikely location for an international film festival. But every year at the end of October, filmmakers and industryites enjoy stretching their legs at the festival Werner Herzog once called “the kitchen-cum-living room of German cinema.”
Since its beginnings in the late ’60s as an alternative to the Oberhausen fest, Hof Film Days has evolved into one of Germany’s most fertile breeding grounds for independent filmmakers.
Over three decades, festival director Heinz Badewitz has provided a forum for homegrown heavyweights like Herzog, Wim Wenders and Rainer Werner Fassbinder, as well as helping to nurture a new generation of Teutonic helmers such as Tom Tykwer and Sonke Wortmann.
A filmmaker and cameraman in his own right, Badewitz is committed to promoting the work of innovative young directors. “A film festival should not operate only on a commercial basis,” Badewitz says. “A festival should make new stars, new names.”
Badewitz, who selects the German entries for A-list festivals Cannes and Berlin, uses his substantial international connections to draw indie filmmakers from around the world to the Film Days. David Cronenberg, John Carpenter, Jim Jarmusch and Neil Jordan all have brought pics to Hof.
A big part of Hof’s appeal is its intimate and somewhat offbeat atmosphere. During the festival, the affable Badewitz is likely to be found greeting audience members as they file into the theater, or presiding over the traditional Saturday-morning soccer match between visiting filmmakers and locals. Informal, latenight gatherings take place in bars and restaurants within walking distance of the festival venues.
Hof, John Waters once enthused, “is like Baltimore; no pretensions, lot of blue-collar attitude and proud of the fact that the best little ‘films from hell’ always play there first. The Hof Festival has the best taste in programming, the wildest parties and the most insane film fanatics.”