Honoured Past, Bold Future

From genre films to challenging experiments and hybrids: Pushing 50, the Viennale film festival is still taking risks

Harry Belafonte and Dorothy Dandridge in Carmen Jones at the Viennale | Photo: Fox Studios

Heading into its 50th year, the The Viennale International Film Festival Vienna is still taking risks in 2011, with the schedules and plans announced at its pre-season press conference in August. The roughly 130 new feature films scheduled include big names along with new discoveries; from classic narrative to experimental forms; from genre films to the more challenging experiments and hybrids operating at the limits of film as currently defined, all of interest to the film lovers targeted by the festival organizers.

The range includes the dreamy exploration of an old house in Aitá, a dizzying tour de force between revenge and salvation in Drive; the abandoned children on the streets of Yatasto or the protesting, shrewd citizens of Palermo in Palazzo delle Aguile; of Schlafkrankheit (Sleeping Sickness) and Melancholia, of Schakale und Araber (Kafka’s Jackels and Arabs) and of the funny and crazy existence of a useful life in cinema in La vida útil.

Also scheduled is Way of Passion, a new documentary by Joerg Burger about a Catholic procession ritual in Sicily. Another path of passion is what determines a Filipino girl’s decision to leave her country in Ang damgo ni eleuteria; the wild life of Hole drummer Patty Schemel is documented in Hit So Hard. Still being negotiated is a complete screening of Todd Haynes’s multi-part HBO TV adaption of Mildred Pierce starring Kate Winslet. Very current will be a look in on the insurgents of the “Arab Spring” vanguard in Tahrir, Liberation Square from Egypt.

In his comments on the Viennale ‘11 program, festival director Hans Hurch, said that it advances the festival’s mission “to create a large arc across current world cinema,” reflecting, in its way “the fragmented, the temporary…”

Thus, the program will be the last of its kind. According to Hurch, in 2012, the 50-year anniversary of the festival, the Viennale will see a “comprehensive relaunch” retaining “the meaningful and the tested” but will also be “expanded and updated with new, varied program ideas and structures.” In short, the secret is to be bold, yet ever vigilent. “Or as Fred Zinnemann (the Austrian-born director of High Noon) once said: ‘Never sleep without your pistol.’”

Of particular interest to the home audience will be the Austrian premiere of A Dangerous Method, David Cronenberg’s adaptation of Christopher Hampton’s play. Set in 1904, with Viggo Mortensen and Michael Fassbender, the focus is on the deteriorating relationship between Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung as they treat a particularly troubled patient at the Burghlzli Mental Hospital. While the younger psychiatrist and his highly respected mentor drift apart, their work leads to profound breakthroughs in the practice.

Other festival highlights will include tributes to Harry Belafonte and British film Producer Jeremy Thomas. Belafonte began his career in the late 1940s on Broadway as an actor and as a singer, with his album Calypso, making him a star in the ‘50s. Belafonte attracted attention as a film actor in Otto Preminger’s musical Carmen Jones (1954) which has been newly restored and, with luck, will be screened in this version. But Belafonte was interested in extending his range and also starred in the science fiction film The World, the Flesh, and the Devil (1959) and, the same year, in Robert Wise’s gangster movie Odds Against Tomorrow, a decidely unusual film noir addressing the subject of racism, which Belafonte produced.

Belafonte’s charisma, his music, his screen presence, and his progressive politics have remained unchanged over the years, and are reflected in the recent documentary Sing Your Song (2010) by Susanne Rostock, which is included with a selection of Belafonte’s films in the Vien- nale tribute. Belafonte will be in Vienna to take part in this tribute.

The Viennale tribute to Jeremy Thomas will include a selection of his most important productions, including the aforementioned A Dangerous Method. According to festival organizers, the tribute is “a mark of respect for his cinematic instinct, his love for his directors and his unconditional idea of artistic independence”, the driving force behind his creative work. Thomas occupies a special position, having established himself as an independent, collaborating effectively with a core group of great directors since the mid-1970s, and playing a central role in contemporary international cinema. Jeremy Thomas will be in Vienna for this tribute.

The Viennale is Austria’s most important international film event, as well as one of the oldest and best-known festivals in the German-speaking world, paying particular attention to documentary films, international short films, as well as experimental works and crossover films. The complete film program will be online on Oct. 11 at 20:00. Ticket pre-sale starts as usual on Oct. 15.

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