Wednesday, September 05, 2018

OFF18 – Odense International Film Festival

As usual the week after the H. C. Andersen Festivals here in Odense, Denmark, it was time for the Odense International Film Festival called OFF and as it is 2018, this year it was OFF18. The festival took place from August 28th to September 2nd.
OFF18 consisted of a little over one hundred short films, animations and documentaries placed within five competitions: the main competition, the Danish competition, the animation competition, the documentary competition and the youth competition. I was especially happy to see that the documentary competition was back again after it had been absent last year.
Between four and seven films were screened at a time in different “programmes” put together loosely based on themes. The screenings took place in Odense city in different theatres within the Brandts Cultural Centre complex as well as in Theatre Momentum that has an amazing interior. As usual the screenings were free of charge, but you had to book tickets in advance to be sure to get a seat. You also had to book tickets to the “Focus” events, which this year included things as diverse as an animation workshop, open-air screening of “Pulp Fiction”, “E.T.” and other famous feature films, a film quiz night, Slovak animation, virtual reality experiences and games, a Danish space pop concert and much, much more.
As usual the jury of the main competition was purely Danish, consisting of film director Anders Refn, actor Mads Riisom and actress Iben Hjejle. They chose the following winners:
Winners of the main competition: The HCA Award (the International Grand Prix): “Detainment” by Vincent Lamb, Ireland, a fictive story based on the James Bulger case from England where two ten-year old boys were detained by the police for abducting and murdering a toddler.
The OFF Storyteller Award: “Haunted” by Christian Einshøj, Denmark, a loving but dryly comical documentary about a middle-aged mother made by one of her four sons.
The OFF Artist Award for the film with the strongest artistic expression: “Fauve” by Jeremy Comte, Canada, about two boys engulfed in a power game on the edge of a mining plant.

The jury of the Danish competition was also largely Danish, although it used to be mainly international. It consisted of Danish director Heidi Maria Faisst, Danish director Ulaa Salim and Shorts Programmer for Tribeca Film Festival, Ben Thompson. Their picks were:
Winners of the Danish competition: Best Danish Short Film: “Maja” by Marljana Jankovic about a six-year old immigrant girl from Serbia who has only recently arrived in Denmark.
The FilmFyn Talent Award: ”Haunted” by Christian Einshøj – see “The OFF Storyteller Award” mentioned above.

The jury of the animation competition consisted of the Danish animation director Ida Andreasen, the Danish visual effects supervisor Jonas Wagner and the Slovak festival coordinator at the Academy of Performing Arts, Film and Television Faculty in Bratislava, Alexandra Gabrižová. They chose these:
Winners of the animation competition: The Børge Ring Award for the best animated film: “The Night of the Plastic Bags” by Gabriel Harel, France, about whether or not to have children in a world full of plastic.
The Animation Talent Award (Danish filmmakers only): “Egg” by Martina Scarpelli about eating disorders.

The jury of the documentary competition was made up by Danish journalist Anders Agger, Danish documentary consultant at the Danish Film Institute Cecilia Lidin and London-based director Eva Weber. Their picks were:
Winners of the documentary competition: Best Short Documentary: “Prisoner of Society” by Rati Tsiteladze, Georgia, about a transgender woman who is trapped between her desire for freedom and her parents’ traditional views.
The Soapbox Award for the short documentary that best uses its platform to have a meaningful influence on society: “Everything has a Beginning” by Marie Limkilde, Denmark, about three young girls examining each other’s vulvas with specula, flashlights and mirrors (!).

The jury of the youth competition consisted of an 8th grade from a local school. They only had a limit amount of films to pick from, twenty-eight to be exact, and they picked this:
Winner of the youth competition: “At Dawn” by Julien Trauman, France, about three teenagers at a graduation party who end up lost at sea.

Finally, there was the Audience Award where the audience was able to vote for their favourite.
Winner of the Audience Award: “The Referee” by Jesper Quistgaard, Denmark, about an aging referee who makes friends with the neighbours’ little girl – which has unexpected consequences.
As usual I didn’t see all the winners, partly because of my bad health, partly because there are never tickets enough to the different screenings, so of course I don’t know if I would have agreed with the juries in all categories. I very much doubt it, though. You see, in previous years I have complained about the quality of the competition short films as although there were no really bad films in OFF16, there were no extraordinarily good films either and in OFF17 there were no good films at all amongst the ones that I watched, but several really bad ones. This year in OFF18 there was only a handful of good films and several really bad, whereas the vast majority was… meh. Rather bland and boring.
Usually I do my own winners-list when reviewing the Odense International Film Festival, but this year for the first time ever, I didn’t see enough good films to fill all eleven categories. Maybe I would have been able to fill them, had I seen all the films, but previous years I haven’t seen all films either, but still been able to pick winners for every single category. My list this year is therefore going to look a bit weird.
I don’t have a winner of the main competition, the International Grand Prix. I truly didn’t see any films on the festival that I would think worthy of the title. Maybe the pick of the jury, “Detainment” by Vincent Lamb, Ireland, was indeed the best film on the festival. I can’t tell as I didn’t see it, but I very much doubt that I would have picked it as making up a fictive story based on the horrific James Bulger case seems like an easy way to get sympathy and awards. But oh well, I have nothing with which to replace it.
The OFF Storyteller Award I would have awarded to “Astri and Tambulah” by Xeph Suarez, Philippines, which was a touching but heartbreaking story about the transgender woman Astri who wants to marry her boyfriend but has to become a groom herself in an arranged marriage to a woman. I think it is very weird that it didn’t win any awards at all.
I don’t have a pick for the OFF Artist Award, as once again I didn’t see anything suitable, but here I am sure that the jury’s pick, “Fauve” by Jeremy Comte, Canada, was the right one. I heard so many people talk about this film during the festival and I would have loved to see it, but unfortunately the programme it was in, was only screened at times when I wasn’t able to attend.

As winners of the Danish competition, for Best Danish Short Film I would have picked “Haunted” by Christian Einshøj, the one that the main competition jury picked for the Storyteller Award. I’m not quite sure about the storytelling skills of this documentary, but it sure was interesting, touching and funny, and I must say that meeting the mother of the documentary for a Q&A with the audience after the screening made it even better.
The FilmFyn Talent Award I would have awarded “Nerd Cave” by Mads Reuter. The story about the avid (adult) computer gamer who lives with his mom as well as both of their reactions when the power fails in the middle of an important game is funny, relatable and even touching.

As winners of the animation competition, I would have picked “Raymonde Or The Vertical Escape” by Sarah Van Den Boom, France, for the Borge Ring Award for the best animated film. How this beautifully animated film about the catholic owl lady who is tired of her lonely life and rather exceptional job and longs for love and sex didn’t win ANY awards at all is beyond me.
The Animation Talent Award I would have awarded to “Bacchus” by Rikke Alma Krogshave Planeta, Denmark, as this animation about grabbing the chance to get away from a dull and grey everyday life was one of the best Danish animated shorts in my opinion.

In the documentary competition, I have no winner of the Best Short Documentary, so I just have to believe the jury when they say that “Prisoner of Society” by Rati Tsiteladze, Georgia, was the best documentary.
The Soapbox Award I would have awarded “Egg” by by Martina Scarpelli, Denmark, the one that the jury picked for the Animation Talent Award for Danish filmmakers only. I think that its message about eating disorders was important enough to win the Soapbox Award, though, and its rather gross visual side combined with the sensual narrative was perfect for the subject.

For the OFF Youth Award, I have no idea what I would have chosen among the twenty-eight films that the young jury had to pick from, so I guess I’ll just go with the jury and say “At Dawn” by Julien Trauman, France.

As for the Audience Award, I was certain that “Good Morning” by Elaine Mongeon, USA, about a young woman and her sick father, would win because of its amazing plot twist. It was in one of the Main Competition’s very best programmes, Programme OFF6, but none of the six films in it won anything, which is incomprehensible. Strangely enough, “Good Morning” was produced and distributed by Warner Brothers, so of course it was in a class of its own as most other films didn’t have a Warner Brothers-budget!

Other films worth mentioning, although they were not quite award-material, were “Excuse Me, I’m Looking for the Ping-Pong Room and My Girlfriend” by Bernhard Wenger, Austria / Germany / Sweden, where a young man at a wellness resort is looking for… you guessed it, and then “Instant” by Ceren Sahan, Turkey, which was very short and rather surprising.
Well, apart from the competition programmes I also attended some of the “Focus” events, which used to be called “OFF Focus”, but the “OFF” was dropped this year. Anyway, the last couple of years I have only been able to attend one event due to my bad health and although my health has not improved, on the contrary, I attended four different events, as this year I was not on my own but had friends and family helping me out.
The first event was a screening of animation expert Jakob Stegelmann’s personal favourites among animated shorts. Stegelmann is a “hero” of mine as since 1989 he has had a wonderful programme (“Troldspejlet”) on Danish TV about cartoons, animated films, computer games etc. I have heard him speak about films many times, but this was special as it was his own favourites -and thereby weird animated shorts – that he introduced, and as he was the recipient of the OFF Honorary Award 2018.
Another event also featured one of my “heroes”: the writer, animator, director, former teacher at the National Film School of Denmark and last but not least the man behind the legendary Danish TV-series “Skrumpen from Outer Space”, Gunnar Wille. The event was a homage to the Danish animator and director Cav Bøgelund who passed away earlier this year, only thirty-nine years old. Gunnar Wille was to talk about him as he had been his teacher and later colleague at the film school, but the event turned into a wake almost, as many of Cav Bøgelund’s personal friends were there, sharing their memories about him. We also saw two of Bøgelund’s animated shorts and held a minute’s silence. It was very touching.
The third event I went to was “25 Years of Slovak Animation”: a screening of twelve Slovak animations from 1993 and up until today. Some of the films were truly awful, but there were also great films like “In the Box” by Michal Struss, “Cowboyland” by Dávid Štumpf and especially the hilarious “Pandas” by Matúš Vizár. Had it been possible to vote for these films, I would have picked “Pandas” as the winner of the International Grand Prix as it was by far the best film at the festival this year!
The last “Focus” event I went to was called “Planet WTF” and here we were promised seven “beautifully bizarre films handpicked by animator Sara Koppel and director Martin Strange-Hansen”. In the programme this “selection of new and old wonderfully twisted films bouncing with cinematic playfulness and dark fantasies” was hailed as some of the most bizarre and strange films ever, and the two “handpickers” were even more enthusiastic in their comments at the screening. The only problem was that the films weren’t particularly twisted or weird compared to what you could see at the festival, and several of the films had been aired either on telly or screened at previous festivals, so the audience already knew them. I wish that this event hadn’t been hyped so much as you were bound to be disappointed.
All in all, the “Focus” events were better than the competition programmes this year and although I expect I will be back next year, I’m not sure that I’ll see as many competition programmes when my sparse energy due to my bad health could be used much better on other things.

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