Munich fest prizes quality, culture

Directors Frears and Haneke get tributes

MUNICH — Cinephiles looking for a discerning festival programmed with movie lovers in mind should head to Munich.

The 27th edition of Germany’s largest international summer film fest unspools in this cozy Bavarian capital June 26-July 4.

This year the fest will honor Stephen Frears with a retrospective showcasing the British helmer’s entire filmography. It will also pay tribute to Michael Haneke — the Munich-born Austrian helmer whose latest pic, “The White Ribbon,” recently won the Palme d’Or in Cannes — with its CineMerit Award on July 3.

“We’re compact and flexible,” festival topper Andreas Stroehl tells Variety.

The fest is considered one of the more important on the European calendar. “We don’t have a giant machinery making selections and we don’t pick films just to get their stars to come,” Stroehl says.

Stroehl explains that the fest’s government support allows a certain measure of independence. “We’re incredibly free in our decisionmaking and, because we’re largely backed by public funds, we feel we have an obligation to put culture and quality above everything else.”

Stroehl says the highly educated cinema crowd in Munich knows what makes a good film. “And they know they won’t be disappointed,” he adds.

Fans of Frears and Haneke will certainly get their money’s worth. Both will attend the festival, which is renowned for its parties and relaxed atmosphere. The fest is set in an enchanting corner of Munich, with 15 screens all located along a “movie mile” by the Isar River in the heart of city.

Stroehl calls Frears one of the most interesting and uncompromising helmers in Europe, adding that his penchant for small films with political and social overtones fits neatly into the zeitgeist of this era of economic pain. “The characters in Frears’ films are in a state of permanent economic crisis,” Stroehl says. “So, yes, it does fit together nicely this year.”

Frears titles unspooling at the fest include “My Beautiful Laundrette,” “Prick Up Your Ears,” “Sammy and Rosie Get Laid,” “Dangerous Liaisons,” “The Grifters,” “High Fidelity” “The Queen” and “Cheri.”

“Frears reaches a larger audience now than he did before, but he has remained faithful to his style of presenting criticism of society without wagging a finger at anyone,” Stroehl says. “He shows a lot of understanding and caring for people in tough spots.”

Bad economic times have not left the Munich fest unscathed, with some sponsors jumping ship and a few others climbing onboard. But because more than two-thirds of its budget comes from public financing, the event is in the rather enviable position of being somewhat immune to the downturn.

Stroehl expects between 60,000 and 65,000 people to watch the 200 to 250 films. Nearly 3,000 industryites and 600 journos are accredited. The festival has seven regular sections, including New German Cinema, International, American Independents, Nouveau Cinema Francais and Visiones Latinas. It will offer a special regional focus this year on films from Eastern and Southeastern Asia.

When: June 26-July 4

Where: Munich, Germany

Web: filmfest-muenchen.de