Imagine Christoph Waltz (à la Django Unchained) being given his own film festival – and you’ll get a sense of the enthusiasm, irreverence and occasional maniacal laugh with which Dr Arpad Sölter talks about the Audi Festival of German Films. The self-described ‘philosopher’ came to film late, but he’s making up for lost time by programming the gamut of German cinema, from retrospectives, arthouse and documentary films to crowd-pleasers (“I call them kraut-pleasers,” he chuckles) and family-friendly fare.
In this year’s festival line-up, box office-busting cross-cultural comedy Turkish For Beginners jostles up against rarefied sci-fi psychodrama The Wall, and critically acclaimed thrillers like Two Lives and the Dreileben Trilogy rub elbows with Enid Blyton’s Famous Five.
Sölter fell into film almost by accident. “When I was young I was totally heading for the wild West – I liked Apocalypse Now, I liked Stanley Kubrick; those kinds of movies impressed me very much. Only when I got older I discovered the big names of German cinema in the 1970s, like Werner Herzog, Wim Wenders, Volker Schlöndorff, Margarethe von Trotta…
“This year’s festival is really about the next generation of filmmakers,” he says, pointing to new works by Doris Dörrie (whose Cherry Blossoms penetrated international arthouse cinema in 2009) and Georg Maas, whose Two Lives opens the festival, accompanied retrospective screenings of two of his films.
Sölter started working for the Goethe Institute (the Germany government’s body for cultural exchange) over two decades ago, and landed in the Toronto office in 2002 – slap bang in the middle of a banner decade for German cinema, with international hits like Downfall, Goodbye Lenin!, The Lives Of Others and Head On. With offices across the street from Toronto International Film Festival’s gala venue, suddenly Sölter found himself at the epicentre of a thriving film culture.
“I had my own movie theatre at the Goethe Institute and a whole gallery and a large library – Dolby Surround – and I could run my own cinema programme all year long. And so we did – we had all kinds of stuff, experimental stuff, feature films, documentaries… Wild things went on. It was divine.”
Kino Cinemas, 45 Collins St, Melbourne. Palace Cinema Como, Cnr Toorak Rd & Chapel St, South Yarra. May 1-15.
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