Spotlight on: Filmladen

Spotlight on: Filmladen © Diagonale/Elodie Grethen

On the occasion of the Filmladen film distributor’s 40th anniversary, the Diagonale highlights the early phase of an institution that began as the consortium of four personalities from the Austrian film branch.

In the upcoming edition of the festival, the Diagonale will dedicate the Spotlight on program, with which it has highlighted distinctive signatures in Austrian film production in past years, for the first time to a collective. The program series will focus not only on a film distributor crucial for the Austrian film branch, but also on its central protagonists: founding members Josef Aichholzer, Ruth Beckermann, and Franz Grafl, as well as Michael Stejskal, who joined the group a short time after its founding and continues to preside over the Filmladen as distributor until today.


Film Program

Auf amol a Streik (D: Josef Aichholzer, Ruth Beckermann, AT 1978), Short documentary film
Flaschenkinder (D: Peter Krieg, DE 1975), Short documentary film
Mababangong Bangungot (D: Kidlat Tahimik, DE/PH 1977), Feature film
Malambo (D: Milan Dor, AT 1986), Feature film
Mourir à tue-tête (D: Anne Claire Poirier, CA 1978), Feature film
Salt of the Earth (D: Herbert Biberman, US 1954), Feature film
Senderos (D: Leo Gabriel, AT 1989), Short film

In the 1970s, when the Filmladen collective formed, apart from the Austrian Film Museum, Austrian film culture concentrated on initiatives such as the Freies Kino, the Action Kino, and several film clubs located in university institutes. The situation was also similar in Innsbruck, Graz, Linz, and Salzburg. During the occupation of the Arena in 1976, the collective’s first cinema program was offered an ideal location for an entire summer: the pigsty at the St. Marx slaughterhouse. The Filmladen ultimately emerged from these activities in 1978, and brought politically relevant films to Austria, offering a powerful signal in opposition to the conformism of the media landscape at the time. Tying in with the festival’s historical special, the Spotlight on series traces the efforts of the early Filmladen collective and opens the issue of how international film and cinema culture reached the regions beyond the country’s capital. While in the provincial cinemas Heimatfilme or lewd fare were playing, the Filmladen was attempting the largely unknown Autorenkino – long before terms such as Arthouse Cinema had emerged. As distributors, and as filmmakers, the three founding members and Stejskal proved to be idealistically and politically alert in all of their activities – and undoubtedly contributed to the politicizing of the Austrian film scene. What they offered was taken up for good reason by film clubs, Catholic and left-wing one-world groups, peace activists, unions, women’s groups, and anti-nuclear organizations.

It can also be said that although the films from the early days of the Filmladen sometimes appear aesthetically outdated in 2018, they nonetheless deal with themes that are just as topical today as they were back then: In Herbert Biberman’s film Salt of the Earth (US 1954), for example, a woman speaks out against her husband who has just raised his hand to slap her. – Programmatic, and not by chance, the first film offered by the Filmladen. Like many of the works shown, Salt of the Earth is a re-discovery, its screening in the cinema is a true special feature, and a rare opportunity to see a film such as this on the screen.

An international program at the Diagonale’18 will also be showing Auf amol a Streik (AT 1978) by Josef Aichholzer and Ruth Beckermann, Malambo (AT 1986) by Milan Dor, Flaschenkinder (DE 1975) by Peter Krieg, Mababangong Bangungot (DE/PH 1977) by Kidlat Tahimik, and Mourir à tue-tête (CA 1978) by Anne Claire Poirier.
Mababangong Bangungot tells the story of young Kidlat, who lives with his mother in a village on the Philippines and dreams of going to America. One day it seems that Kidlat’s dreams have come true. An American man takes him with him, first on a long journey to Europe, where, confronted with a technocratic, cold industrial society, he begins to question his earlier dreams.Flaschenkinder focuses on the problem and the effects of the distribution of artificial baby food in Africa by the Nestlé concern. “The theme did not appear on TV in the late 1970s”, says Franz Grafl, who addresses the film as a typical broadsheet film: “It informs. But its commentary does not make an effort at objectivity, which can never exist in journalism, anyway.” In the context of the Diagonale im Dialog series, Michael Loebenstein (Director, Austrian Film Museum) invites to an extended talk with the Filmladen collective after the short film.

Malambo portrays an endearing community of “cloud pushers”, and “castle in the sky builders”, who dream of another life. “This film awakened our interest in new Austrian film”, recalls Grafl. The casually uttered statement by the then ORF director Gerd Bacher, “Austrian film takes place at ORF”, was countered by the vibrant and impressive experience of a trip to the cinema, for which the majority of the team worked free of charge. A further program juxtaposes two films about strikes: In Salt of the Earth, Mexican mine workers struggle for equal rights with their American colleagues, while Auf amol a Streik documents the only strike in Austria since the end of the war to last more than three weeks, which occurred in the Semperit tire factory in Traiskirchen in May 1978.

Finally, Mourir à tue-tête shows the history of a brutal rape and its consequences through to a woman’s suicide. By fading in documentary recordings, the film goes beyond Suzanne’s personal fate and draws links to other forms of women’s social repression. A significant film in the campaign by Johanna Dohnal, the State Secretary for General Women’s Affairs at the time, for the later founding of the Commission on Equal Treatment.


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