Film selection for the Retrospective at the Nordische Filmtage Lübeck is complete – “Fishermen’s Films – Fishing in Nordic and Baltic Cinema 1912-2019”

Sept 21, 2020. The 62nd Nordische Filmtage Lübeck (Nov. 4 – 08, 2020) will dedicate this year’s Retrospective to “Fishermen’s Films – Fishing in Nordic and Baltic Cinema”. Curator Jörg Schöning focussed this year’s selection on narrative and documentary films made between 1912 and 2019 that shine a spotlight on a profession that is part idyll, part commercial venture. This brings to a conclusion the section’s Baltic cycle, begun in 2018 with “Baltic Transfer” and continued in 2019 with “Undercover North/Northeast”. Altogether, the 62nd NFL will present ca. 150 films across eight festival sections. For the first time, the festival will be a hybrid edition, with some live screenings and events, held in compliance with covid 19 regulations, at the festival cinemas and other venues in Lübeck, and some shown via streaming. 

In keeping with the theme of the Retrospective, the festival this year will once again include screenings of “Hafenkino” (“Harbour Cinema”) at the historical Schuppen 6 on Untertrave. The venue will host silent film screenings with live musical accompaniment, at an appropriate distance from the audience. Sure to be a fun evening musically accompanied by folk and world music duo PaBaMeTo is the silent Vester-Vov-Vov / At the North Sea” (Lau Lauritzen, DNK, 1927), featuring the Danish comedy duo Ole & Axel. They play two landlubbers who try their hand at fishing along the harsh west coast of the Jutland Peninsula, without much luck. On a second silent film evening the early melodrama “Der Schatten des Meeres / The Sea’s Shadow” (Curt A. Stark, DEU, 1912) with Henny Porten will be shown together with three short silent films, most with Lübeck as their subject. Among them is “Der Fischindustrieort Schlutup und das Fischerdorf Gothmund / The Fishing Industry in Schlutup and the Fishing Village of Gothmund, a documentary made in the early 1920s. The four films will be accompanied by the music of TroubaDuo that is well known in Lübeck.

It was in Lübeck that Rudolf Baader developed and produced the world’s first herring filleting machine, setting in motion the mechanisation of the fish processing industry, and he plays an important role in this year’s Retrospective. Made at the end of the twentieth century, Lübeck director Serap Berrakkarasu’s documentary, “Ekmek parasi – Geld furs Brot / Ekmek parasi – Money for Bread” (1994) drew a portrait of the women working the conveyor belt at the Hawesta fish processing plant in Lübeck’s Schlutup district. And in her journalistic short, “Heringe am laufenden Band / Herring Upon Herring” (1993), Hamburg filmmaker Leslie Franke retraces the use of the Baader 33 fish filleting machine, and its path to an ultimate home at Hamburg’s Museum of Work. 

Iceland is also front and centre in the Retrospective, as a traditional fishing nation – including with the opening night film. With her narrative debut “Ingaló” (1992), director Ásdís Thoroddsen tells the story of a headstrong young woman’s journey of emancipation as she manages to assert herself in the harsh world of commercial fishing, with Sólveig Arnarsdóttir playing the title character. And another of the director’s films can also be seen in the Retrospective – “Vedrabrigdi / We Are Still Here” (2015), a documentary that looks at the negative consequences of fishing quotas in Iceland, a very topical subject given the current debate about fishing quotas in the Baltic.

Entertainment is on offer with two films based on work by Icelandic playwright Jón Atli Jónasson – the high seas thriller Brím / Undercurrent” (Árni Ólafur Ásgeirsson, ISL, 2010) and Baltasar Kormákur’s living seascape Djúpið / The Deep” (ISL, 2012). The latter is the story of the amazing survival of a fisherman in 1984 after his boat capsizes in the ice-cold waters off the Westman Islands. Kormákur dedicated his thrilling drama, starring Ólafur Darri Ólafsson (TV’s “Trapped”), to the fisherfolk of Iceland.

Another film that transports us into the past is “Leuchtfeuer / The Beacon” (E Ger / SWE, 1954), a social drama set at the turn of the 20th century on a barren fishing island off the Swedish coast. In expressive black-and-white cinematography and true-to-life natural imagery, this last film that director Wolfgang Staudte made in East Germany tells the story of a crime committed out of deprivation. It was produced by East Germany’s DEFA Studios, in cooperation with a Swedish partner, on location in the Pater Noster archipelago. Back in the present day, fishing and processing on a northern German trawler is the subject of photographer Werner Lebert’s vivid documentary “Skagerrak” (DEU, 2019). 

Retrospective curator Jörg Schöning is especially pleased with “the excellent quality of three newly-restored narrative features from Estonia”. “Veealused karid / Rocks Under Water” (Viktor Nevežin, 1959) is a critical look at the complicated relationships within a fishing collective, while “Ühe küla mehed / Men From the Fisherman’s Village” (Jüri Müür, 1961) is now considered the film that launched Estonia’s post-war national filmmaking industry. And “Karge meri / The Smacking Sea” (Arvo Kruusement, 1981) is an impressive, atmospheric cinematic adaptation of the eponymous 1938 novel by Estonian writer August Gailit.

Another film with literary antecedents is the Lithuanian drama “Moteris ir keturi jos vyrai / A Woman and her Four Men” (LTU, 1984). In this film version of a story by Danish artist and writer Holger Drachmann that was originally set in Skagen, Lithuanian director Algimantas Puipa tells the story of a young widow taken in by a fisherman and his two sons. The significance of fishing in the Nordic countries’ cinema landscape is on clear display in Norway’s first ever film, Fiskerlivets farer / The Dangerous Life of a Fisherman”, a short silent, shot in 1907 and later lost; remade in 1954, it has since been considered an icon of Norwegian film history. And the Norwegian-German film “Når mørket er forbi / Passing Darkness” (2000), a drama about a family-owned fish business, features a key prop – the previously‑mentioned fish processing machine manufactured by the “Nordischer Maschienbau Rud. Baader” company 101 years ago right here in Lübeck.