Munich Film Festival Keeps Its Finger on Pulse of Zeitgeist

Films tackle topical issues such as MeToo, racism, risks of social media, surveillance

Mackie Messer Munich Film Festival
Courtesy of Zeitsprung Pictures/stephan pick

As part of its celebration of the best of independent moviemaking from around the world, including from the U.S., this year’s Munich Film Festival will include works highlighting some of today’s defining issues: the MeToo debate, racism, the increasingly troubling nature of social media and the impact of ever-growing surveillance.

The festival, which runs June 28 to July 7, opens with Joachim A. Lang’s “Mackie Messer — Brechts Dreigroschenfilm,” a fictional tale inspired by Bertolt Brecht’s 1928 play “The Threepenny Opera,” and Kurt Weill’s song “The Ballad of Mack the Knife,” in which the famed playwright seeks to adapt his work to film without blunting its political edge.

For festival director Diana Iljine, the film is particularly timely: “Just like the famous first words of ‘Mack the Knife’ — ‘And the shark, he has teeth’ — one might say: This film, it has teeth. At a pivotal moment in recent history, with populism on the rise and democracy endangered, we have to look back to the great thinkers who fought for an open-minded society with their art.”

While Munich no longer has a section devoted to U.S. indies, focusing instead on what Iljine says are “the most compelling and important international independent productions of each season,” American cinema still plays a significant role.

“Looking at the U.S., this means that we — of course — reflect on political issues and Trump’s era. The growing gap between the rich and poor as well as everyday racism are a main topic of various documentaries and feature films,” Iljine says.

Among this year’s crop of U.S. works is Jennifer Fox’s “The Tale,” which Iljine describes as “the most substantial contribution to the #MeToo debate.” The pic unspools in the CineMasters competition sidebar for major works by well-known international directors. Also competing in CineMasters is Jim Cummings’ critically acclaimed comedy-drama “Thunder Road.”

While a number of U.S. titles, such as Debra Granik’s “Leave No Trace,” a social drama about a war veteran, are screening in the Spotlight section, most unspool in International Independents, including “American Animals,” a U.S. crime drama directed by British helmer Bart Layton that Iljine calls “one of the best films of the rapidly emerging hybrid of documentary and fictional storytelling.”

Iljine adds: “Besides these big indie films we want to offer very precious discoveries like ‘My Name Is Myeisha,’ directed by Gus Krieger, which is one of the most striking films on everyday racism, and the lovely documentary ‘Black Wave,’ directed by Peter Azen, which is a portrait of the punk scene in Munich.”

Other International Independents titles include Desiree Akhavan’s “The Miseducation of Cameron Post,” based on Emily M. Danforth’s novel about a young teen sent to a conversion camp, and “The Rape of Recy Taylor,” Nancy Buirski’s doc about a black woman who was sexually assaulted in 1944 Alabama, and her refusal to remain silent about the crime.

The success and struggles of renowned performers are examined in documentary works screening in various sections, including “Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind,” by Marina Zenovich; “Jane Fonda in Five Acts,” by Susan Lacy; Kevin Macdonald’s “Whitney”; and “Ryuichi Sakamoto: Coda,” by Stephen Nomura Schible.

The fest is also continuing its push to attract younger cinema-goers. “What we understand as a part of our mission is to educate, inspire and attract audiences for the cinema of the future — and we are constantly building up experience in the field,” Ijine says.

As part of a high-profile youth event, the festival is hosting the world premiere of Aron Lehmann’s romantic comedy “The Most Beautiful Girl in the World,” which was inspired by “Cyrano de Bergerac.” The fest has also established Film Nights Out, “an exciting party series for young people to get in touch with [the festival] — and to see that [it] can be much more than watching amazing films.”

On the industry side, Munich offers a variety of panel discussions, including the Filmmaker Live talks, which bring together industry reps, filmmakers and journalists to discuss wide-ranging topics. Also present will be leading companies, among them ARRI, Bavaria Film and Constantin Film.

What: Munich Film Festival
When: June 28-July 7
Where: Gasteig, Munich
web: <a href=”filmfest-muenchen.de” rel=”noopener” target=”_blank”>filmfest-muenchen.de

Pictured: Munich festival’s opening-night film “Mackie Messer” stars Tobias Moretti, center, as gangster boss Mack the Knife.