Following the cancellation of the Munich Film Festival in April, the event was declared dead for this year. Yet a re-think has seen the creation of a Film Fest Munich pop-up festival, which will take place at a drive-in cinema and an open-air venue.
Starting on July 15 and running through to the end of August, the festival will show seven German films as world premieres. These include Maggie Peren’s “Hello Again,” which will be distributed by Warner Bros., veteran director Klaus Lemke’s “A Call Girl For Ghosts” and the opener, actor Kida Khodr Ramadan’s directorial debut “In Berlin Wächst Kein Orangenbaum.”
Variety can also exclusively reveal that the festival will end on Aug. 26 with the German premiere of Ulrich Thomsen’s “Gutterbee,” with the Danish actor and director in attendance.
Munich Festival Artistic director Christoph Gröner says the decision to cancel the German film festival this year, which was scheduled to start on June 25 is “still the right decision.“ He points out: “Our opening night venue, Mathäser Filmpalast theater, is still closed. Regulations are changing every week, there is social distancing, masks must be worn, and enclosed venues have a maximum capacity of 100 people.”
When the decision was made in April to cancel the 2020 edition, it seemed definitive. However, several factors have led to a change of heart, albeit limited.
“The whole industry was in shock at that time,” says Groner. “What happened afterwards, I got calls from filmmakers whose film and series we were interested in screening and they asked ‘is there nothing you can do for us?’ I said sadly not. Then came calls from the institutional side, the likes of open-air cinema and drive-in cinemas who said we have structures that can make culture possible in a palpable way during this moment of crisis, can you think about a festival format.”
The outside venues offered Munich the chance to put on an event that would not need to take place during the packed fall schedule and keep to their core belief that festival should be a physical event which is about “Summer, sun and Munich.”
“The initial idea was not to go into a drive-in cinema,’ says Groner. “It was: ‘How can we create a festival atmosphere?’ The two open-air venues offered that possibility. The drive-in site has a capacity of 200 cars, with 500 people allowed to attend the event. The outdoor cinema will also allow for 500 attendees in a venue with a capacity for 2,000 people.
However, they still needed to consider health and safety regulations caused by the ongoing pandemic. Groner says: “We came up with a sequential format, one time a week and one film with real guests coming to the venue. This way, we can create the festival atmosphere and create a true premiere, while respecting the safety of the venues.”
There will be fun aspects of the projections to deliver a party atmosphere and to give the idea of a celebration, while also recognizing the different way of viewing. For example, encouraging the honking of horns could be a feature. Groner says, “I wanted to create an analog feel that I believe the audience is desperately craving.”
The pop-up will be public focused. “We will not gather the industry at all. There is no accreditation at all,” says Groner. “This is purely an event night and purely a sign to show love and solidarity with the films and show them for the first time.”
Nevertheless, the festival still wants to galvanize the interest of the industry. There will be a digital component of the festival which will focus on the press and marketing side. Journalists will be able to gain access to films through links and digital screeners. Interviews can take place on-line or over the phone. The use of zoom calls for meetings has been one of the significant adaptations of 2020.
In this way, the pop-up screenings will serve a function in a similar way to the Cannes 2020 label, giving a festival stamp of approval to the films screened.
Groner admits that he had to completely change his usual selection process when choosing films. “I had to choose projects that would hit the audience through the windscreen of a car. So, this is not about slow cinema. I cannot promote slow cinema in this framework. You have to have energetic comedic films or suspense that works within that framework.”
Because that framework is so different from the traditional way the festival would run, Groner says, “I would call it something that is not a limited version of Film Fest Munich, but a new sub-format, a new sub-brand we want to create.”
Groner hopes that other festivals will see this model and follow it. However, a major caveat that they will face is that the Munich pop-up is bringing no financial return to the festival. Groner says, “This is a partnership in the sense that what we get out of it is that we fulfill our duty to bring films to the world, but we’ll see no revenues ourselves. The venues are selling tickets directly – you cannot get tickets through our website.”
Filmmakers expressed a strong desire to come and attend the screenings. Part of this came down to the types of films selected. Groner says of Thomsen: “He said ‘yes,’ he’s happy to come because his project is rock ‘n roll and this is a rock ‘n roll format.”