Oberhausen´s erratic relations to Sweden in the 1960s and 70s.
The International Short Film Festival's relations with the social democratic "model country" Sweden got off to a surprisingly bumpy start in the 1960s. A dispute over the rejection of the film Ferrum (1963) led to a four-year silence between the Short Film Festival and Svenska Filminstitutet, which for a long time operated in a centralist manner. Forced to seek direct contact with filmmakers and independent distributors such as FilmCentrum, the Short Film Festival built up an informal network in which, in addition to various journalists, German documentary filmmaker Peter Nestler, who had emigrated to Sweden in 1967, played a central role. Yet, with Nestler too, the Short Film Festival was linked by a by no means smooth history... re-selected Dossier No. 2 recapitulates an eventful period in which the stakes were high, in festival policies as much as in politics at large.
Stuck on Ferrum
Oberhausen's relations with the Swedish Film Institute 1963-1969.
by John Sundholm
The proceedings caused by the rejection of the short film Ferrum (Gunnar Höglund, 1963) by the Oberhausen Short Film Festival in 1963 constitute a case in point for uncovering the film-political situation in Sweden at the time by shedding a light on both its international aspirations and national lines of conflict. Significantly, the rejection provided the Swedish Film Institute (SFI) with a pretext to turn the Oberhausen festival into a scapegoat in the face of increasing dissent and dissatisfaction with the new Swedish film policy. After Oberhausen had rejected Ferrum, the SFI would boycott the festival for six consecutive years, thereby wilfully jeopardising international prospects for Swedish short films during a period of significant change and reorientation.
Letters and documents in the festival archives in Oberhausen reveal not only the arrogance of SFI but also the amount of labour necessary to mount an annual international film festival in a time when the material culture of film was analogue. If today, “sending” films is typically a matter of server capacities and file formatting, in the pre-digital era making a film available for distant audiences required a number of physical practices and logistic procedures. More often than not, this was a time-consuming and painstaking affair, especially when substandard or minor film production such as short films was concerned.
This widely neglected material history of film and film festivals is important for many reasons. We are nowadays offered an immense amount of digital audiovisual representations from the past, and thus the illusion of having access to the past, while the conditions under which films were historically produced and distributed are disregarded. The digital promise of easy access obscures the material histories of films; that they were physical objects that travelled or that demanded one to travel; that film was a delicate and vulnerable object, “critical” in more than one sense, handled by shippers and porters, by customs officers, governmental authorities and projectionists: physical procedures which caused material inscriptions and other traces in institutional archives, on the film cans and the actual film material itself.
When fathoming the effects which material practices around the distribution and exhibition of films had on history and historiography, the Oberhausen film festival has an interesting past to revisit. What adds to the exclusivity of Oberhausen is that being dedicated to short films, the festival operated within a form of film that was typically said to grant greater artistic freedom than feature film production. The genre also provided Oberhausen with a particular mission as a window for filmmakers from the Eastern Bloc whose films were often made to play intricate roles in Cold War soft diplomacy. Even in a presumed model country like Sweden, the materiality of film allowed decision makers and gatekeepers to exert influence and execute control over the circulation of film reels. The material conditions – both financial and physical – of analogue film created both the desire and the possibility to exert control, and thus film was controlled.
The Swedish Film Institute (SFI) was founded in 1963. It was created as a foundation headed by Austrian-born Harry Schein and with the mission to both secure a future for the national film industry and to enable the making of films that primarily served other interests than that of the industry.
Schein had arrived in Sweden as a Jewish refugee from Vienna in 1939, when he was fourteen years old. Twenty years later he had made a successful living and become a well-off member of society with diverse cultural interests and close ties to the leadership of the Social-Democratic party that ruled the country. Schein succeeded in making SFI into the institute, which means it would not only become the key institution for allocating funds for feature film production; the institute also founded the first film school in Sweden, established the national film archive and took over Sweden’s leading film journal, Chaplin. Schein’s design of SFI gave him full control and he did not hesitate to use his power. Schein’s public image was additionally fostered by his marriage to one of the most prominent Swedish actors of the time, Ingrid Thulin, possibly best-known through her appearances in Ingmar Bergman’s films of the 1960s. The personal success story of Harry Schein reflected the international image of Sweden as a culturally and financially prosperous country. An image that was not challenged by the actual decline of the Swedish film industry because the international attention was turned towards the Swedish art-house cinema. Sweden was considered as one of the European exponents of the rising art-house cinema of the 1960s.
Given such a constellation for Swedish film culture, it is no surprise that short film production would become a dilemma for the newly founded film institute. Short film culture was marginal, always an exception, and it would re-appear time and again as the film form that threw a spanner in the works of SFI’s film policy. While for someone like Schein short film was certainly a minor and therefore inferior form of production, it was precisely its marginal status that eventually made it precious for the individual filmmakers. The “minor” promised full freedom, whereas if you worked within the regular feature film business (industry or art-house), external control was a natural and accepted part of the production culture. It came as a disappointing surprise for many filmmakers that the very institute that had been founded to foster film culture did not engage in the form that was considered the most diverse and free within the otherwise tightly kept film production. After all, even such heavy industries as mining companies were giving free hand to the directors of their commissioned PR films.
From the perspective of a new and aspiring institution like SFI – that held great local power – the Oberhausen short film festival was considered a minor player. Previously, short film production in Sweden had predominantly taken place under the auspices of governmental agencies, NGOs and the industry. The latter both in the sense of industrial companies financing films within their PR budget, and the established film industry producing short films. This was the case until the great transition within Swedish film culture and film policy in 1963, that is, until the founding of SFI as a national, public body for funding film production.
The film Ferrum, which was to become an apple of discord, had been commissioned by the Swedish mining company LKAB and was produced by Nordisk Tonefilm, which – according to what Schein would claim retrospectively – had submitted it for the 1963 Oberhausen Short Film Festival. The festival rejected it. Schein resubmitted it the next year, and when Oberhausen rejected it again he appeared to be scandalised. While Schein claimed that the film was excellent, and that, if SFI was invited to submit films to the festival, these should be accepted, Swedish film critics would later claim that Oberhausen had informed Schein that Ferrum had already been submitted and rejected in the previous year and that due to its participation in many festivals during 1963, there was no way for them to accept the film for their 1964 edition. According to the Swedish press the SFI's (Schein's) final reply was that “the institute can not be expected to submit bad films just because a festival organisation has bad taste.”
Ferrum was an object of great national pride in Sweden. It had received many awards, its director, Gunnar Höglund, was highly appreciated, and the music was composed by the young avant-garde composer and musician Karl-Erik Welin. When submitting the project in 1960, Höglund had wanted the music to be composed by the internationally renowned composer, Karl-Birger Blomdahl, a leading cultural figure at the time in Sweden. When pitching the colour film in 35 mm to the mining company LKAB, Höglund explained that “sound effects and music should form a musical unit, an ore symphony visualised. Once implemented, this should make the conventional narrative speaker redundant. Therefore, there is no voice-over. Synthesis – iron as an idea – may come closer to us that way.”
From today’s perspective, the film is an intriguing example of how heavy industry is romanticised into an audiovisual harmony that is in the service of eternal societal (and social-democratic) development and progress. Mining and music, iron and image in perfect harmony.
It is easy to see how Ferrum satisfied what Schein would consider the rationale for short film production as well as his ideals for short film aesthetics. However, my objective is not to speculate on underlying motives and aims, but to point out the conditions and histories behind SFI’s boycott of Oberhausen and their consequences for the film festival. Correspondences in the Oberhausen archive show that Schein could not forgive the festival organisation for having “leaked” part of their previous exchange to the press, as Schein would put it. It was in fact Gunnar Oldin, Swedish film critic for both press and television and one of Oberhausen’s Swedish contacts at the time, who had been informed about the correspondence between Oberhausen and SFI. Oldin was upset about Schein’s behaviour and wrote about it, criticising the SFI for its refusal to collaborate with Oberhausen.
Oldin’s coverage of this affair was an early warning for the coming long-term debate in Sweden concerning Harry Schein’s dominating position in Swedish film politics, but also his sceptical attitude towards short film production. The debate would escalate and receive new dimensions when the Swedish co-op FilmCentrum was founded in 1968, inspired by the American Canyon Cinema and Filmmakers’ Co-op in New York. FilmCentrum would soon, like so many like-minded cooperatives all over Europe, develop into a site for politically oriented and politically activist filmmaking and distribution.
This local conflict around film policy put Oberhausen in a difficult position. The festival wanted access to as many Swedish short films as possible and the SFI was not only the natural partner to ask for organising the screenings for the selection committee; as a national institute it was also expected to suggest potentially interesting films to be considered. In 1966, when Schein and the SFI again refused to collaborate, Oberhausen made an effort to establish direct relations with Swedish filmmakers. Letters were sent to well-known figures like Peter Weiss, to people from the industry, and to experimentalists like Åke Karlung and Hans Nordenström, the latter a long-term collaborator of the rising star curator and museum director, Pontus Hultén. An indication of the desperate urgency of these attempts is that at a closer look some of the measures taken seem oddly out of place: Peter Weiss, for instance, did have an early and promising start as a filmmaker in the late 1950s (and most of his films had been shown in Oberhausen). Yet, by the time Oberhausen asked him for advice in 1966, his last film, Hägringen (1960), was already dating back six years and he had switched to become an internationally acclaimed writer and playwright in the meantime. Also, when trying to get in touch with Hans Nordenström, the Oberhausen festival organisers first mistakenly contacted a namesake who was an official at the Church of Sweden.
If Oberhausen was a marginal phenomenon for SFI, and thus not really worth any diplomatic efforts, Sweden was not a top priority for Oberhausen either. Eastern European short film was booming in the 1960s – and played a dominant role in Oberhausen – and the American experimental film movements had begun to catch attention as well. However, when Jan Troell picked up a first prize in Oberhausen in 1967 for his film Uppehåll i myrlandet (1965), the unresolved issue with SFI came up again. New efforts were made to receive substantial numbers of Swedish submissions, this time by asking critics and producers to recommend films and filmmakers for the festival. Among the producers who were approached was Bengt Forslund, who was not only a producer at Svensk Filmindustri but had co-written Uppehåll i myrlandet with Troell and had also been the film's production and unit manager. In his response to Oberhausen, Forslund mentioned the recently inaugurated SFI film school where, he said, several interesting short films had recently been made.
Forslund’s reply put the SFI’s boycott back on the agenda, since the institute was holding the rights to the films produced at the school. For Harry Schein the idea that Oberhausen could become a window for the Institute’s new film school was a pleasant prospect. The school had been one of his favourite projects within SFI, and acknowledgement by a festival like Oberhausen would support Schein’s claim on the home front that SFI actually did support short film production with significant financial aid. In short, while for Oberhausen it became evident that one just could not ignore the SFI when looking for access to a reasonably representative number of Swedish short films, Schein had his own reasons to welcome more cooperative relations with the Oberhausen festival.
In August 1969 the festival management – director Hilmar Hoffmann and program coordinator Will Wehling – followed the advice by film critic Kurt Habernoll, who was designated to advise them on the Swedish selection, that a “proud gentleman” like Schein should be susceptible to some apologetic phrasing and that one should send him a “nice letter”. The nice letter was sent a month later. Hoffmann and Wehling announce therein that it was time “to bury the hatchet”, they admit to having made wrong decisions in the past and specifically apologise for the handling of Ferrum. In the name of future collaboration they ask Schein for pardon and suggest that the SFI organise selection screenings for the 1970 festival in Stockholm in January. Schein replies immediately, accepts their apology, suggests that films from the SFI film school should be included and that as part of a national award program, the SFI has already pre-selected the best Swedish short films of that year. These would be screened for the selection committee when visiting Stockholm.
This correspondence and negotiation eventually led to a compromise but what is most interesting in Hoffmann and Wehling’s approach is that they are so conscious of who they are dealing with. Soon after the peace agreement with Schein they send a letter to Mauritz Edström, a leading film critic at the Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter, with whom they had been in contact throughout the 1960s. Hoffmann and Wehling are concerned that they might not get to see all Swedish short films that are of interest, if Schein and the SFI were to exclusively decide what would be shown to them. In the same correspondence they inquire about FilmCentrum which Edström had recommended to them in a previous letter.
However, it is impossible to distinguish any direct causal relations between Oberhausen’s and SFI’s agendas concerning the films that actually were chosen for the festival during the years of the controversy. The past is more messy and complicated than that, encompassing a vast ensemble of people, institutions, interests and commitments. Many filmmakers chose to contact Oberhausen directly, either encouraged by film critics or producers, or out of their own initiative. Some of the most original filmmakers of the time did submit work or contact Oberhausen but were not accepted. One example was Bo Jonsson, one of the first students at SFIs film school; another was the amateur film-maker and full-time industrial worker, Sven Elfström, Sweden’s most politically outspoken experimental filmmaker.
Thus, although SFI`s refusal to collaborate did not imply that Swedish films were completely blocked from entering the festival. Rather, Ferrum was like a McGuffin – the Hitchcockian device that sets a narrative in motion – whereas the controversy as such is an example of the material conditions of film as an absent cause in film culture. A film that happens to appear at a festival and is being enjoyed in the theatre – while its material base is transformed into light and sound that appears on the screen as if this was its true nature – reveals nothing about its preceding procedures, institutional logistics and conditions of production. Ferrum, of course, did not ever make it to the screen in Oberhausen, but left a distinct trace in the archive that reveals some of the crucial conditions for short film culture at the time. Embodying such material histories, the collection of letters and other written documents in the festival archive in Oberhausen provides us with a glimpse of the social whole of film culture.
Watch Ferrum here
Watch Uppehåll i myrlandet here
 Harry Schein: ”Kortfilmsmytologi”, Dagens Nyheter 9 Jan. 1965
 No record of this decision could be found.
 Mauritz Edström ”DN-kortfilm tävlar i Oberhausen-festivalen”, Dagens Nyheter 5 Febr. 1965.
 ”Ferrum. Kortfilmsförslag för LKAB av Gunnar Höglund”, 1960. Script at the Library of the Swedish Filminstitute.
 Edström 1965.
Documents for "Stuck on Ferrum" (1965-1970)
Peter Nestler and the Oberhausen Festival
by Tobias Hering
The following chronicle traces the intricate and contradictory history that connects the Oberhausen Short Film Festival with documentary filmmaker Peter Nestler. It is based largely on research in the Festival's documents archive and makes no claim to completeness. Unless otherwise noted, the documents cited are correspondences filed under "Sweden", in an archive arranged by festival year and country.
At the 11th West German Short Film Festival Oberhausen in 1965, a flyer circulated that began with a statement by Jean-Marie Straub: "A (West German) Short Film Festival has a meaning only if it helps to discover young yet unknown (West German) filmmakers. Lenica, Kristl, Kluge etc. are not (anymore) to be discovered. Peter Nestler, however, is and has been for the past three years: the truest and most self-assured filmmaker in this country; three of his films, Aufsätze, Mülheim (Ruhr) and Ödenwaldstetten were rejected by the selection committee. So was Thome-Lemke-Zihlmann's very charming (first) film, Die Versöhnung. And there are others."
The flyer accuses the selection committee of having rejected films "whose authors had dared to take reality into consideration,” claiming that the Short Film Festival thus supported a "fashion whose cause is contempt, or stupidity, or helplessness." The flyer was signed by those who were ultimately its subject: in addition to Straub, who had presumably initiated it, the aforementioned Rudolf Thome, Klaus Lemke, Max Zihlmann, and Peter Nestler, as well as those with whom the latter had made his first films: Reinald Schnell, Dieter Süverkrüp, Dirk Alvermann, and Kurt Ulrich.
In the summer of 1965, Peter Nestler and Reinald Schnell travel to Greece to document the resistance of the population against the imminent military coup. Their film places current events in the context of the resistance against the German occupation during World War II and the fascist forces that remained powerful in Greece after the war.
In a letter dated February 1, 1966, Will Wehling, the co-director of the Festival, informs Peter Nestler that the selection committee “consisting of Messrs. Haro Senft and Walter Knoop from the Association of Film Producers, Michael Lentz and Dr. Hannes Schmidt from the Association of Film Journalists, as well as the festival management [Hilmar Hoffmann and Wehling himself, T.H.]” was of the opinion that the film he had submitted, Von Griechenland (From Greece), "was not eligible for a competition program after all.” He was pleased, however, to be able to inform Nestler that the film would be part of the German national program, "which will be shown in an evening screening on Wednesday, February 16, 1966.”
“We showed the film in Oberhausen. There was quite a ruckus during the screening. Afterwards, the ʻFilmecho-Filmwocheʼ, the film industry's magazine, called the film a purely communist film.” A verdict not only on the film, but also on Nestler, depriving him of further production opportunities in the FRG. “I tried anyway. I first tried to sell these films that I had made, which were also not shown, and tried to get commissions. And that at every institution, at every station. I didn't succeed. I would have liked to work in West Germany and only went to Sweden because I hoped I could at least continue making films. In West Germany, it was no longer possible for me.”
Peter Nestler emigrates to Sweden where he first works as a lumberjack and then makes a film about the Ruhr region for Swedish television (I Ruhrområdet, 1967). In 1968 Nestler is employed as a commissioning editor at the newly established Second Channel of Swedish television, a relatively stable work situation that subsequently enables him to make "two or three films a year.” In 1968, he makes a short film against the Vietnam War, Sightseeing, to a text by Peter Weiss. The Greek theme continues in Greker i Sverige (Greeks in Sweden, 1968), which Swedish television produces but does not broadcast. From 1969 Peter Nestler's films are made in close collaboration with his wife, Zsoka Nestler.
Correspondence between the directors of the Oberhausen Short Film Festival (Hoffmann and Wehling) and the Cologne film journalist and collector Leo Schönecker in July 1970 reveals that Peter and Zsoka Nestler had apparently submitted their film In Budapest for the 1970 festival and sent a 16mm print to Oberhausen. In the correspondence Schönecker points out that, contrary to the agreement, the costs for the return shipment were charged to Nestler. Schönecker asks the festival to reimburse Nestler for these, which is then ordered in an internal memo. ("Mr. Nestler pointed out that a new print in 16mm format could be struck for the 100 Swedish crowns.") In Budapest was not shown in Oberhausen.
In a letter to Will Wehling, dated 22nd Nov, 1972, Sebastian Feldmann suggests that the Oberhausen selectors in Stockholm also watch films by Peter Nestler. He mentions Nestler's then newest films Om Boktryckets Uppkomst (On the Emergence of Letterpress, 1971), Bilder från Vietnam (Pictures of Vietnam, 1972), Om Papperets Historia (On the History of Paper, 1972). At the foot of the letter there is also a handwritten note (by Will Wehling?) indicating that Feldmann also mentioned the film Får de komma igen? (Are they allowed to come back?, 1971), which the commission should "at least watch". "I think it's supposed to be a film about neo-fascism." The note is presumably addressed to Peter H. Schröder and Peter W. Jansen, who went to Stockholm as selectors and received a copy of the letter. None of the films mentioned was shown in Oberhausen. Får de komma igen?, which deals with neo-Nazi structures in West Germany, was a commissioned work for Swedish television, but was removed from the program shortly before the broadcast date and subsequently remained unseen for years.
In the international competition of the Festival, Introduction to Arnold Schoenberg's ʻAccompaniment to a Cinematographic Sceneʼ by Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet is shown as a West German contribution. In the film, Peter Nestler and Günter Peter Straschek read texts by Arnold Schoenberg and Bertolt Brecht. The film had previously received the highest number of votes of all “German” films in the selection committee and was awarded several prizes at the Festival, including that of the German Association of Film Journalists.
Peter Nestler is a member of the International Jury. His film Tyg Del 1 (Cloth Part 1) was initially selected for the competition at the selection screening in Stockholm, but is then shown in a special program because, according to the regulations, films by jury members are not allowed to participate in the competition.
After the festival, Peter Nestler writes a protest statement against the decision of the German Film Rating Board in Wiesbaden to deny the film Protokoll by the Munich group Das Team a rating and thus block its access to a theatrical release. The film deals with the anti-communist motivated "Radikalenerlass" (Decree Against Radicals) of the German government and had been given an honorable mention in Oberhausen by the jury, of which Nestler had been a member. "The view that artistic value can only arise where one gets rid of the political statement is frighteningly reactionary," Nestler wrote in his protest.
Festival director Wolfgang Ruf invites Peter Nestler to lead a "workshop for film students and young filmmakers" during the 1976 Festival. Nestler replies that he thinks the workshop is a "good thing" but doubts "whether I am the right man to lead it." He feels too distant from what is happening in the FRG because of his permanent position in Sweden, and finally cancels, suggesting others: Klaus Wildenhahn, Rainer Gansera, Helmut Linder, Werner Nekes. He also indicates that he believes "even more in bringing in an expert on the subject matter of the film."
In the course of this correspondence, Peter Nestler mentions that he is currently "finishing a series on iron production" and offers the Short Film Festival the second part of the three-part series in a German version in a letter dated 12/23/75. In the same letter he also mentions the "Series on Foreigners" on which he had already begun to work.
In mid-February 1976, Wolfgang Ruf and Heinz Klunker travel to Swedish television in Stockholm and to the festival in Tampere, Finland, to select films for their upcoming Festival. The yield is meager. In Tampere, they only invite Dialogue by Ole Hedman as a Swedish contribution. Of the TV films, only the ore mining film, Bergshantering / Järnhantering Del 2 (Ore Mining / Iron Production Part 2) mentioned by Nestler convinces them, but they do not want to show it in the competition. Barely back in Oberhausen, Ruf writes to Nestler that he and Klunker "agreed that we could certainly place the film 'somewhere' in the program during the festival." The internal selection report says: "The new television film Ore Mining / Iron Production by Peter Nestler (29 min) was ultimately invited for an informative screening in Oberhausen. We believed that, as in the previous year, continuous information should be provided about Peter Nestler's work, especially in Oberhausen, even if some of his films are not suitable for the competition in terms of their subject matter and their didactic dramaturgy. In addition, Peter Nestler should continue to be involved in the selection work as an important contact person in Stockholm."
The fact that five Swedish films were shown in competition at the 22nd Oberhausen Short Film Festival after all was partly thanks to Peter Nestler's mediation, who called Ruf's attention to a number of films by the independent Swedish distributor Filmcentrum, including the later winner of the "Grand Prix" Campesinos by Marta Rodriguez and Jorge Silva. In addition, the Uruguayan animated film En la selva hay mucho trabajo por hacer (In the jungle there is much to do) by the anonymous Grupo Experimental de Cine screened in Oberhausen in 1976 on Nestler's recommendation, according to later correspondence.
Peter Nestler's Ore Mining / Iron Production Part 2 was shown in a program on April 26, 1976. In the audience was Sebastian Feldmann, who wrote Nestler a postcard afterwards: "Extremely impressed with Ore Mining / Iron Production Part 2 in Oberhausen. I still believe that with this and the other films, a new genre of film (previously only tentatively formulated) has emerged. One should finally be able to see them." On the front of the postcard is a photograph from 1890 depicting a Parisian policeman "immobilizing" a man with a neck grip.
On December 17, 1976, Wolfgang Ruf announces in a letter to Jörgen Burberg of the Swedish Institute the annual selection trip to Stockholm for the end of February 1977. His main concern is a more efficient organization of the screenings: "Returning to your offer to organize the screening of new Swedish short films at your institute, I am enclosing carbon copies of letters to the Swedish Film Centre, to the Dramatic Institute and to the Svenska Filminstitutet with the request to contact the colleagues at these institutes as well. Of course, it would make our work easier if, instead of constantly running back and forth as we did last time, we could view all the films in question at your place. Of course, we would also appreciate it if you could include one or two independent films in the offer. Maybe it would also be good if you got in touch with Peter Nestler, who pointed out to us and actually showed us some films last time."
Three weeks before the announced selection trip, Wolfgang Ruf receives a letter in which Peter Nestler first proposes a three-hour Swedish documentary about Fidel Castro's Cuba for a special program, before he mentions his own "44 min long film (16mm color) Foreigners Part 1 on the Hansa, Walloons (1100-1650)", for which he would - "if you want it" - write a German text. In a terse form letter written in English, Wolfgang Ruf informs Nestler on April 16, 1977 (one week before the start of the Festival) that Utlänningar Del I (Foreigners Part 1) had been viewed and rejected by the selection committee.
This rejection became the subject of an exchange of letters a few months later between Peter Nestler and filmmaker Manfred Blank, who was a member of the staff of the magazine “Filmkritik”. Like Nestler, Blank was friends with Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet, with whom he was making the film Toute révolution est un coup des dés (Every revolution is a throw of dice) in Paris. "The Straubs showed me and Helmut Färber the letter you wrote to them concerning Foreigners Part 1 – Ships and Cannons. In view of the fact that this film had been rejected for Oberhausen, we agreed: something had to be done. Jean-Marie spoke of a note in Filmkritik, Helmut agreed to initiate something. [...] Helmut then contacted Farocki, who, as I heard, wrote to you. The Filmkritik people were then of the opinion that a mere note wouldn't suffice, but that they would like to make an entire Nestler issue, in which the Oberhausen affair could then also be mentioned."
And so it came to pass. In April 1978, No. 256 of the Filmkritik appeared, dedicated to "Peter and Zsoka Nestler" and in particular to their film Foreigners Part 1– Ships and Cannons. It consisted essentially of an illustrated reprint of the film's German voice-over and a text by Manfred Blank entitled "Denkmäler" (Monuments), in which, in addition to an extensive appreciation of Nestler's motifs and his documentary method, he also mentions the film's rejection by the Oberhausen committee. "In 1977, Peter Nestler had wanted to show Ships and Cannons at the West German Short Film Festival in Oberhausen, but the film did not make the program. It had been very long, it was said – I'm quoting this from memory, films longer than 35 minutes could only be accepted as an exception, and besides, there had already been a long film from Sweden, which, by the way, had received the grand prize [Agripino by Jan Lindqvist, T.H.]. The film had also been presented for viewing very late and the jury did not find it that convincing, even though it was quite good. The film fared like 1100 others that had to be rejected. A normal process and not a dark matter, whatever the history of the screening and production of Nestler's films might suggest. There were no reservations about the content."
In the following year, Filmkritik again devoted an entire issue to Peter Nestler. In issue No. 273 (September 1979), various members of the editorial staff wrote personal viewing reports on a total of 18 films by Peter Nestler, i.e. a large part of his complete oeuvre up to that time.
Almost as a matter of routine, Festival director Wolfgang Ruf writes to Peter Nestler in Stockholm at the beginning of November 1978: "We are once more in the midst of preparations for our next festival [...] Beatrix Geisel will again be coming to the film selection in Sweden [...] I would be very pleased if there were something from you again for our competition. Surely, however, you could give Ms. Geisel hints about new interesting films." On March 15, Ruf reported to Nestler that after her return from Stockholm Beatrix Geisel had suggested a "special program" of his films, which he found interesting but could not yet confirm.
Beatrix Geisel was apparently suggesting to show in the festival parts 3 and 4 of the "Foreigners" series, in which Nestler addresses the situation of Iranians in exile in Sweden, but also examines the background of their flight and places the policies of the Shah's regime in a historical context. In her selection report, Geisel writes: "[The films] provide a contemporary historical background to the current political events in Iran, beginning in 1900. Nestler uses previously unknown material from Soviet archives, especially in the first part, for example from the oil fields in Baku, which were also of great interest to Nazi Germany." She argues for showing the films by all means "if there is still a corner to be found somewhere," although they were not suitable for the competition "because they absolutely belong together."
In his rejection letter to Nestler of April 14, 1979, Wolfgang Ruf states that they had not found the right place for Utlänningar Del 3 & 4 - Iranier. Apparently Beatrix Geisel had finally suggested in the course of the discussion that the films should at least be shown in the "tradeshows," but this seemed inappropriate to Ruf, since it was an open secret that films shown in the tradeshows were those not considered suitable for competition. "I continue to consider you one of the most important documentarians," he wrote Nestler. "Your film structure (series, multi-part, etc.), conditioned by your work in television, undoubtedly puts our festival in an awkward position at times. Nevertheless, I hope that one of your future films will appear in our competition programme again."
Peter Nestler's Mi Pais - Mitt Land (My Country) is screened in the Festival Competition and is de facto Nestler's first film to which this applies. The film is a wordless memorandum against the Pinochet dictatorship in Chile, composed of images and music by four Chilean artists in exile.
In the "Filmothek der Jugend" (the youth film festival that has accompanied the Short Film Festival since 1969) Peter Nestler's Hur förtrycket slår (The Consequences of Oppression, literally: How Oppression Strikes) is shown, another film that deals with Pinochet's now ten-year rule in Chile and examines its psychological effects on children. In August 1983, Wolfgang Ruf recommends the film to a public education institution in Mülheim/Ruhr and a media festival in Frankfurt/Main for their respective planned film programmes on Chile.
For the second time a film by Peter Nestler is shown in the Festival Competition: Väntan (The Wait), in which Nestler uses photos from a Swedish archive to tell the story of a mining accident that occurred in Lower Silesia in July 1930.
In her first year as director of the Festival, Angela Haardt appoints Peter Nestler to the International Jury chaired by the Egyptian filmmaker Atteyat el-Abnoudhy. Väntan is screened once again in the festival's opening programme. The jury awards the main prize to Alexander Sokurov's Sovietskaya Elegia. It is mainly thanks to the encouragement of Peter Nestler and his jury colleague Bela Tarr that the Iranian film Bareha Dar Barf Bedonya Miayand (The Lambs Are Born in the Snow) by Farhad Mehranfar also receives a prize (and thus remains in the festival archive), namely the "Environmental Prize", donated by an Oberhausen citizen, which was awarded for the first and only time in that year.
The present text would not have been conceivable without the openness and generosity of Peter Nestler. I thank him very much for this. Likewise to my colleagues in Oberhausen, who have accompanied my research in the festival archives with trust and interest since 2018: Lars Henrik Gass, Martin Gensheimer, Chris Schön, Carsten Spicher, Katharina Schröder, Barbara Schulz.
 First published within a festival report by Michel Delahaye in Cahiers du Cinéma (April 1965). Republished in German in Ralph Eue, Lars Henrik Gass (eds.): Provokationen der Wirklichkeit - Das Oberhausener Manifest und die Folgen (Munich, 2012) and in Danièle Huillet, Jean-Marie Straub: Schriften, eds. Tobias Hering, Volko Kamensky, Markus Nechleba, Antonia Weiße (Berlin 2020).
 The letter quoted is in Peter Nestler's private archive. It is not archived in Oberhausen. The “Information Programme I - Films from Germany (out of competition)” began at midnight and, in addition to From Greece, included films by Klaus Lemke, Jeanine Meerapfel and Hellmuth Costard, among others.
 “Arbeiten beim Fernsehen in Westdeutschland und Schweden” [Working for television in West Germany and Sweden], Peter Nestler in conversation with Gisela Tuchtenhagen, Klaus Wildenhahn and Angelika Wittlich, Filmkritik No. 224 (August 1975).
 see “Filmographie in Daten”, in: Zeit für Mitteilungen – Peter Nestler. Dokumentarist, ed. Jutta Pirschtat (Filmwerkstatt Essen, 1991), p. 187.
 For decades, film collector Leo Schönecker in Cologne was the most reliable source for distribution copies of Nestler's films in Germany. Even today, the catalogue of the “Filmkundliches Archiv Leo Schönecker”, which still exists, lists distribution copies of thirteen of Peter Nestler's films. A Peter Nestler exhibition at the Kino im Sprengel in Hanover in 2018 was exclusively presenting prints from the Schönecker archive at Nestler's request. The official distributor for Nestler's complete oeuvre in Germany is now the Stiftung Deutsche Kinemathek in Berlin, where his films have been digitally restored in recent years, including most of his Swedish productions, which are still less well-known in Germany.
 Feldmann was a German film journalist who advised the Oberhausen Short Film Festival on the selection of Scandinavian films. In 1972 he was also part of the organisational management of the Festival. In the same year, Feldmann published the essay "Learning from Water - Peter Nestler: An Aesthetics of Poverty" in the magazine Filmkritik (No. 186, June 1972), which was possibly the first such thorough journalistic appreciation of Peter Nestler's films in Germany.
 Typescript of the protest statement in Peter Nestler´s private archive.
 Private archive, Peter Nestler.
 Helmut Färber had been part of the editorial staff of Filmkritik since the early 1960s and was one of the magazine´s most active writers. He was also a close friend of Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet and, like Manfred Blank, one of the speakers who, in their film, Every revolution is a throw of dice, sit on a lawn of the Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris and recite Mallarmé's poem "Un coup de dés jamais n`abolira le hasard".
 Manfred Blank, “Denkmäler”, in: Filmkritik, No. 256 (April 1978), p. 203.
Two Films by Jan Lindqvist
by Tobias Hering
There are two films by Jan Lindqvist in the archives of the Short Film Festival Oberhausen: Tupamaros (1972) and Agripino (1977). Both have been preserved as 16mm colour prints with English subtitles; Agripino also has an English voiceover commentary. They are both still in decent condition for their age, with the colours in Tupamaros having faded more than those in Agripino.
The presence of the two copies in Oberhausen is not surprising, since both films were awarded main prizes by official juries at the festival, which, as set forth in § 17 of its regulations, normally led to the purchase of the festival copy or of a new one. Tupamaros screened at the 19th West German Short Film Festival in 1973 and won the FIPRESCI Jury Prize (in a tie with The Machine by Helma Sanders) as well as (in a tie with Heuwetter by Gitta Nickel) the Jury Prize of the “Association International du Film Documentaire” (AID), awarded for the first time that year.
Agripino was shown at the 23rd West German Short Film Festival in 1977 and was awarded the “Grand Prize of the City of Oberhausen,” endowed with 5,000 DM, by the International Jury, the FIPRESCI Prize (2,000 DM), as well as the INTERFILM Jury Prize, which came with a 2,000 DM grant. This meant that, all in all, Jan Lindqvist went home with 9,000 DM in prize money, which is remarkable also in light of the fact that in the run-up to the festival, the high cost of the English festival copy of the film, which had been made under time pressure, had been a problem.
The lending lists for both films indicate typical demand in the months after the festival, later followed by sporadic interest from political education institutions and film schools, distributors, cinemas and other festivals. As prize winners, both copies went on a one-time tour with the festival directors of those years (Will Wehling and Wolfgang Ruf, respectively). Tupamaros traveled to Japan in October 1975, Agripino to Moscow in June 1977, a year later to Cuba and in the fall of 1983, with representatives from the Federal Foreign Office, to Ecuador. Both copies were shown once at the Mülheim Adult Education Center, near Oberhausen, in the spring of 1983.
The Oberhausen archives include extensive correspondence regarding Agripino; for Tupamaros, on the other hand, I have so far only been able to find two letters there, neither of which is particularly significant: the carbon copy of a letter dated February 12, 1973 and addressed to Anna-Lena Wibom at the Svenska Filminstitutet (where the Swedish selection screening had just taken place), in which festival director Will Wehling confirms the selection of Tupamaros, even though the film “is longer than 36 minutes” (the official maximum running time for competition films); and a telegram, presumably also addressed to Wibom, in which Wehling at the end of the festival reports that the film has been awarded a prize and urgently requests permission to add the copy to the “archive of award winners.” He adds: “If desired, we will cover lab costs.”
Tupamaros was shown in the opening programme of the 1973 festival, entitled “Freedom for Carlos Álvarez” and intended as a gesture of solidarity for the filmmaker, who was imprisoned in Colombia at the time. Besides Tupamaros, the two-and-a-half-hour programme included Chircales – The Brickmakers by Marta Rodriguez and Jorge Silva (Colombia), Pueblo de Lata by Jesús Guédez (Venezuela), a documentary about the recent U.S. bombardment of Hanoi – presumably a newsreel, which, however, I was not able to identify definitively –, as well as Introduction to Arnold Schoenberg's Accompaniment to a Cinematic Scene by Danièle Huillet and Jean-Marie Straub. All the films were shown in competition that year except for the Vietnam War documentary.
It would not have been surprising if Tupamaros had given rise to controversy in the selection committee. For Lindqvist to take sides with an armed guerrilla struggle must have come across as provocative in 1973 West Germany and would not have gone unnoticed at an event with the political profile of the Oberhausen Short Film Festival. Three years prior, in May 1970, the terrorist Red Army Faction (RAF) had appeared on the public scene for the first time when some of its members had helped Andreas Baader escape from police custody in a spectacular break-out. Since then, armed struggle (in RAF parlance, “people's war”) had occupied political fantasies on both the right and the left. The RAF strategy of “urban guerrilla warfare” explicitly invoked Latin American models, the most prominent of which were the Tupamaros. A multi-page position and strategy paper, which appeared shortly after the spectacular Baader liberation in May 1970 in “Agit 883,” a pamphlet put out by the radical left scene in Berlin, included a call for armed resistance and the establishment of the “Red Army.” This is considered to have been the first published statement by the RAF. On the pamphlet’s front page, the names of five international groups with which the militant scene identified are arranged around a star; one of them is the Tupamaros.
While these first cues were still directed at the narrower circle of RAF supporters, hostage-takings, bombings and bank robberies in the following two years ensured that a broad West German public came to know about the group and increasingly felt directly affected – probably less by the terrorists’ actions themselves than by the increasingly extensive measures taken by state security agencies in their manhunt, which targeted a large number of innocent people and were thus extremely controversial. For years, wanted posters with photos of suspected RAF members were displayed in every West German public building. In early June 1972, following a large-scale nationwide operation involving roadblocks and dragnets, the police made numerous arrests, including those of the then suspected leaders of the RAF: Jan-Carl Raspe, Holger Meins, Andreas Baader, Gudrun Ensslin and Ulrike Meinhof. The operation was preceded by the RAF's “May Offensive,” a series of bombings at police stations, court houses and U.S. Army installations, in which four people were killed and over 70 injured.
Given this context, we can assume that when Jan Lindqvist's film was shown in Oberhausen a year later, a statement of sympathy for the Tupamaros and underground armed struggle was extremely provocative. The fact that the film was shown anyway (possibly even without having led to major discord) and received two prestigious prizes perhaps speaks to the political independence that the festival had already established for itself, but possibly also to the acceptance that armed struggle had at the time, if not as a necessary means, then at least as a political fantasy – or at least to a broad willingness to engage with the question of militancy.
Those who saw the film in Oberhausen at the time will in any case have certainly thought of the events of the previous year, especially given that the RAF had not disappeared from the public eye even after the arrest of its leadership. Anti-terrorism legislation was being discussed in the Bundestag at the time (and was passed in 1976), while at the same time criticism of the harsh prison conditions for RAF members gave rise to a debate about the rule of law. In January 1973, Holger Meins and other inmates had gone on a hunger strike in protest against the conditions under which they were being held. Meins went on hunger strike two more times in this period; the third time, in 1974, his protest ended with his death. Sympathy and respect for Meins extended into the liberal-left centre of society. The RAF commando that took hostages in the German embassy in Stockholm in April 1975 called itself “Kommando Holger Meins.”
The statements made by the anonymised Tupamaros leader in Jan Lindqvist's film, the images of bombings, of state counter-violence as well as of the freeing of prisoners must thus have triggered associations with the RAF in West German audiences. This connection may be particularly striking for today's viewers in the scene where Lindqvist interviews a hostage of the Tupamaros in the “people's prison,” i.e., the kidnappers’ secret jail. These images inevitably recall what would later become the iconographic images of RAF hostage Hanns-Martin Schleyer, who was kidnapped in the autumn of 1977 and murdered six weeks later. At a screening of Tupamaros in June 2019 at the Arsenal cinema in Berlin, an audience member asked what happened to the hostage interviewed in the film. Unfortunately, I was unable to answer her question at the time, but in the course of my research for this essay, I was able to verify that the hostage interviewed by Lindqvist, Ulysses Pereira Reverbel, owner of a daily newspaper, president of the Uruguayan telephone company and considered a close confidant of President Pacheco Areco, went down in Tupamaros history as “the man who was kidnapped twice.” He died in Montevideo in 2001 at the age of 83.
While I have so far not been able to uncover any traces in the Oberhausen festival archives of sensitivities that might have been expressed on the occasion of the screening of Tupamaros, there is a quite extensive correspondence about Agripino between festival director Wolfgang Ruf and Jan Lindqvist, which gives insight into festival logistics and the way in which film copies were acquired. In addition to concerns about the timely arrival of the festival copy in Oberhausen, Lindqvist and Ruf repeatedly discussed the financing of the English version, delivery of which was required by the festival. In a letter dated April 16, 1977 (one week before the beginning of the festival), Lindqvist estimated the cost at “almost 6000 DM.” He also complained that he had not had enough time to find a good voice-over speaker for the English commentary and was unhappy with the voice that had been recorded: “I couldn't find a good speaker and this one has a very colonial and paternalistic sound that I don't like,” Lindqvist writes, and that, furthermore, the English text had not been “well worked out.” He asked that the jury take into consideration the time pressure under which the copy was produced.
Wolfgang Ruf seemed to have hoped that the Svenska Institutet would cover at least some of the translating and subtitling costs. It was only for this reason, he wrote to Jörgen Burberg on March 1, 1977, that the festival had committed to Agripino as early as it had, despite the fact that the film was too long, because this would afford Lindqvist a better chance of receiving the financial support that Ruf was now openly asking Burberg for in the same letter. Seemingly in vain – the further correspondence with Lindqvist reveals that he ended up having to cover the cost himself. Not wanting to leave it at that, Oberhausen later paid Lindqvist 5,000 DM for the archive copy he had provided, although it must have been clear to both sides that this was far more than the usual cost. The intention seems to have been to compensate Lindqvist for his translation and dubbing expenses.
Given the filmmaker's dissatisfaction with the English commentary, it would have made sense for him to have taken the new copy as an opportunity to have it re-recorded, but he doesn’t seem to have done so. I come to this conclusion, on the one hand, because the archive copy purchased by the festival arrived in Oberhausen a mere three weeks after that year’s edition ended (as indicated in a letter from Wolfgang Ruf dated May 26, 1977), and, on the other, because when I first viewed the Oberhausen copy of Agripino, the English voiceover did in fact strike me as problematic. Lindqvist’s description, “colonial and paternalistic,” still applies.
Wolfgang Ruf himself wrote the review of Agripino for the “Report,” which was always published several months after the end of the festival until it was replaced by a festival catalogue in the late 1980s. His piece has a strangely awkward, apologetic tone, and begins like this: “The most highly regarded and most awarded film of the 23rd West German Short Film Festival – which is by no means to say that it was the best film – was, in light of the selection criteria and the programme structure, an exceptional case in several respects. First, because of its excess running time, which I do not mean in the dramaturgical sense, but merely with regard to festival rules. Then, because although films about the reality of the Third World garnered much interest in Oberhausen, audiences preferred films by those directly affected to those by so-called political tourists. Jan Lindqvist's film about the passion of the Peruvian peasant Agripino and his awakening as he becomes politically active made the exception to this rule easy from the outset, since there were no Peruvian films.” After mentioning again the criticism the film received in Oberhausen and conceding “that the prizes showered upon Agripino were a little excessive,” Ruf finally begins to defend the film, especially against the accusation that it remains stuck “in the typical TV documentary rut.”
Ruf does not simply evoke this accusation out of the blue. It is at the heart of the festival review by Maria Racheva entitled “Why Agripino?,” printed a few pages before his piece. Racheva starts from the assertion that “the classical, artistic model of documentary film [no longer] exists in Western countries.” Instead, she argues, audiences seem to have become accustomed to “the television version of the documentary,” which, in her view, explains Agripino’s success. “Jan Lindqvist's film is not bad. It is a politically honourable and compassionate documentary about the hard lives led by Peruvian Indians. Lindqvist’s good intentions and personal commitment are undeniable. But Agripino is a typical TV documentary: it has the required dose of interviews, a few landscape shots, a gently flowing rhythm. This fits in perfectly with the way of seeing that television teaches us every night. [...] My generation grew up with a film image of the world, but the next generation is already guided by a television image of the world.”
Racheva’s criticism indicates that the annual encounter between Eastern European and Western cinemas in Oberhausen was viewed as a confrontation. Her notion of generational conflict corresponds to the perception many reviewers came to embrace after 1968, namely that Eastern European filmmaking upheld (or, from a critical perspective, remained trapped in) the tradition of technically professional cinematic art, while Western filmmakers sought to free themselves from any tradition and either became increasingly commercial under the influence of television or cultivated a cheerful amateurism that they were able to pass off as “experimental art.” In the course of the 70s, however, “Third Cinema” became increasingly prominent in Oberhausen, films from the Global South (“films by those directly affected,” as Ruf writes), rendering such dualities less and less convincing. Regardless of where we would situate Agripino today on this terrain, its prominent performance at the 23rd West German Short Film Festival Oberhausen briefly shifted it to the centre of a crucial debate.
Translated by Millay Hyatt
 Jury members were Santiago Álvarez, Jerzy Bossak and Moritz de Hadeln.
 Three films were chosen at the selection screening in Stockholm. Wolfgang Ruf informed Jörgen Burberg by telegram on February 28, 1977, that in addition to Agripino, Besoektet by Joesta Hagelbaeck was “definitely invited to the competition.” The latter film, however, did not appear in the festival programme, and Agripino screened as the only Swedish competition entry. Also invited was a film by Malte Wadman and Jan Knutzen, which, according to the telegram, was entitled “Vi vil endre de hele” but was shown at the festival as Mumitsintarpugut – We will change everything, as a Norwegian contribution.
 23. Westdeutsche Kurzfilmtage Oberhausen, “Weg zum Nachbarn,” Bericht 1977, Verlag Karl Maria Laufen, (Oberhausen, 1977), p. 207f. Swedish television in particular had been experimenting with new documentary forms since the “Second Channel” was launched in the late 60s. In the a biographical note Lindqvist sent to Oberhausen in the run-up to the 1977 festival, he self-confidently describes himself as “one of the driving figures in the new wave of documentary film-journalism that developed basically in TV.”
 Ibid, p. 202f.
 In my opinion the gradual loss of interest in Eastern European film in Oberhausen in the course of the 70s was not only due to a belated turn towards the various experimental film currents in the capitalist countries, but even more to a (also somewhat belated) shift in geopolitical focus from the “East-West conflict” to the emancipation movements in the Global South.
Film 1: From Greece (1965) by Peter Nestler
Click here to watch the film in the Channel.
Filmstill: Von Griechenland (From Greece) @ Peter Nestler, 1965
Film 2: Utlänningar. Del 1. Båtar och kanoner (Foreigners. Part 1. Ships and cannons, 1977) by Peter Nestler
Click here to watch the film in the Channel.
Filmstill: Utlänningar. Del 1. Båtar och kanoner (Foreigners. Part 1. Ships and cannons) @ Peter Nestler, 1977
re-selected Dossier #2
Northern Lights – Oberhausen´s erratic relations to Sweden in the 1960s and 70s.
Texts: John Sundholm, Tobias Hering
Editor: Tobias Hering
Translations: Lisa Woytowicz, Millay Hyatt
Coordination: Katharina Schröder
Documents from the archives of the International Short Film Festival Oberhausen.
Thanks to: Peter Nestler, absolut Medien / Molto Menz, Stiftung Deutsche Kinemathek / Anke Hahn, Maren Hobein, Martin Grennberger.
International Short Film Festival Oberhausen
Slovak Films in Oberhausen before 1991
Until 1990, films from the Koliba Studios in Bratislava were listed as films from the ČSSR. In Oberhausen, too, no official distinction was made as to whether a film came from the Czech or Slovak part of the republic. Yet the management of the Short Film Festival was well aware that different cinematic styles were developing in Prague and Bratislava and that there was internal competition between the studios. Over the years, Oberhausen developed a nuanced festival diplomacy in the selection process for films from the ČSSR, which in retrospect appears to be an important contribution to an independent Slovak film history. An essay by Martin Kaňuch, archive documents from Bratislava and Oberhausen and two films from the spring years of 1968 and 1969 make up the first edition of re-selected Dossier - an online format that opens up new perspectives on the history of the International Short Film Festival Oberhausen and will be continued at regular intervals.
Fortress – Essay by Martin Kaňuch
‘Art should be a fortress
where the last reasons to live are defended.’
by Martin Kaňuch
In June 1969, almost a year after the Warsaw Pact occupation of Czechoslovakia, one of the last free, and until then regular evaluation meetings of filmmakers, all members of the Slovak section of the professional organisation SLOFITES (part of the nationwide Association of Film and Television Artists, FITES) was held. Before the discussion, director Eduard Grečner gave a presentation entitled ‘Who Are We? Where Do We Come From? Where Are We Heading?’ The title is an obvious reference to Gauguin's famous painting from Tahiti (1897), ‘where a life stricken painter took refuge from civilisation to think about mankind.’ Besides an evaluation of the 1968 feature film production, Grečner's contribution presented a concise summary of contemporary reflections on freedom of creation, an artist's relationship with society, peripeteia of post-war film development in Slovakia, and goals and limits of filmmaking set primarily by the communist regime. Thinking critically and speaking openly represented a unique and extremely demanding artist´s mission in such a reality. Therefore, the words of literary critic and translator Jozef Felix became the core of Grečner's reflection. In the fortress of art, in Slovakia of the late 1960s, what was defended above all was dignity of man, ‘not as a slogan, but as an individual’.
The Year 1953 marked the death of Joseph V. Stalin and Klement Gottwald, the first Czechoslovak communist president. The film studios at Koliba in Bratislava, still under construction, began operating in September 1953. At the same time, the first graduates of FAMU, the only film school in the Czechoslovakia (established in 1946), started to return from Prague to work at Koliba Studios. Every adept of film directing had to pass an initial test of professional skills and loyalty in the documentary film studio. In the second half of the 1950s, the first contacts with the International Short Film Festival Oberhausen (founded as Westdeutsche Kulturfilmtage in 1954) played a crucial role in the creative emancipation of Slovak filmmaking. Already in 1958, the first Slovak representative at the festival, director Štefan Uher, was impressed by the avant-garde potential of short film, as it ‘deepens and expands creative practices in the true depiction of reality’. In addition to Oberhausen, festival trips to other neighbouring countries, especially to Leipzig and Krakow, helped filmmakers and film critics see through the false, staged depiction of the undaunted building of socialism, to use the metaphor of that era, and enabled them to look into the forbidden ‘thirteenth chamber’, i.e. into the true depiction of life, to see ‘reality without rose-tinted glasses’. The German film critic Hans-Joachim Schlegel retrospectively identified this journey of emancipation of documentary cinema as ‘a history of subversive self-liberation’, in which the notion of subversiveness did not refer only to ‘openly offensive anti-regime films’, but to filmmaking rejecting uniformity and servitude.
However, the problem of short film in Slovakia was its provinciality, poor presence at film festivals and creative confrontation with other filmmakers abroad, and its ignorance of the jolts in documentary and short film. The film critic Pavel Branko (1921–2020), editor of the magazine Film a divadlo (Film and Theatre), who specialised in international as well as domestic documentary and short film production, began to play a key role as an active festival explorer in the late 1950s. He used to return to Oberhausen regularly, the festival being one of the few places behind the Iron Curtain which, due to its ‘neighbourly’ profile, was accessible to delegations from the socialist countries. He selected and commented on films from the programme that were to inspire people at home—not thematically, but rather in terms of cinematic expression (dominance of the image, direct sound, searching for their counterpoints, avoidance of pathos and superiority of voice-over). Branko unveiled the lag of Slovak film work in the effectiveness of argumentation, at the level of imaginativeness or poetization, and in general in the ‘orchestration’ of all components of the film. He did so not only in published texts, but also in papers and discussion contributions during internal evaluations of the work or at working meetings of filmmakers. Only a few film critics in Slovakia were able to smuggle so many observations and knowledge back into the country.
The Koliba Studios in Bratislava, one of the proclaimed fortresses of art, are in fact (geographically) not too far away from the fortress of imprisonment in Leopoldov. Some documentary filmmakers from the studios began to stand out as early as in the late 1950s (as Grečner recalls in the aforementioned SLOFITES presentation, referring to the old High Tatras saying that ‘lightning strikes only the rocks that stick out’), and started provoking by subverting ‘ready-made ideas’ (pensée toute faite; Charles Péguy) on which the official, centrally planned cinema was built. Filmmakers who had the courage to be critical of a one-dimensional vision of reality, uniformed consent,and servitude of art, were threatened with blitz redeployment from the fortress of creation as the Felixian last refuge, i.e. Koliba, to the fortress of imprisonment as the last post, i.e. Leopoldov. The filmmaking output characteristically reflected this strong link between the regime's fortresses. A case in point is the fate of Leopoldovská pevnosť (The Leopoldov Fortress, 1968), a film by Ladislav Kudelka. His work from the 1960s evidently attracted the most attention from media/press supervision, provoking controversy, power obstructions, and bans. Kudelka's position as an ‘oppressed’ filmmaker was later confirmed by the Slovak contribution to the special programme of ‘forbidden films’ in Oberhausen in 1990, half of which were films directed by Kudelka himself (Obec plná vzdoru / A Village Filled with Defiance, 1969; Intolerancia / Intolerance, 1969; Leopoldovská pevnosť). In the 1960s, Kudelka was focusing on taboo social issues closely linked to the repressions of the founding phase of the regime (wrongs committed during collectivisation, wrongdoings against churches, abuse of justice, and rehabilitation of political prisoners). Throughout the 1960s, he was fascinated by the most sensitive area of the totalitarian regime—correctional facilities. First, he dealt with youth delinquency issues and practices of their re-education in Zlé deti? (Bad Kids?, 1963). In the summer of 1968, however, he made a film in Leopoldov, the regime's ‘most representative’ correctional facility. There, his views were expanded significantly, and he became socially involved. Conversations with former prisoners about harsh conditions of detention caused a serious political scandal. A communist politician convicted during the war, a left-wing Jewish intellectual, one of the key players in the Prague Spring, and a former minister of the interior of the fascist First Slovak Republic were among those who spoke in front of the camera. Giving them a voice meant risking the film itself to be condemned to silence. After the occupation, Kudelka's ‘revelation pathos’ brought not only fears of possible regret and nostalgia (for the first independent republic), but also fear of unearthing the war past of various Party officials.
The second solely prison-themed short film, a memento of the period's reflection on crimes and legal distortions from the 1950s, was a feature film by Petr Solan …a sekať dobrotu… (...And Toe the Line...,1968), which still made it to Oberhausen in the spring of 1969. Solan approached the film as an experimental reconstruction of a real-life case and shot it in a real-life prison in Nitra. He was inspired by the personal experience of Lenka Reinerová, a novelist from Prague writing in German (she was imprisoned for 15 months by the State Police, without any reasons, and was rehabilitated in 1964). After release, she perceived the whole world as a prison (‘I will never get rid of them’) where she had to ‘toe the line’ until the end of her days. Both Kudelka and Solan unmasked this only perspective of living in fear and numbness from various angles. The core themes of both films, criticism of the regime's past failures, and the issue of rehabilitations (of political prisoners) were tabooed again after the occupation.
The process of rehabilitating filmmakers harmed by the regime (through censorship and other administrative interventions) failed from the very beginning. Many of them ‘toed the line’ out of fear and did not even respond to the calls of the SLOFITES rehabilitation committee (established in June 1968, last sessions in January 1969). At the SLOFITES conference, held already in October 1968, only two out of thirty invited filmmakers admitted to feelings of injustice. The growing unacceptability of these film topics was characteristically reflected in the state control of film submissions at film festivals, especially Western ones. In the spring 1969, a representative selection of Slovak short films was to be presented in Oberhausen: Ideály (Ideals), Čierne dni (Black Days), Tryzna (The Wake), Fotografovanie obyvateľov domu (Photographing the House-Dwellers), Zbehovia (Deserters), and ...a sekať dobrotu…. Tryzna, dedicated as a last farewell to Jan Palach, was withdrawn from the competition and its screening was banned by the central management of Czechoslovak State Film (ČSF) in Prague. Solan's film was sabotaged in a certain way as well. It was submitted into competition without any subtitles (actually without a dialogue list), without any promotional material and thus, in accordance with regulations, should have been rejected. In his festival report from Oberhausen, SLOFITES secretary Ján Szelepcsényi took note that the film was ‘almost against our will’ saved by the German film critic Klaus Koch, who prepared the dialogue list and ‘synchronized the film live’.
At SLOFITES, Dušan Hanák had already complained about similar festival counter-policies several times in previous years. His film Prišiel k nám Old Shatterhand (Old Shatterhand Came to See Us, 1966) was withdrawn from Karlovy Vary and Oberhausen competitions by the central director of ČSF Jiří Poledňák for ‘ideological reasons’. Hanák's provocation using hyberbolization (contrast of reality and music) presented the country as an enclosed backward reservation way too obviously. Despite Hilmar Hoffmann's and Will Wehling's efforts to include this ‘excellent film’ in the festival programme, the film did not make it to Oberhausen in the end. The discriminatory approach of the central director in Prague similarly affected Štefan Kamenický's Zakliata dolina (Cursed Valley, 1966), another testimony to backwardness, this time in the remote regions of eastern Slovakia. Oberhausen’s interest is proven by the rich correspondence with the festival in the SLOFITES archive. Both films’ subversiveness consisted in a critical stance towards the propaganda of progress and prosperity, while the country had officially declared the achievement of the goals of socialism already in 1960 with a new constitution and by renaming the country: Czechoslovak Socialist Republic.
Installation of ‘consolidated’, new managements in the film studios in Prague and Bratislava (beginning in November 1969) necessarily triggered classification of harmful film production from the so-called crisis period (1968–69), followed by further inspections and transfers of filmmakers within Koliba, shifts in their attitudes and entire profiles of their work. In the document ‘Analysis of the Activities of Slovak Film 1968–1970’, the nationwide central committee of FITES (Solan was one of its members) was identified as one of the main culprits, influencing thematic plans at Koliba with its ‘right-wing opportunist views’. The analysis states that ‘about 160 short films of all kinds were made in the studio’ during the crisis period. Director Martin Slivka later remembers, for Schlegel´s ‘Subversive Camera’, that the list of subversive and therefore banned films produced in 1968 read 66 films. It included films which were either completed in or whose first prints were already made in 1969 (Tryzna; Som prekliaty fotograf / I Am a Cursed Photographer; Roľníci / Farmers; Šibenica / The Gallows; Intolerancia, Obec plná vzdoru, Hokej ´69 / Hockey ´69; Moja teta Vincencia / My Aunt Vincencia; Symetrála / Symmetry Axis; Interview v metelici / Interview in a Blizzard). This whole part of the production was condemned mainly for its ‘anti-socialist character’. The analysis clearly identifies problematic anti-party, anti-socialist, or ‘poisonous’ anti-Soviet attacks in each film. Kudelka's Leopoldovská pevnosť crossed all the lines with the statement of a former fascist prominent who dared to ‘give lesson in ethics’ to communists.
Other films were condemned for their apoliticism, subjectivism, escapism, decadence, artisticity, or formalism (Som prekliaty fotograf, Šibenica), inclinations for which the analysis blamed the influence of national leadership and national sections of the FITES, which it described as a ‘political organisation’ and a ‘pressure group’. The aim of the filmmakers was to court ‘fashionable worldwide reputation’ and success at Western film festivals, which the association inadequately overestimated. The management of Koliba saw a direct relationship between appreciation of the films in the Western world and the degree of their criticism or unmasking of the regime.
The return to the ‘dictate of the Party’ and attributes of the Marxist aesthetics in filmmaking lead to a revival of making corrective films, known since the late 1950s. The aim was to make ideologically exemplary corrections on the very same subject. Koliba's new management returned to this practice after the Soviet occupation, when in the first normalisation years it decided to ‘rework’ short films from the crisis period,  correct the films which had not made it to cinemas or festivals due to their harmful content. In a broader context of post-war development and degree of Slovak film culture, it was generally related not only to the initial absence of building a film archive, but also to the respect for the archived materials. All source materials and prints were stored by individual studios. Cutting from duplicate negative, original negative, or film prints of a film that was an interesting source of footage, or where traces of the past had to be erased, was a common practice (it saved money and time). The film heritage preservation was inferior to political needs, it therefore was all the easier to interfere with film material.
In 1972, filmmakers were given a chance to straighten themselves (practice of self-criticism), and the committee decided on the form of interference. If filmmakers refused to do so, the right to supervise film corrections was passed to a more willing colleague from the studio. Sometimes it was enough to replace the voice-over or cut out problematic shots. In some cases, however, entire corrected films had to be shot again. The film Roľníci (Farmers, 1969) by Jaroslav Pogran, which according to the ‘Analysis of the Activities of Slovak Film 1968–1970’ depicted a neglected socialist village welcoming the arrival of the life-giving ‘Czechoslovak Spring’, was replaced by the film Lazníci (Hill Farmers, 1971). In its opening credits, only professional advisers are listed, and the original filmmakers (director, cinematographer, editor, dramaturg) are mentioned only as ‘collaborators’. The film opens with a sequence of the last three minutes of Roľníci with a patronizing voice of the ‘new political commentary’ condemning the film as erroneous: ‘The film Roľníci, which you are now watching, was made in an era which disorientated many people. The film is marked by such tendencies. That is why, for good reasons, we had another look at the problem.’
However, the most sensitive were so-called occupation sequences (fragments with anti-Soviet inscriptions on the walls, shots and photos of armed forces in the streets, etc.). Július Matula recalls how programmers from Oberhausen selected his film Som prekliaty fotograf in early 1969. Into the experimental portrait of a young, non-conformist photographer, Matula incorporated photos from the occupation combining them with gunshots and a song by underground singer Karel Kryl. The discreditation campaign of the film began with its exclusion from the festival selection and even cutting out a sequence without the director’s consent did not save the film. ‘Then I took both original picture and sound negatives of the cut-out sequence from the editing room and kept them at home for more than twenty years.’ In 1991, Matula gave the film material to the Film Institute, but the film has still not been restored. Conditions in remote fortresses change at a snail’s pace.
The archival policy of the Oberhausen film festival—acquiring prints of prize-winning films—certainly kept the Koliba management on their toes. In 1986, the selection of films to go to international festivals, including Oberhausen, was decided by a 32-member Foreign Committee of the Czechoslovak Film in Prague, consisting of members of the management of all the film studios (Prague, Bratislava, Gottwaldov), FAMU teachers, editors-in-chief of film periodicals, dramaturges, and also a member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party. However, from the beginning of the 1980s, the segment of Koliba production in the selections for Oberhausen was gradually replaced by increasingly daring student (VŠMU) and television production (ČST Bratislava). Different conditions for productions on campus brought to life Tri tony šťastia (Three Tons of Happiness, 1980), a film by Vlado Balco, who dared to go farthest by depicting a man without pathos, idealisation, heroism. Balco's film is a portrait of a scrap collector who is not a role model at all, but an authentic, free man who decided to live with his family on the fringes of society. Not a medallion of lost and ugly life, but a cinematic testimony to a life choice, which after receiving an award in Oberhausen could not remain hidden or tampered with.
Subversive films from the late 1960s documenting the regime's crisis are followed by parables about its agony in the years of 1988–89. Fero Fenič first visited Oberhausen in 1985 with Batromijov dom (Batromij´s House), the story of a woodcutter who lives with his family in the easternmost house of Czechoslovakia in harmony with nature and with the horses he loves. The same year, he was fired from Koliba for political unreliability and anti-socialist activities. He moved to Prague where, in the spring of 1988, he made Vlak do dospelosti (Train to Maturity). He takes a train journey with young recruits (including ‘anti-social elements’ such as punks, skinheads, and a young Romani) entering a compulsory two-year military service. Some are dissatisfied and angry, others apathetic. As one of them says, ‘We are such a confused generation.’ Perhaps it’s because they were all born a year after the occupation. Not a single one of them on that night train is sure what fortress they are actually going to defend.
Following a year-long approval process, Train to Maturity entered theatrical distribution and film festivals after the fall of the fortress/regime in November 1989. It was among the first films to be presented abroad in a selection of recent Czechoslovak shorts at Oberhausen festival in the spring of 1990. Together with a special programme of forbidden Czech and Slovak films from the 1960s, it symbolically confirmed the impregnability of the fortress of art.
Translated from Slovak by Rastislav Steranka.
Appendix: Slovak Films in Oberhausen Competition until 1990
Bolded titles signify films of which a print is kept in the archives of the International Short Film Festival Oberhausen.
Upre roma (Forward, Romanies!), Dimitrij Plichta, 1955
Kuchári (Cooks), Ivan Húšťava, 1963
Rozhovor (Interview), Otakar Krivánek, 1963
Kam nechodil inšpektor (Where the Inspector did not go), Ladislav Kudelka, 1964
Učenie (Practice), Dušan Hanák, 1965
Zakliata dolina (Cursed Valley), Štefan Kamenický, 1966
...a sekať dobrotu... (...And Toe the Line...), Peter Solan, 1968
Ideály (Ideals), Štefan Kamenický, 1968
Fotografovanie obyvateľov domu (Photographing the House-Dwellers), Dušan Trančík, 1968
Rom, Ivan Húšťava, 1969
Socha (The Statue), Jaroslava Havettová, 1969
Lilli Marlen, Dušan Hanák, Peter Mihálik, 1970
Vrcholky stromov (Tree Tops), Dušan Trančík, 1972
Baločanky (Women from Čierny Balog), Viera Polakovičová, 1974
Kto vymyslel koniec sveta? (The One who made up the End of the World), Vladimír Kavčiak, 1975
Bubeník Červeného kríža (The Red Cross Drummer), Juraj Jakubisko, 1977
Biela cesta vedie z osady (The White Road leads from the Settlement), Pavol Benca, 1978
Tri tony šťastia (Three Tons of Happiness), Vladimír Balco, 1979
Nedokonalosť svedomia (Imperfection of Conscience), Ladislav Halama, 1979
Kontakty (Contacts), Jaroslava Havettová, 1980
Svetlo na konci tunela (Light at the End of the Tunnel), Dušan Rapoš, 1980
...a narodí sa mesto (...and the city is born), Samuel Ivaška, 1980
Muž v oblakoch (The Man in the Clouds), Vladimír Balco, 1981
Nezavesujte, ste v poradí... – Sonda č. 11, 1981 (Please Hold on… – Probe no. 11, 1981), Dušan Rapoš, 1981
Príbeh jednej letnej búrky (The Story of One Summer Storm), Samuel Ivaška, 1982
Do pivnice (Down the Basement), Jan Švankmajer, 1983
Batromijov dom (The House of Batromij), Fero Fenič, 1984
Saso– Sonda č. 9, 1985 (Saso – Probe no. 9, 1985), Ľubomír Štecko, 1985
Boľavé desatiny (The Painful Tenths), Maroš Černák, 1986
Papradinový vŕšok (Fern Hill), Samuel Ivaška, 1986
...a niekto tu musí aj upratať (...and somebody's got to clean it up), Jozef Horal, 1987
Najlepšie roky života majstra Luptáka (The Best Years of Master Luptak's Life), Ľubomír Štecko, 1987
Ja neviem prečo (I Don´t Know Why…), Juraj Johanides, 1988
Atď. (Etc.), Kvetoslav Hečko, 1987
Šiel som dlhou cestou (I Have Come a Long Way), Michal Suchý, 1988
Deux ex machina, Samuel Ivaška, 1983
1990 / in „Forbidden Films: CSSR“ retrospective
Ideály (Ideals), Štefan Kamenický, 1968
Zasľúbená zem (The Promised Land), Štefan Kamenický, 1968
Leopoldovská pevnosť (The Leopoldov Fortress), Ladislav Kudelka, 1968
Intolerancia (Intolerance), Ladislav Kudelka, 1969
Obec plná vzdoru (A Village Filled with Defiance), Ladislav Kudelka, 1969
Tryzna (The Wake), Vlado Kubenko, Peter Mihálik, Dušan Trančík, 1969
 Jozef Felix (1913–1977) – Slovak literary critic, translator for French, dramatic advisor for theatre; motto quoted from the text Who are we? Where do we come from? Where are we heading? by E. Grečner, same source as in fn. 2.
 Slovenský národný archív, fond FITES [Slovak National Archive, SNA; FITES archive fond], box 31, Stenografický protokol z aktívu o tvorbe hraného filmu v roku 1968 [Stenographic minutes from a meeting on the feature film production in 1968]; Bratislava, 20.6.1969, p. 10.
Prehliadka v Oberhausene[Showcase in Oberhausen]. In: Film a divadlo 1958, no. 7, p. 15.
 Antonín Navrátil, Cesty k pravdě a lži. 70 let čs. dokumentárního filmu[Paths to Truth or Lies: 70 years of Czechoslovak documentary film]. Praha: NAMU 2002, p. 260.
 Hans-Joachim Schlegel (ed.), Podvratná kamera[The Subversive Camera]. Praha: Malá skála 2003, p. 32.
 Media/Press Supervision stands for censorship activities of the Headquarters of Media Supervision (aka Head Office of Press Supervision; HMS), a national body of the Ministry of the Interior (since 1953). Via test screenings and subsequent debate confrontations, telephone warnings, and correspondence, HMS used to control and correct print, film and other media outlets that could jeopardize the regime's image. Each finished film had to be shown to the HMS representatives, who granted a censorship permit. They often left the decision to other officials of the Party apparatus (Ideological Department of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Slovakia). ‘Their stamp represented a final decision about the fate of the film. [...] Most of the films, which didn’t get the HMS seal of approval were locked up in a vault, usually until the next thaw.’ Rudolf Urc, Traja veteráni za kamerou. Viktor Kubal, Vladimír Kubenko, Ladislav Kudelka[Three Veterans Behind the Camera. Viktor Kubal, Vladimír Kubenko, Ladislav Kudelka]. Bratislava: NCAU (aka SFÚ) 1998, p. 74.
 See section Verbotene Filme: ČSSR [Forbidden Films: CSSR]. In: Catalogue / 36. Internationale Westdeutsche Kurzfilmtage Oberhausen (19.–25. April 1990), p. 77.
 SNA, FITES, box 7, Stenografický protokol z aktívu SLOFITES [Stenographic protocol from the SLOFITES meeting]; Bratislava, 25.10.1968, p. 6 and 16.
 SNA, FITES, box 29, Cestovná správa zo študijnej cesty na DKF v Oberhausene [Report from a study trip to Kurzfilmtage Oberhausen]; 14.4.1969.
 SNA, FITES, box 12, list Dušana Hanáka [Dušan Hanák’s letter], 24. 3. 1967); list Hilmara Hoffmanna a Willa Wehlinga [Hilmar Hoffmann and Will Wehling’s letter]; 28.6.1967.
 SFÚ, Ústredie Slovenského filmu [SFI, Slovak Film Headquarters archive fond; SFH], 1971, Analýza činnosti Slovenského filmu v rokoch 1968–1970 [Analysis of the Activities of Slovak Film 1968–70], p. 18; unprocessed archive.
 Martin Slivka, ‘Podvratná kamera’ slovenských dokumentárních filmů[„Subversive Camera“ of Slovak Documentary Films]. In: H.-J. Schlegel (ed.), The Subversive Camera, p. 242.
 Ibid., p. 240.
 SFI, SFH, central director’s meeting 1972, notation from the 2nd collegium (31.1.1972); unprocessed archive.
 Stenografický protokol z aktívu o koncepcii Filmového ústavu v Bratislave [Stenographic minutes from the meeting on a conception of the Film Institute in Bratislava]. Bratislava: SFI 1968.
 Július Matula, Spomienka po rokoch[A Memory Years Later]. In: Václav Macek (ed.), Peter Mihálik 1945–1987. Bratislava: FOTOFO 1997, p. 12.
Documents & Images
Translations & Notes
Letter, 12th January 1967 (Slovak National Archive)
Dear Mr. Szelepcsényi,
Today, we again confirmed with the Czechoslovak Film Export in Prague that we would like to come to Czechoslovakia from February 13 to February 18.
We once again informed Film Export and the head of the short film studio, Mr. Zizka, about our request to travel to Bratislava, so that we can consider all scheduled Slovak films. As far as we are concerned, there should be enough time, if the Program Executive takes the last plane from Prague to Bratislava on Thursday evening, watches all scheduled films on Friday, and takes the first plane back to Prague on Saturday. Unfortunately, there is no time for a longer stay, since the departure in Prague is scheduled for Saturday at 11.50 AM.
We would greatly appreciate it if you also informed the head of the Slovak short film studio about our visit.
Again, we would like to draw your attention to the fact that we are very interested in the film “The Forgotten Valley” we watched last summer.
Please send our regards to all friends of the Oberhausen festival, in particular to Mr. Uher, Mr. Urc, Mr. Branko, and best regards to you,
Hilmar Hoffmann Will Wehling
Head of the Short Film Festival Program Executive
Letter, 20th February 1967 (Slovak National Archive)
Dear Mr. Szelepcsényi,
Upon our return to Oberhausen, we would like to thank you kindly for your hospitality in Bratislava. Once again, we would like to stress that we regret having had so little time. Besides, we hereby confirm our telegraph from today and kindly ask you to officially submit the short film “The Forgotten Valley” for the competition. The film will be screening as part of the Czechoslovak program. Regarding the film “Old Shatterhand Came to See Us”, it is your decision whether you still want to submit it now. We fear that subtitles would not do justice to the film’s spirit.
Today, we sent written invitations to the following filmmakers from Slovakia:
the director Stefan Kamienický (an invitation addressed to your association since we do not have Mr. Kamienický’s address.) Besides, Mr. Uher received an invitation which was sent to his private address. Furthermore, Ms. Agneša Kalinová representing FIPRESCIand Pavel Branko representing Film a divadlo will be there. Please get in touch with the association in Prague to be able to influence the composition of the special delegation, if necessary.
Thank you very much again and best wishes,
Hilmar Hoffmann Will Wehling
Letter, 6th March 1967 (archive of International Short Film Festival Oberhausen)
Bratislava, March 6, 1967
Dear Mr. Wehling,
I wish to thank you most warmly for inviting me to this year’s edition of the Short Film Festival Oberhausen. Besides, I am delighted that my film was invited to be part of the competition. When you were in Bratislava, I unfortunately was off to Piešťany for professional reasons, so that we could not meet in person. However, I hope we will have the opportunity to do so in Oberhausen.
I apologize for confirming my registration after the deadline, a little too late. I could not do it any earlier because I only received your letter on March 4. I was told that something similar happened to Mr. Uher who also received his invitation with a considerable delay. I hope that despite these circumstances, my registration will be accepted.
Thank you once again.
Letter, 31st March 1967 (archive of International Short Film Festival Oberhausen)
Bratislava, March 31, 1967
As already communicated by telegraph, I need to refrain from coming to Oberhausen. My trip was not endorsed or approved, respectively. I do not want to go into the reasons. You will hear about them from Ms. Agnes Kalinová and other participants from the CSSR anyway. So, I will have to miss the festival for the second time in a row, a pity. And I can only hope that there will not be a third time next year.
Obviously, I am still going to report on Oberhausen, they probably cannot prevent that. Ms. Kalinová will write on our behalf, and of course I will—as it has been well established—provide the clipping with a translation.
I wish you every success for this year’s festival.
from your friend,
Telegram with notes (archive of International Short Film Festival Oberhausen)
Gentlemen Hoffmann and Wehling,
The original title of Gesundbrunnen*is Voda cerstvosti and the letter c has a caron, the original title of Bürger mit Adelstiteln** is Obcane s erbem, also a c with a caron. As mentioned before, Konkurs unfortunately cannot even be screened abroad due to music licensing rights. We have already registered the five directors, Menzel was not included. Unfortunately, we have to inform you that the two Slovak films are no longer available due to technical reasons. We therefore ask you to exclude them from the competition. We deeply regret this. We really did our best.
Show H. H. [i.e., Hilmar Hoffmann]
These were the two most interesting films of the CSSR program.
* English title: The Water of Freshness
** English title: Citizens with a Coat of Arms
Letter, 24th March 1967 (Slovak National Archive)
Bratislava, 24 March 1967
Thank you for your letter, from which I understand that, if necessary, the Union's presidency will be involved in advocating (or defending) the film Prišiel k nám Old Shatterhand [Old Shatterhand came to see us] The film, which was evaluated at the filmmaker’s conference of FITES this year as the best Slovak documentary of the year, was withdrawn from the competition in Karlovy Vary by the central director without any explanation. It happened for so-called ideological reasons, as we later learned from a letter from the central director to comrade Štítnicky, in which he dogmatically denied the film any objective validity. On the part of comrade Poledňák, there was a misunderstanding of the basic position of the film, which by synthesising authentic elements with the counterpoint of the songs achieves the hyperboles it is supposed to provoke - to address problematic features of our reality, not to remove an uncomfortable film that expresses socially hurtful opinion. Leaving aside the personal distaste, I find that more than the work and profile of [Dušan] Hanák*, what is at stake is an unwarranted display of a lack of confidence in and a devaluation of the authority of the regional director in Slovakia, the Slovak approval bodies, including members of the ideological commission of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, the dramaturgy of Slovak documentary film, and the Slovak film critics, who have expressed their opinion on the film.
I feel personally offended by the disparagement of my civic and artistic opinion and by the strange way in which the film Prišiel k nám Old Shatterhand was withdrawn from the competition in Karlovy Vary and Oberhausen. I would be happy if the film could be pushed through to these film festivals at least next year. Thank you for your trust, which helps me in my future work.
*The original inexplicably reads, "Pavel Hanák". A joke? A slip? It seems undoubtful however that the sentence refers to the author himself, Dušan Hanák.
Letter, 28th June 1967 (Slovak National Archive)
Dear Mr. Szelepcsényi,
Finally, we find the time to write to you, now that the Oberhausen Short Film Festival is over. As you know, it took place without any screenings of Slovak short films. We deeply regret this, because we are absolutely convinced that with your two documentaries, the Czechoslovak program would have been much better.
Now we hear that “The Forgotten Valley” will be sent to the festival in Venice. So, there was a positive side to the film’s rejection after all. We are truly interested in showing the film at our festival next year, if the Ceskoslovensky Filmexport does not plan to send it to several festivals.
Do you think that you could provide the film in 1968?
Furthermore, we still think about the excellent film “Old Shatterhand Came to See Us” by Dušan Hanák.
However, excellent new films might be available by the beginning of 1968. [...]
(Zakliata dolina (The Forgotten Valley) became part of the Czechoslovak selection in Oberhausen in 1968, listed in the program with the German title “Das verzauberte Tal”, “the enchanted valley”. Prišiel k nám Old Shatterhand (Old Shatterhand Came to See Us) was never shown in Oberhausen.)
Letter, 11th February 1969
Bratislava, 11 February, 1969
Central Director of the SF [Slovak Film]
Bratislava – Koliba.
Dear comrade director,
the central committee of the Slovak Association of Film and Television Artists [SLOFITES], at its meeting on 7 February 1969, dealt with questions which had arisen in connection with the participation of Slovak cinema at the Short Film Festival Oberhausen.
The central committee of the Association unanimously agreed that the Short Film Festival Oberhausen is one of the most important short film festivals with distinctly progressive orientation given by the motto under which it is held. The opportunity to participate in the festival with a large collection of short films is a great opportunity for our national cinema to present itself at such a significant international forum. The line-up of films, as agreed upon with the festival's management representative Mr. Wehling / Ideals, Black Days, The Wake, Photographing the House-dwellers, Deserters, ...And Toe the Line / documents the commitment of our filmmakers to all issues of our social and artistic life, which affect the whole nation and filmmakers in particular.
We assure you, comrade director, that the central committee of the Association will, for these reasons, fully support your decision to send the above-mentioned films to the festival.
With comradely greetings,
Excerpts from Slovak press coverage on the XVth Oberhausen Short Film Festival, 1969, reprinted in the Oberhausen festival report 1969.
(Translated from German)
Literarny Zivot, Bratislava, April 17, 1969
“It is not about the award; I am just glad that the audience was quiet during the screening of my film,” said the young director of the film Elective Affinities Karel Vachek after the Czechoslovak program had ended. And he meant what he said. Not because he was being modest or because he has not been spoilt with international success before. Considering this year’s atmosphere at the former all so serious festival, an hour of silence was close to a miracle.
However, as mentioned before, his concerns regarding the audience were not unfounded. Because the spirit of protest among the German youth continuously manifested itself during the screenings and not as usually during the day or at night. The protests went far beyond banal whistling or stamping or maybe leaving the theatre to show one’s discontent. If this part of the audience was displeased with something, they shouted “He has to go!” accompanied by children’s whistles and trumpets which was still considered a modest reaction. And they were displeased with almost everything. Formal experiments—weak, better, or quite interesting ones—were commented with a loud “Boo, that’s just art”. They harshly rejected highly political films, as soon as the point of view presented on the screen was opposed to their own, even if it obviously did not correspond to the filmmaker’s personal opinion. Even Black and White, the surely imperfect attempt to analyze the Race Issue in our country by Krishna Iver Viswannath, an Indian guest student at the Prague Film Academy (FAMU), and Under the Star of David [Pod hvězdou Davidovou, dir. Jiři Svoboda, CSSR 1969], another FAMU film, which naively and sentimentally deals with the Jewish question in today’s Prague, were panned. These young people generally were particularly outraged when faced with sentimentality. However, often enough they lacked the patience to understand the gist of the film.
I must admit that I was seriously annoyed by the continuous audience activity which involved acts of intolerance, brutality, and obviously influencing the atmosphere in the theatre coming from those who claim to be driven by their willingness to combat manipulation of any kind. However, I do not dare to condemn this furious generation, particularly after the screening of the competition film From Riot to Revolution, [Von der Revolte zur Revolution oder Warum die Revolution erst morgen stattfindet, dir. Kurt Rosenthal, FRG 1969. Only the first half of this 60-minute film was shown in Oberhausen in 1969.] which powerfully shows the blind rage of West German police forces during their interventions against the student protests, and after the daily conversations with my tenant, a conservative, aging Teutonic widow who—based on second- and thirdhand information—got all worked up about the festival’s and young people’s lack of morality. It probably is the vicious circle of mutual misunderstanding, of callousness, which motivates some of the young people to become increasingly eccentric. The selection of 25 West German films was more interesting on the whole than the individual works. This proved that the nonconformist direction in filmmaking has a sound foundation here, that several directors head toward a new approach to reality, even if more than once their discoveries were old news or even outdated.
Considering where we are generally heading with our short filmmaking, we had undeniable chances in Oberhausen … Without the rather unlucky selection of FAMU films for the program and the unexpected weakening of our selection due to the withdrawal of the film The Wake, [Tryzna, dir. Vlado Kubenko, Dušan Trančík, Peter Mihálik, CSSR 1969.] which documents the events during the sad January week in an elegiac mood, our contribution to this cinematographically and intellectually very creative gathering could have led to an even more impressive result.
Radio Bratislava, April 9, 1969
Despite some objections in the international press, the festival in Oberhausen lives up to its reputation as a liberal and progressive event.
On the one hand, the festival is supposed to be a signpost for the status quo of international short film production, on the other hand, it is guided by socially committed films which break new ground regarding their form and content, and therefore promote film as a means of expression.
So, what does short film’s worldview in 1968 look like? Surely, there is no universal answer to this question. For me, the prevalent image of this experience first and foremost is Old Europe and the depiction of its turbulent social movements: last year’s student protests.
Well, and then … the Czechoslovak year of 1968 …
If I personally back these enthusiastic films, I cannot help but point out with satisfaction that the international jury in Oberhausen took enthusiastic decisions. To get the full picture, it must be added that shortly before the screening of the Czechoslovak program, we had to deal with quite an embarrassing situation. Due to an order by the Head of Czechoslovak Film, the film The Wakehad to be taken off the program. Most definitely, it was hard to relate to this decision because it caused far more harm than good and allowed for the creation of another myth—which was proven during the Czechoslovak press conference. Unfortunately, sometimes it seems as if those who decide on the screening or withdrawal of certain films are only familiar with a specific myth but not with the film itself.
The audience’s reactions were mostly emotional and temperamental. Surely because the audience was young, they had their own way of showing their feelings, without second thoughts, with no false politeness, but with a whole lot of fun due to whistles and trumpets, comments, and cheers. The audience applauds the dynamic progress of its time and the progressive goals that go with it. They whistle and hiss relentlessly at any glimpse of sentimentality; they harshly judge any cliché, any clumsiness, and any stiff phrase. However, shortcomings regarding form are tolerated if the film’s message is intellectually intense.
I am mentioning this because this young audience is a significant—and surely often described—co-creator of the Oberhausen festival. To put it bluntly, a collective member of the jury. Their reactions are observed, evaluated, and therefore taken into consideration. Besides, the audience is a qualified member who remains true to their values but reacts with relentless intolerance to any pose. It feels good to know that the art of the world—be it in Oberhausen or anywhere else in the young world—has a jury that includes these members. Maybe this is a good omen for the world in general.
Internal report, 14th April 1969, signed by Jan Szelepcsényi and Peter Solan. (Slovak National Archive)
from a study trip to DKF [Short Film Festival] in Oberhausen
From March 21–29, I attended as a part of the three-member delegation of the SLOFITES the Short Film Festival Oberhausen (West Germany). The delegation consisted of: Mrs. Katarína Hatalová (in charge of foreign exchange funds of the SLOFITES), Mr. Peter Solan and me (at the invitation of the festival director as a delegation to the films screened at the festival).
The festival brought an interesting look at the aesthetic developments in the field of short film, where it is possible to see bold experimentation in content and form, especially among young Germans, where, unfortunately, the result does not correspond to the courage of the intention. Even so, the enrichment of the means of expression of the short film can be observed in the partial results, especially in the area of color film. The way of dealing with color film material is characterized by the effort aiming at a dramaturgy of color – a new directorial-cinematographer moment (although not quite original in its original intention – see Blow up / Antonioni).
The collection of Czechoslovak films attracted deserved attention, which, however, was unnecessarily dramatized by the withdrawal of Tryzna [The Wake] from the competition and the ban on its screening. From the collection of Slovak films, the most significant success was Solan's TV short fiction film ...a sekat dobrotu [...And Toe the Line], which won two honorable mentions – one could say, almost against our will, if this will was to be demonstrated in the preparation for our participation in the festival. The film was submitted to the competition without subtitles, without corresponding dialogue list, without promotional material, and wasn’t even included in the program. The organizers included it only after the arrival of the delegation. We owe its success with the audience and the juries to a large extent to Mr. Klaus Koch, who edited the dialogue list and translated the film live.
Other Slovak films – Kamenický´s Idealy [Ideals] and Trančík´s Fotografovanie obyvateľov domu [Photographing the House-dwellers] – remained hidden to the audience with respect to their significance, since they depict realities which a foreign audience is not familiar with. On the whole – both in the jury’s evaluation and in the audience’s response – there is a constant inclination towards an engaged social documentary, as it is done especially by Yugoslavs and Hungarians, as well as a political documentary such as Spřízněni volbou [Elective Affinities]. (Spřízněni volbou (Czechoslovakia, 1968, dir. Karel Vachek) was awarded the Main Prize by the International Jury in Oberhausen in 1969.)
Comrades Hatalová and Solan returned home after the festival, I used my stay in Germany for a short visit to Nuremberg. On March 30–31, in the local radio archive I was granted an access to new works by the European avant-garde (especially K. H. Stockhausen, Bruno Maderna) as well as electronic compositions made at the Cologne Experimental Studio. This part of my stay was valuable in terms of study, especially in relation to my work on the sound and background noise of animated films, where I try to utilize synthetically stylized sounds (most recently in the film Dita na fronte [Dita on the Front]).
Bratislava, 30 April 1969
Please find the program materials from Short Film Festival Oberhausen enclosed.
Analysis of Slovak Film Activity in the Years 1968 – 70
Excerpts from the evaluation of short films
In the second chapter of the Analysis, dedicated to the evaluation of the production of short films and periodicals in Slovakia, it is stated, among other things, that: "In the years 1968 – 69 about 160 short films of all kinds were produced in the Short Films Studio. The vast majority of them are not objectionable, many of them politically engaged [...]. However, the Studio also produced films that need to be subject to criticism. Some of them were released in cinemas during 1968, others were withdrawn from distribution at the end of 1968 and during 1969 by the management of the Slovak Film Distribution Company, and some of them the management of the Short Films Studio canceled before their completion. On the whole, they can be divided into three sections: ..."
A) Theatrically released films /4 [films in total]
Black Days [Čierne dni] /Kudelka, Černák, Kamenický, Kováč – I. print, 12. 9. 1968/. As a special episode of the Week in Film. (Týzden vo filme: Slovak weekly newsreel produced under this title from 1945 to 1982.9 The film depicts the arrival of Allied troops on our territory in an authentic reportage form capturing the atmosphere of hysteria, full of invectives in both image and sound [in voice over].
The Wake [Tryzna] /Kubenko, Mihálik, Trančík – I. print, 6. 2. 1969/. Filmed on the occasion of Jan Palach's (Czech student who, in January 1969, set himself on fire on Wenceslas Square in Prague in protest against the oppression of the „Prague Spring“.) funeral, direct anti-party and anti-Soviet attack.
B) Finished films, not released theatrically /8 [films in total]
Photographing the House-dwellers [Fotografovanie obyvateľov domu] /Trančík – I. print, 2. 12. 1968/. An anti-socialist film, ironizing honest efforts of workers. The director of the film has just recently graduated.
The Leopoldov Fortress [Leopoldovská pevnosť] /Kudelka – I. print, 19. 9. 1968/. The filmmaker's attempt to promote the idea of rehabilitation turned out negatively, mainly because of the inappropriate and ill-thought-out inclusion of an interview with a fascist prominent, A. [Alexander] Mach.
I am a Cursed Photographer [Som prekliaty fotograf] /Matula – I. print, 30. 6. 1969/. The author indulges in fashionable "worldliness", revels in the cynicism and decadent bourgeois morality of certain groups of young people.
Farmers [Roľníci] /Pogran – I. print, 1. 9. 1969/. In a distorted view, the film shows an atypical, desolate village at a time when the right-wing forces were attacking all the achievements and gains of socialism in our country. The solution seen in the coming of the "Czechoslovak Spring" is anti-socialist demagoguery.
C) Unfinished films, production stopped /3 [films in total]
My Aunt Vincencia [Moja teta Vincencia] /Matula – August 1969/. The author panders to reactionary tendencies; his conception of Catholicism is quite mistaken.
Symmetry Axis [Symetrála] /Šinko – Autumn 1969/. The film denounces the uncritical cultural policy of the 1950s in the field of fine arts, but insults honest socialist artists in the process.
Film 1: ...a sekat dobrotu...
Click here to watch the film in the Channel.
Filmstill: ...a sekat dobrotu... (...And Toe the Line...) @ Peter Solan, 1968
Source: © Slovak Film Institute
Film 2: Som prekliaty fotograf
Click here to watch the film in the Channel.
Filmstill: Som prekliaty fotograf (I am a cursed photographer) @ Julius Matula, 1969
Source: © Slovak Film Institute
re-selected Dossier #1
FORTRESS – Slovak films in Oberhausen before 1991
Text: Martin Kaňuch
Editor: Tobias Hering
Translations: Lisa Woytowicz (from German), Rastislav Steranka (from Slovak)
Coordination: Katharina Schröder
Documents from Slovenský národný archív (Slovak National Archive, SNA), fond FITES, and the archives of International Short Film Festival Oberhausen.
Special thanks to Pavel Branko, Eduard Grečner, Marian Hausner, Rudolf Urc.
In memory of Pavel Branko (1921-2020).
International Short Film Festival Oberhausen
With the support from the Slovak Film Institute