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A Weeked at Wesleyan: Organizing the First Ruhr Film Festival in the United States

In Shout Outs, Sina's Posts, Trips on May 4, 2012 by SN

When my friend Kate and I met at Dortmund University last year, we both discovered our fascination with the Ruhr Area’s past and culture. While sipping a delicious coffee underneath the sunny Rheinoldikirche, we had the idea to organize a film festival that acknowledged the rich heritage of the metropolitan region.

This idea became reality on the weekend of the 13 and 14 April at Kate’s alma mater and current workplace, Wesleyan University. Wesleyan is a well-known liberal arts university located in Middletown, a small town in the heart of Connecticut. It has about 3,000 students and is a bit bigger than Oglethorpe. I have known the university through its publisher, Wesleyan University Press, which has books on all kinds of innovative topics.

Wesleyan’s Home: The City of Middletown in Spring.

Wesleyan University: Historic Buildings on Campus.

A Liberal Arts University: Protest Against Fracking.

The film festival that Kate and I organized examined the various ruptures of the Ruhrgebiet and the birth pains of a post-industrial society through the medium of film. We investigated how exemplar films represent the area, and how they engage in the complex issues of deindustrialization, demographic change, and cultural transformation. We were very, very grateful to have the genuine support the Wesleyan German Studies Department, especially Professor Leo Lensing and Dr. Iris Bork-Goldfield, for this unique two-day event. Shout outs to them!

(Re-)Imagining Post-Industrial Urbanity: Poster.

We started off on Friday night with a short introductory session on the imaginations of the Ruhr Area presented by me and on the ongoing transformation process from industry to culture by Kate. The three films we showed over the two days represent the Ruhr Area in very different ways.

The first film on Friday night, Bang Boom Bang appropriated popular films of the late 1990s like Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction or Guy Ritchie’s Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels and transferred those gangster stories to suburban Unna near Dortmund. Our audience liked the film very much because of its irony and crime caper comedy. One audience member remarked after the screening that it “was a very American film” because of the above-mentioned influences.

The award-winning documentary Losers and Winners, the second film shown on Saturday afternoon, follows the destruction of the Dortmund cockery Kokerei Kaiserstuhl and juxtaposes the decline taking place in Dortmund with the hope of Chinese workers shipping the entire factory to China. It left the audience startled about the seemingly senseless dismantling of infrastructure and abandonment of local knowledge about the production of coke.

The third film on Saturday evening, the 2002 feature Solino, interrogates how immigrants create a sense of belonging to the Ruhr Area. The award-winning film portrays an Italian family who left their hometown Solino in the 1960s in order start a new life in the city of Duisburg. After the screening we talked about how both of the cities are manifested through its surface of stone and plaster. Yet, Solino is represented in a much more nostalgic and yellow-filtered manner than the gray and claustrophobic facades of Duisburg. Does that tell us something about the director’s nostalgia for his Turkish roots?

We concluded with the insight that the films establish the Ruhr Area as an model of transformation from the industrial past into a post-industrial future. Those films constitute not only a response to structural change in Germany or Europe, but they could also serve as an inspiration for urban change still ongoing in many cities of the North East.

We were very proud that our festival caught the attention of the Wesleyan blogger community. It was announced at many web platforms, such as the Wesleyan Writing Blog, the WesLive Blog, Wesleying, another Wesleyan Blog, and the German Studies blog. The 1st International Ruhr Film Festival was a great success and put the Ruhr Area on the Wesleyan map. Besides hosting this event, it was wonderful to see Kate again and catch up on our own personal memories of the Ruhrpott.

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