The View From Here

Vienna Film Festival

Michael Bonner

Because you can never attend enough international film festivals, here's STEPHEN DALTON's report from this year's VIENNA FILM FESTIVAL.

Tanks and armoured cars rumble ominously through the centre of Vienna. The streets are eerily empty, as all civilian traffic has been removed from the city’s main inner ring road. It looks like a military coup is underway.

In fact, Vienna is celebrating the day, 57 years ago, when Austria was finally given its independence back by the occupying post-war Allies. Which means you and me. Assuming you are British, American, French or Russian. History hangs heavy in the air here.

Against this bizarre backdrop, Uncut is attending the finest boutique movie festival of the season here in western Europe’s most easterly capital. While the London Film Festival grabs headlines at home, Vienna throbs to a different beat with its own film-plus-music extravaganza, the Viennale (see Your humble reporter has long been a regular visitor, but this year I received an official invitation. And a free hotel. Sweet.

The Viennale is a non competitive festival, meaning no prizes and fewer big premieres than at high-profile bunfights like Cannes or Venice. But the choice of films here is still very rich, programmed with a breadth and intelligence that reflects the city’s deep-rooted cineaste culture. Every screening is open to the public, with most attracting a youthful and multi-lingual audience.

This also helps the festival punch above its weight in attracting both stars and cult artists. Among this year’s retrospective guests are Jane Fonda and 1970s grindhouse director Stephanie Rothman, one of the few female graduates of producer Roger Corman’s legendary exploitation stable New World Pictures. Also giving feisty talks at screenings is Jean-Pierre Gorin, once the partner of Jean-Luc Godard on the radical wing of French New Wave cinema.

The Viennale always draws strong connections between film and music, and this year they are more entangled than ever. Besides hosting the Austrian premieres of Control, I’m Not There and Lou Reed’s Berlin concert movie, this week has seen several movie-makers manning the DJ turntables long into the night at the rooftop Zentrale club, the festival’s main after-hours hangout.

Later this week, the Viennale closes with two unique concert collaborations between underground film-maker Jem Cohen and acclaimed US indie icon Vic Chesnutt. Cohen, who has worked with REM and Sonic Youth, had a quasi-producer role on Chesnutt’s latest album, North Star Deserter. He will provide visuals while Chesnutt plays with an avant-rock supergroup including members of Fugazi and Silver Mount Zion.

As a kind of taster for this event, the Vienna-based filmmaker and musician Khavn gathered a small band together late on Friday for an improvised post-rock jam to a screening of Squatterpunk, his own impressionistic documentary about Filipino shanty-town street kids. “There will be no Q&A after the screening,” the deadpan host informed us, “because you will be deaf and these guys will be out of it.” Respect.

That’s enough Viennese whirls for now. More news and views at the end of the festival. Achtung, babies.


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