Forced to revamp in the wake of Germany’s second coronavirus lockdown in November, the International Filmfest Mannheim-Heidelberg is taking place online this year as IFFMH Expanded with two-thirds of its original lineup accessible to virtual festgoers.

The 69th edition of the festival, which marks the debut of a new team headed by director Sascha Keilholz, includes new and revised sections, among them On the Rise, the international competition that showcases first to third works by outstanding directors.

Lazy loaded image
“Come Closer” déjà-vu film

Curated by head of program Frédéric Jaeger, this year’s On the Rise competition includes such pics as “Una Promessa,” Gianluca and Massimiliano De Serio’s tale of nightmarish exploitation in southern Italy (pictured); Saskia Walker and Ralf Walker’s German free love drama “Come Closer,” in which the directing duo co-star with Devid Striesow (“I’m Off Then”); Igor Polevichko’s Russian thriller “Get it Right”; Sabrina Doyle’s U.S. relationship drama “Lorelei,” starring Pablo Schreiber and Jena Malone; and Ruthy Pribar’s Israeli pic “Asia,” about the relationship between a mother and her seriously ill daughter, featuring “Unorthodox” star Shira Haas.

Pushing the Boundaries, a supplement to the competition, spotlights works by more established border-crossing filmmakers. Selections include French helmer Emmanuel Mouret’s “Love Affair(s)”; British filmmaker Thomas Clay’s historical drama “Fanny Lye Deliver’d”; South Korean director Hong Sangsoo’s “The Woman Who Ran”; and Lav Diaz’s Philippine work “Genus, Pan.”

The fest is also welcoming back Frederick Wiseman with “City Hall,” his hopeful documentary about local Boston politics.

“Our programming team is very open-minded and curious,” Keilholz notes. “We love to be surprised and challenged by films. In the end, I feel we achieved a very progressive and diverse program with films that allow us to choose a position. These films give us space for discussion, which is what we’re aiming for.”

Fest organizers point out that a feminist thread runs across all the sections and particularly evident in the Pushing the Boundaries titles “Enormous,” by French director Sophie Letourneur; Argentine filmmaker Verónica Chen’s “High Tide” and Mexican helmer Yulene Olaizola’s “Tragic Jungle.”

The IFFMH also includes the Children’s Film Festival, which aims to inspire a new generation of filmgoers; Retrospective, a celebration of “rough diamonds, film gems and classics of cinema history”; and Facing New Challenges, a presentation of audiovisual artworks at the crossroads between film, fine arts and other media.

“The IFFMH has had numerous sections across its long history,” Keilholz explains. “We’re staying faithful to this tradition by re-establishing some crucial elements. Part of our project is to preserve film history through the Retrospective.”

This year’s Retrospective, Le Deuxième Souffle – The Second Generation 1968-83, focuses on the second generation of the French New Wave. “We have really assembled a treasure here,” Keilholz says. “Next to icons like Maurice Pialat, Jean Eustache and Philippe Garrel, we present films by Juliet Berto, Marie-Claude Treilhou, Michèle Rosier and Nelly Kaplan that have literally been forgotten, at least in Germany. And I guess this is where the feminist thread starts.”

Throughout the festival, the idea is “to find artists who are expanding the limitations of their field, exploring new ways to express themselves through new strategies of narration and composition.”

Keilholz stresses that he and his team were not looking for topical films. “Ultimately it all comes down to the artist’s vision and the mise en scène. It’s as simple as it sounds, and it relates to the curiosity I mentioned earlier as well. I guess that’s what is needed on the side of the filmmakers, the festivals and the audience. And this leads us to Facing New Challenges: observing where else moving images are going, beyond cinematic paths and beyond our expectations. So while our Retrospective shines a light on the past, these new sections point directly towards the future.”

Despite the impact of the pandemic, Keilholz says the festival has benefited from strong cinematic output.

“We experienced a very special year, where until very late we weren’t sure about our program’s final quality and diversity. Some of the better-known auteurs and bigger names of visionary cinema withdrew their films from this year’s rotation – or at least the producers and distributors did. But this turned out to be a very substantial year for cinema. And not only because of filmmakers like Frederick Wiseman or Lav Diaz, who are present with mesmerizing cinematic propositions.

“I’m fully convinced that the first-time directors whose films will have their German premiere in Mannheim-Heidelberg represent a very bright future for cinema, with a lot of promise and a rich variety of voices. And hopefully many of them will return to the IFFMH under better circumstances.”