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BERLINALE 2021 Berlinale Shorts

Anna Henckel-Donnersmarck • Head, Berlinale Shorts

“A short film can be so much freer in its choice of tools”


- The head of Berlinale Shorts guides us through the 2021 programme and ponders the changes to the short-film world in the past 12 months

Anna Henckel-Donnersmarck  • Head, Berlinale Shorts
(© Anjula Schaub)

The last time we spoke to Anna Henckel-Donnersmarck, she was preparing for her first time at the helm of Berlinale Shorts as the Berlinale was about to kick off its 2020 edition. Little did we know at the time that, almost immediately following the end of that festival, the world would change immeasurably.

Speaking to her ahead of the screening of the 20 short films as part of Berlin’s industry offerings (read more about it here), we found out more about how the films on offer have reflected the tumultuous past year and how Berlin — and the short film world in general — has reacted to the situation.

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Cineuropa: This year’s selection of Berlinale Shorts has been given the subtitle “Tell Me about Yourself so that I Can Understand the World”. Can you tell us a little bit more of what that means to you in relation to the programme?
Anna Henckel-Donnersmarck: I wanted to bring attention to the act of listening: when you hand yourself over to the person you’re having a conversation with, or to the piece of art you’re looking at without prejudice or preconceived notions. The magic that can then come is that you not only learn something about the person that you have in front of you, but the world this person lives in, the experiences this person has. It’s the opposite of an echo chamber. I see Berlinale Shorts as a programme catering to the idea that “I don’t know what I want to hear but I’m curious to listen.”

The world is becoming more and more 50/50. You’re either in ‘this’ camp or ‘that’ camp. The grey zone is getting thinner and the black and white is getting more dominant. I think culture is a very important tool to allow for grey zones, to allow for ambiguity and also to facilitate a space for doubts, exchange and discourse.

On a practical level, how did you react knowing that the films would have to be, at least initially, screened online? And how do you think the short film world has dealt with being increasingly online over the past year?
It was clear that we had to do something physical in Berlin for this amazing, beautiful audience we have, so we decided to do a public event in June in the cinemas, and the industry event in March online.

As far as short film festivals that had to take place online are concerned, I thought they were surprisingly sociable: it became very obvious that the short film community is very open and fun to be around. Going into the Zoom call of an online festival is really like going to a party, meeting the people you haven’t seen for a year (or since last week, depending on how many online festivals you attended). A community of people who are happy to see each other: programmers and festival people as well as filmmakers. It was also nice to see on social media how filmmakers promoted the festivals and made recommendations for films that were not their own. This camaraderie is something magic that the short film world has.

For me, the thing about online isn’t the fact that we can reach many people – it’s that many people can reach us. I’m always interested in examining the gates we've put up and where we can open them again. I think we have to find some sort of solution in the online world regarding geoblocking as national borders and geographical distance can be rethought in an online space. Let’s see if we can open those doors to allow people to access no matter where they are.

But there is still a desire to return to cinemas despite this freedom online offers: not only to see films on the big screen but to bring back the filmgoing experience.
I underestimated how much I would miss the cinema as I enjoy sitting on my sofa watching one streaming series after another. But if I want to see an arthouse film, then I need the discipline of a cinema room. Making the commitment of leaving the house and saying “The next 90 minutes of my life are now committed to this film without distraction.” I also need the commitment of the other people around me. They help me to focus and hand myself over to the film.

One thing that always strikes me about the Berlinale Shorts programme is the diversity on offer, with films of different genres and filmmakers with different backgrounds.
Yes, I enjoy this diversity and I’m very glad we don’t have a framework we have to fulfil. We can go in every direction and I think that’s the beauty of short film, because a short film can be so much freer in its choice of tools. It's this dancing around and the colliding of all these different molecules that we enjoy.

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