achtung berlin – new berlin film award: Just Play Music

     |    Wednesday April 17th, 2013

The 9th achtung berlin – new film award opens tonight. “Achtung” (a German exclamation meaning everything from “please note” to “CAUTION!”), as the festival is affectionately called, showcases documentaries, shorts and features made in Berlin (and the Brandenburg region). Berlin as a film setting is also explored in much depth, as are themes such as the representation of youth in Berlin urban space (this year’s retrospective), espionage in the Cold War-era divided city and pop music cultures in Berlin, topic of a special focus in 2011. That program unearthed rarely scene gems from over 50 years while also celebrating the music myths: the 60s heyday of Berlin’s ersatz Broadway Ku’damm, the nihilistic post-punk scene congealing around the Einstürzende Neubauten and Nick Cave in the West prior to the fall of the Wall (check out the time capsule-like BERLIN NOW for a neat overview) to Berlin’s current incarnation as the capital of rave nation, a reputation actually based on developments of the early 90s but kept alive by such recent successes Hannes Stöhr’s surprise and enduring hit BERLIN CALLING. The film and its star, DJ Paul Kalkbrenner, symbiotically prodded each other to world fame.

Schwarzweiss-Bild von 1968 mit jungen Filmemachern

Dziga Vertov Akademie at the dffb film school in Berlin 1968 with Wolfgang Petersen, Harun Farocki, Holger Meins and Gerd Conradt

Music also figures prominently in the 2013 festival program. Two films in particular show the wide richness of musical expression in Berlin. Veteran activist documentary filmmaker and video artist Gerd Conradt’s cinematic autobiography “Video Vertov” is in the documentary competition. Conradt’s life just happens to coincide with a heady era in post war (West) Berlin’s history: late 1960s student protests, the radicalization of some of the “1968ers” who then joined the Red Army Faction, the post-protest hangover which led some questioning minds, Conradt included, to seek truth and meaning in Eastern spirituality, the dawn of video technology and how it revolutionized, for better or worse, how media shapes our perception of the world. The music score of Conradt’s exploration of the age is provided by Agitation Free, sort of the Yardbirds or John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers of the West Berlin psychedelic underground, as its members later joined even more famous groups or facilitated other artists’ breakthroughs. Christoph Franke drummed for Tangerine Dream; guitarist Axel Genrich defected to Guru Guru; Lutz “Lüül” Graf-Ulbrich played with Manuel Göttsching in Ashra, worked with Nico throughout the 70s and 80s, collaborating on her last live appearance, and now is a member of the genre-defying 17 Hippies; Michael Hoenig became an in demand soundtrack composer for film and TV in the States, contributing to the score of “Koyanisqaatsi” which is usually attributed solely to Philip Glass.

Agitation Free live 2007


In it’s own right, Agitation Free’s music is trippy and timelessly elegant, displaying kinship with other “Krautrock” bands of the era: flowing keyboard textures and delayed guitars. Later, a Goethe Institut sponsored trip to Egypt inspired North African motifs, audible in the “Malesch” album, from which the track “Ala Tul” is taken.


The video footage (from an educational film using children’s book-like animation and footage of microorganisms to decry prostitution as the road to venereal disease) likely was added after the fact by the YouTube user who put the clip online. Agitation Free was also known for its pioneering live visuals, combining slides, liquid projections and self-shot Super 8 film. This super pixellated Real Media video file (VLC can at least play it) file shot in Egypt is rare audiovisual evidence available online . Maybe the Agitation Free concert on April 23, 8 p.m. at Kesselhaus, will provide an opportunity to witness their visual as well as musical innovation. How about Gerd Conradt as VJ?

Still from "And You Belong"


Performance, in this case the performativity of gender, also plays an important role in Julia Ostertag’s (SAILA, NOISE AND RESISTANCE) competition documentary “And You Belong”. Ostertag portraits the electro hiphop duo Scream Club and the international network of queer-feminist-DIY artists and musicians they belong to. Founded in riot grrl birthplace Olympia, Washington and now based in Berlin, Scream Club playfully challenge sexual stereotypes and foster creativity without capitalist constraints.

Scream Club’s 10 or so music videos are a key element of Ostertag’s documentary collage. You can watch all of them on the Scream Club website, except the excellent “Fire”, which you can watch below.

The lyrics of the name-giving “And You Belong” are a queer answer to LL Cool J’s “I Need Love”. The accompanying video is inspired by experimental filmmaker Sadie Benning’s lo-fi cartoon/live action work with Kathleen Hanna (Bikini Kill, Le Tigre) while also both satirizing and paying affectionate tribute to smooth-rapping lovermen like LL.

“If You Want To” features Beth Ditto in an animated world populated by insectoid humans (or humanoid insects?).

As stylistically diverse Agitation Free and Scream Club are, both groups have in common a desire to explore culture’s potential for positive change. “Video Vertov” and “And We Belong” foreground this theme. Wonder what a conversation between Ostertag and Conradt at a festival party would be like… whether they agree or disagree, it probably wouldn’t be boring.

Screening dates:

Video Vertov

Sa, April 20, 2013 6:00 p.m. Uhr Babylon
Mo, April 22, 2013 7:15 p.m. Uhr Passage
Tue, April 23, 2013 5:30 p.m. Babylon

And You Belong

Fr, April 19, 2013 9:30 p.m. Passage
Wed, April 24, 2013 9:30 p.m. Filmtheater am Friedrichshain