Film Academy Vienna students Paul Ploberger, Clara Stern and Michael Podogil talk about their own personal film festival experiences.

Ficbueu in Spain

Ficbueu is a film festival in Spain to which our film, Bier&Calippo, got invited. Which was fantastic! The festival even offered to pay for our travel and accommodations. But still, I didn’t particularly want to go … couldn’t spare the time. Ultimately, though, my producer as well as my girlfriend, Dani, talked me into going after all, and I invited Dani to come along with me. In order to obtain a festival pass for her, we told the folks there that she was a colleague of mine and had co-written the screenplay. And with that accomplished, the plan was to just act like a normal couple. But then, Dani told another filmmaker that we were no more than colleagues, so we ended up having to stick with our act.

Paul Ploberger
Paul Ploberger ©private

The festival was running a town-wide tapas-tasting contest that involved a total of 16 local bars. Tapas, as you probably know, are those typical Spanish appetizers. And we, as the invited filmmakers, were charged with the honourable task of acting as judges and deciding just which tapa was the best to be had in this town of 12,000 inhabitants. Never before had I gotten to know so many different bars in one place within such a short time span as we did here, equipped with envelopes full of coupons. Wonderful! The main staple in Spain’s north-western region of Galicia would seem to be octopus. We found at least a small piece of it on nearly every single one of those refined and cleverly arranged appetisers.

It happened that René, who had directed a short film about auto theft in which he comes to terms with his youth, challenged Dani and me to go for a morning swim in the ocean. We didn’t want to seem like chickens, but even as that morning broke, we hoped he’d fail to show up at the agreed-upon time so that we could return to our warm bed. But René came. Our swim was brief but intense, better than any sort of coffee, and it was to kick off our daily programme from then onward. This was noted not just by the folks at the festival, but also by some locals who lived nearby, who just shook their heads—since they’d never go into the water even at these temperatures.

Not all of the filmmakers had arrived at the beginning of the week, as we had. Fabrice, a French director who’d brought along an Amelie-like film about the premature death of a 3-year-old girl’s mother, was among those who’d turned up later. And like many others, he kind of just assumed that Dani and I were a couple—or at least couple-material.

One of the leisure activities organised by the festival was a hike on a nearby island—with narrow trails leading through sharp thorns and along cliffs, waves that rolled in from the Atlantic and exploded onto the rocks, and lunch with octopus. Together with René, Fabrice took it upon himself to play matchmaker between Dani and me. Fabrice made use of every opportunity when we were close, surreptitiously taking snapshots of us and sending them to me afterwards on WhatsApp. He was convinced that Dani was interested in me, and that it was past time for me to make the first move. I’d regret it someday, he told me repeatedly, full of worry; she wouldn’t wait for me forever—at some point, she’d look for someone else. He understood, of course, that it’s tough to risk a relationship coming from the friend-zone, but he said that in our case, it would work. On that he gave me his full assurance. It was pretty hard for me to refrain from telling the truth to someone who meant so well with me—and keeping up this act with Dani wasn’t so easy, either. It was a matter of those little things, the habits of a relationship, things that don’t exist between two friends. But most noticeably of all, the way we interacted with each other became a lot more respectful. We refrained from telling each other what to do, we asked more questions, we had the breadbasket passed rather than just taking a piece with our hands, we tolerated things that we’d usually have complained about, and—of course—we avoided physical contact. Perhaps it was the proximity that we couldn’t (but wanted to) partake in at that moment that gave us a certain tingle, one that we’d largely forgotten amidst the normalcy of everyday life. In any case, it was a very refreshing time for our relationship, a time during which we did everything possible in public to pretend that said relationship didn’t exist.

Bueu isn’t normally a place where there’s a lot going on. But the weekend the festival ended, there was also a religious celebration—announced with so much daytime fireworks that you’d have thought they were at war. There were times that day when rockets were fired and exploded in the sky without let-up, and you could feel them in your stomach wherever you went. In the street between our accommodations and the beach, a fairground of sorts had sprung up, and that evening featured a series of performances by orchestral bands of a type very popular in Galicia. Three wind players stand way back to the rear of the stage, in front of them a pianist, a drummer, and a washboard player, and with a bassist at the very front. Out to the bassist’s left, either two or three men sing and dance as if they’d won a sports trophy, and they’re supported by two girls with glitter sprinkled onto their behinds and breasts. The girls also sing, but above all, they waggle their breasts at the males in the audience. All of the bands I saw consisted of this same formation. And the area in front of the two stages, with their uninterrupted succession of bands, was packed solid. When the curtain went down on one stage, the other stage’s curtain would go up. All the dancing audience members had to do was take a couple of steps sideways and carry on as they had before. Young and old danced side by side, in couples or all together.

I was scheduled to fly out a day later than most of the festival’s participants. And Dani was among of those who left a day before I did, so I spent the final evening alone at that outdoor concert. It started raining. But that didn’t send the revellers home—they just crowded close to the building walls and beneath the stage canopy to avoid the worst of the rain. So there I stood, in front of the stage with a few others. What the folks here must think of me, I thought—since I stood there the whole time watching the musicians, rather than dancing. After all, I didn’t know any of the dances they were doing. But that probably didn’t interest anyone. So I just watched everyone else, my hood pulled over my head, and was very happy I’d travelled to Bueu. Two of the guys seemed super-enthusiastic, taking off their shirts and dancing half-naked with two girls and with each other. And repeatedly, my gaze fell on one of the girls onstage, the one over on the right. I had the feeling that she was dancing just so people would look at her breasts. That, at least, was the impression I got. Back and forth, up and down, by no means small—and quite lightly clothed, to boot. At some point, I’d fallen into such a hypnotic trance that I might have taken her to bed with me right then and there. Which was kind of weird—I’d just spent the week there with Dani, and we’d had a wonderful time together. And now that she’d boarded her plane, here I was, standing here in front of this girl and her breasts, wanting nothing more than to sleep with her. To think that such a thing could happen so fast! Ultimately, though, I ended up not sleeping with her after all.

It was still raining as I wove my way home along the beach, hood over my head. Now and then, a wave reached me and sloshed around my shoes. I looked back upon the days that had just passed. And it was thus, somewhat melancholy but pretty happy at the same time, that I took my last steps in Bueu—at night, along the beach, in the rain.

Listening into the Room

Film still from Mathias ©Johannes Höß

The closing credits of the short film preceding MATHIAS have started to roll, and I’m getting nervous. During that brief darkness between films, I feel my pulse throb. And then I hardly notice the images on the screen, since I’m most of all listening for reactions in the audience: Is it totally silent? Are people laughing? And if so, when?

Clara Stern
Clara Stern ©Paul Wimmer

For me, trips to festivals with my short film are special ones. You perceive cities differently when you experience them for the most part in their cinemas, while traveling between festival locations, and while walking back to your hotel at night through the empty streets. The experience has an energy all its own: you’re constantly getting to know new people, attending film talks and Q&A sessions, rushing from one film to the next, and occasionally viewing nearly twenty short films or four feature films within the space of a single day—and your head’s spinning with ideas and stories, characters and locations. Most nights, you hardly sleep.

Even though I have to spend a day after every festival catching up on sleep and getting myself sorted out, I’m always excited and happy about the opportunity when it once again comes time to pack my suitcase. This autumn, I’ll be traveling to China, Wales, and Germany. And who knows where to next? In any case, my travels will once again find me sitting nervously in the audience and listening into the room.

A Fucking Drama

Filmmaking is a Fucking Drama: the search for actors, locations, and appropriate costumes is nerve-racking, waiting for funding requests to be approved or rejected wears you down, and filming itself is an ordeal where you “just” try to realise everything like you’d imagined it before.

Fucking Drama
Film still from A Fucking Drama ©Jakob Fuhr

But even so: I can’t imagine a more wonderful job than that of the film director. You work as part of a team full of outstanding specialists, aiming to tell stories in a powerful way, to render extreme situations understandable, and to create convincing experiences of emotional roller coasters.

And now it’s all gone well. Our Fucking Drama has been shot, edited, and dubbed. We’re happy, and it goes without saying that we want to present our work to the whole world—just like  thousands of others who’ve likewise given themselves over to the insanity that is film, seeing things through to the very end. So we scrape together yet another hefty sum of money and send our entry to festivals (dozens of them!), which send back answers that are largely frustrating—because they’re rejections. But we press on—because this is still our short film’s best chance at finding an audience.

We receive rejection after rejection. And the euphoria over getting through the production phase gives way to frustration about how nobody wants to show it. A large festival will typically have to choose among over 3,000 submitted films! So the right person has to see your film at the right time and while in the right mood in order to rescue it from disappearance amidst the countless other entries. Hopefully this happens at some point—or maybe it never does. A FUCKING DRAMA.

Michael Podogil
Michael Podogil ©Dana Netolicky

Ultimately, though, we’ve had no cause to complain—and we’re in fact infinitely grateful: our film’s national première will take place at Diagonale in Graz, and its international première will be at the BAFTA Student Film Awards in Los Angeles, where it’s been nominated in the Best Live Action category. In Hollywood—we were floored.

And thus the next round of nail-biting begins: How will the film be received at the festival? Do we have a shot at winning prestigious awards? We’d sure like to win one. Why? Because it’ll make it easier to get our next labour of love financed. Which is where it all finally comes full circle.

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