Maike Mia Höhne: Curator, Berlinale Shorts

Alongside Sundance and Clermont-Ferrand film festivals, The Berlinale International Film Festival’s Shorts Program has a reputation for introducing a new selection of short films and filmmakers to the annual film festival calendar. Shorts that win awards at these high-profile events usually end up repeating that success throughout the year at other major film festivals, such as 2016’s THUNDER ROAD, which won the Sundance Short Film Grand Jury Prize and went on to win 11 other major awards, including SXSW. The Berlinale Shorts program, in particular, has a reputation for revealing new and unique voices that are often genre twisting and experimental, like David O’Reilly’s video game-themed short film EVERYTHING, which screens this year

As the curator of the Berlinale Shorts program Maike Mia Höhne is a passionate champion of the short film genre, especially in their ability to surface new and distinct voices. As an expert in short film and film festival programming, German-born Maike lectures and moderates at various film festivals around the world.  In addition to her work at Berlinale, Maike is a freelance writer, producer and experimental photographer and director.  She studied visual communication at the Hochschule für Bildende Künste in Hamburg, the Escuela de Bellas Artes in Havana as well as the Escuela International de Cine y Television in San Antonio de los Baños, Cuba.

New Machine Magazine talked to Maike about her background as a short film curator as well as the exciting lineup of films screening at Berlinale Shorts this year.

How did you get into this line of work?

Quite unromantic – in the sense I needed money and they needed someone to take care of the cinema. I took over, presenting the shorts at the Berlinale for three years – then there was some restructuring and I was asked to become the head of the new Berlinale Shorts section. I love film and short films even more, so that all made me very happy.

Can you name any highlights from the current list of 2017 shorts screening this year? Any that stand out? What excites you?

I am very excited about all shorts screening this year! We have a good balance between well known artists like Marcell Odenbach, Lukas Marx, Rainer Kohlberger and Salomé Lamas. Three previous best short Golden Bear award-winning filmmakers are back with two new films including Jonathan Vinel from France with Martin Pleure and Joao Salaviza with ALTAS CIDADES DE OSSADAS from Portugal. David O’Reilly won the Golden Bear in 2009 with the animated short PLEASE SAY SOMETHING and is back now with EVERYTHING, which is the first time that a video game is in competition here. The film has the aesthetic of a video game with no narrative, which ends up becoming a very special trip or as my colleague Anna Henckel Donnersmarck says of O’Reilly’s film, ‘it’s like jazz’!

Portugal is very strong this year in terms of the frequency and diverse quality of entries. The selected films represent a contemporary and powerful strong artistic call. They are all different – the beautiful love story between an artificial intelligent being (WESEN) and a native women from the north of Brasil exhibit the nature of humor and combines it with the contemporary discourse on what artificial intelligence might or might not become in the future. From Canada comes the film THE CRYING CONCHE by native filmmaker Vincent Toi, which uses the past and present to tell the story of man who was sent to Haiti as a slave and rose up to become the leader of rebellion against the French colonialists. The story is juxtaposed against a contemporary narrative of a black man landing on the island in the present time and reliving the situation today, there is no past, no present, just merely a search of understanding how to become a revolutionary. And then we are showing this beautiful french film LE FILM DE L’ÉTÉ, about two men, best friends and the son of one, traveling together. Passing places of no importance just to understand the beauty of life next to the highway. All films showing this year are very beautiful, very special.

Are there any styles, elements or other aspects like diversity or gender when selecting short films to program. What is it that you look for?

As we discuss every single film, we always look for a radical aesthetic approach on style and content topic, story and idea. The pattern of what trends and tendencies are coming up? For this year: nature strikes back – green is everywhere, around us, overwhelming us, embracing us. People reassure themselves through violent and direct actions. Architecture as a reflection on how we live and what we want from each other is very present! Film is becoming a stage – as in in greek dramaturgy the chorus. We look for uncompromising films, that never forget the body itself – cinema as a body. There is also an intellectual approach.

Are you more focused on new filmmakers or original or experimental voices? How do you weigh these aspects?

The original voice of the filmmaker is the fundament for being selected. It might be either a new filmmaker, or a well-known filmmaker, or a filmmaker that surprises us with a very original film and voice.

With the proliferation of low cost filmmaking, are you seeing any countries or cultures contributing more films or unique voices or artistic works than in previous years?

A very much emerging country is Portugal. Portugal has always been a very special country on the land map of cinema. But this year is outstanding! Four short film productions in competition: ALTAS CIDADES DE OSSADAS (High Cities of Bone) by João Salaviza,  CIDADE PEQUENA (Small Town) by Diogo Costa Amarante, COUP DE GRÂCE by Salomé Lamas and OS HUMORES ARTIFICIAIS (The Artificial Humors) by Gabriel Abrantes. There is some money from the government funds in Portugal for short films, but not the big money. There is enough want to express the situation in Portugal today and the need to position one’s self in the discourse.

Do you look for world premieres or can a film have screened elsewhere?

We generally seek out world premieres or international premieres – but we are heading towards world premieres only, like in Cannes and Venice. A world premiere is a very powerful momentum that adds greater energy, making the festival more special and unique, which is very important. The Berlinale sets new trends and tendencies with its film selections – and this has to be very clear for the audience that Berlinale represents what is coming next. A new selection of films that are highly anticipated by both the international and national audience. By the film industry as much as local cinema lovers. The hope is to each year renew the thinking about cinema and its possibilities for the audience, critics and film industry professionals.

Do you see more female driven or focused films in 2016-17? Are you seeing more female filmmakers?

This year doesn’t seem to be the year of the many films made by women, but the ones made by women are pretty strong! It is not only with the shorts, also in Forum, Competition, there aren’t enough female filmmakers selected, but the ones selected are pretty strong, like for example, the new films of Ildikó Enyedi and Teresa Villaverde.

Might be an obvious question but how can shorts uniquely show the potential of a filmmaker?

If you see the film UNE ROBE D’ÉTÉ of french Filmmaker Francois Ozon.
if you see Romuald Karmakars COUP DE BOULE.
if you see RGB XYZ.

So many more to mention…

You see these films and you see, know, understand the urge of the filmmaker.
You see the original voice – very precise, very simple.
You feel there is someone coming along who has something to say – someone who wants to participate with his / her work in a cultural discourse.

Read more about the 2017 Berlinale Shorts Program.