April 2012, arsenal cinema

Showcasing Stefan Kolbe and Chris Wright


Stefan Kolbe and Chris Wright, who were both born in 1972 and both graduated from the HFF Konrad Wolf Potsdam-Babelsberg, have enriched contemporary German documentary cinema over the past 12 years with a very distinct version of their own. Their films, with their particular aesthetics, are characterized by a special form of camera work, narrative methods and editing as well as a largely associative, fragmentary and sketchy structure. Kolbe and Wright make films that have abandoned supposedly clear structures. For each film, they try to find a new form in an open process that is appropriate to the protagonists and the subject. Their films about young people in a home or about the inhabitants of a prefabricated apartment, as well as their GDR home-movie compilation all take different approaches, making them a reflection on the different parameters of documentary work. Stefan Kolbe and Chris Wright's four films have been in arsenal distribution's program since 2011, giving us the occasion to showcase them for the first time and to hold talks with the filmmakers and audience members.

TECHNIK DES GLÜCKS (The Progress of Happiness, D 2003, 20.4.) Zschornewitz in Saxony-Anhalt was once the biggest coal-fired power station in the world. After German Reunification it was shut down. What has remained are the amateur films made by the workers themselves about their daily work and their time at home, family, leisure activities, and also show the plant being dismantled and torn down at the end. The compiled found footage material from the filmmakers' private archives is combined with newly-shot video sequences of the status quo, Bach's Mass in B minor and a family anecdote from World War Two, becoming a reflection on the past and the present, on loss and upheaval, as well as on small private joys and the great utopia.

DAS BLOCK(The Block, D 2006, 20.4.) Four lost souls in an East German prefabricated apartment. Four states of loss and loneliness. Hans-Joachim dreams of his great love and hunts down a telephone terrorist. Silvio shoots down lamps in a former Soviet barracks and unloads his messed up childhood. Olga wants to go back to bombed out Grozny and Natalya, a Jewish Ukrainian, purifies her body in stinging nettles and snow. The film shows its protagonists at very close hand with the camera literally closing in on them. The building and the estate is never seen as a whole. A film of fragments, a narrow microcosm of one-room apartments, a claustrophobic nightmare.

NERNICH – NIRGENDS NICHTS (Nernich – Nowhere Nothing, D 1999, 21.4.) Pervalka is a small fishing village with a tumultuous past: Now part of the Lithuanian section of the Curonian Spit, it has changed its national allegiance nine times over the past 70 years. Things are calmer now – little goes on when the holiday season and tourist rush are over at the end of summer. Fish is gutted, smoked and sold at the market, apples are peeled and grated, a filter plant is planned. The scenes are framed precisely and there is great attention to detail in this film that collates observations, encounters and conversations and talks of atmosphere, feelings and the signs of the time.

KLEINSTHEIM (The Home, D 2010, 21.4.) Seven teenagers live in shared accommodation under the care of welfare workers in a former castle on the Magdeborg Börde after finding they were unable to cope at home. Their lives are about figuring out how to live together, passing exams, going through bureaucratic hurdles, falling in love and becoming adults. The film concentrates on getting close to the youths rather than on the home. It is less interested in their problems and biographies than in them exactly as they are. Featuring shots of the landscape as the seasons change, and off camera texts, it is a striking portrait of minds and social mores.