Deconstructing Narratives at Interfilm 39

by Lorna McDowell // Nov. 7, 2023

Interfilm, founded in 1982 amid the vibrant atmosphere of Kreuzberg’s squats, is soon to present its 39th edition in 2023. As the oldest and largest short film festival in Berlin, Interfilm unites international filmmakers and cinema-goers year after year. The festival has a history that has earned it recognition beyond European borders, as Interfilm is also a qualifier for the prestigious Academy Awards. In collaboration with its sister festival to young audiences aged 4-19, KUKI, the festival curates over 300 short films annually into more than 50 diverse programs, events, workshops, panels and presentations. Both festivals have a strong narrative focus, driven by the shared mission of offering a platform to thought-provoking films that mirror contemporary political and social landscapes.

Two compelling thematic threads weave through the vast program of shorts at this year’s festival, binding an array of events and concepts into a cohesive curatorial vision. The first of these threads is the notion of “Otherness.” The short films clustered in the ‘Focus On’ program—curated by Canan Turan—spotlight issues of social justice, cultural identity and personal belonging, exploring queer (self)love within the Asian-diasporic queer community, coming-of-age narratives and the practice of remembrance and commemoration.

Focus program ‘The *Other* German Cinema’ centres BIPOC and queer perspectives, and among the must-see films in this category is the coming-of-age comedy ‘Yallah Habibi,’ directed by Mahnas Sarwari, which depicts the struggles of Elaha, who grapples with telling her mother about her desire to leave home, while facing challenges in her professional and romantic relationships. Among other special programs, ‘Spotlight: Uganda’—curated by Ali Musoke and Patience Katushabe—highlights the productivity and creativity of the Ugandan film scene, and the program ‘From Afghanistan to Exile’—curated by Zamarin Whadat—provides a glimpse into short films created by Afghan filmmakers and the diasporic community.

Mahnas Sarwari: ‘Yallah Habibi,’ 2020, film still // Courtesy of the artist and Interfilm 2023

The second thread weaving throughout Interfilm 2023 is the examination of cinematic reality, artistic truth and the potential of radical subjectivity. Programs and events explore the shifting landscape of documentary storytelling, moving away from the truthfulness of depicting reality toward the essayistic portrayal of subjective perception. Themes such as empowerment, resistance, deconstruction of narratives and the relationship between work, task, fulfillment and capitalist constraints are thoughtfully examined.

In this vein, and within the ‘Of Self, Care & Work’ program, a film not to be missed is ‘Powernapper’s Paradise’ directed by Samir Arabzadeh. This short film offers a whimsical exploration of the universal desire to power-nap at work—focusing on salespeople, fast-food workers, seamsters and seamstresses in the Philippines. Continuing this theme, the special program ‘Reality Bites’ challenges the audience to decide between fact and fiction, and ‘Craving for Narratives’ is dedicated to essayistic short films that pursue theory through aesthetics and communicate themes often left unspoken in classical film language.

Samir Arabzadeh: ‘Powernapper’s Paradise,’ 2022, film still // Courtesy of the artist and Interfilm 2023

Also showing at Interfilm 2023 are a selection of experimental films by renowned artist duo Soda Jerk. Originating in Sydney in 2002, the duo have made New York their creative home since 2012. They blend found footage and excerpts from mainstream films with newly produced material, creating a unique cinematic reality that pushes the boundaries of conventional storytelling and dissects the intricate politics of images. Their latest offering ‘Hello Dankness’ continues on from their political revenge tale ‘Terror Nullius,’ satirizing the psychotropic spectacle of American politics from 2016 to 2021 with hundreds of film samples. Hotdogs debate the culture wars, dumpsters preach QAnon, zombies gather for revolution and real-life events are recast as Broadway smash hits from Cats, Les Miserables, Annie and The Phantom of the Opera. The screenings will be moderated by Bartholomew Sammut (Berlinale Panorama and Xposed Queer Film Festival) and it’s worth noting that this might be your only chance to engage with Soda Jerk’s provocative work, as these films can only be screened at festivals due to copyright restrictions.

Soda Jerk: ‘Hello Dankness,’ 2022, film still // Courtesy of the artist and Interfilm 2023

Alongside the films, InterForum—an essential component of Interfilm and KUKI—offers a platform for in-depth discussions and knowledge exchange. The festival themes continue to resonate here, with discussions on topics ranging from the inherent racist bias in film and lighting technology to exploring production conditions in Uganda. For curators, the workshop ‘Doing Curatorial Justice’ delves into the development of new concepts and practices for ethical representation, justice and accountability at film festivals. Other events include panel discussions on the (non-)presence of BIPOC perspectives and histories at festivals, as well as two events focused on contemporary documentary work. Complemented by this platform, the 39th Interfilm festival truly reflects a global perspective, with films from over 60 countries, and promises to be a captivating celebration of diverse perspectives in the world of short films.

Festival Info


39th International Short Film Festival Berlin
Festival: Nov. 14–19, 2023
Various Venues

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