For assistant professor Sebastian Heiduschke, bringing German cinema to Corvallis is a way to engage people in films they might not otherwise have the opportunity—or even motivation—to see. His first week-long German-language film festival, “Biber Blick I — German Film Festival,” will show at the Darkside Cinema in Corvallis Oct. 8-12, and celebrates both recent releases and a retrospective of films from the 1970s and 1980s by East German filmmaker Iris Gusner. The Gusner retrospective will be the West Coast premiere of the movies.

The festival is also a learning opportunity for Gusner’s students. Two classes, GER 199 and GER 299, will be taught during the festival.

We recently had a chance to catch up with Heiduschke and talk to him about the festival, what his students get out of it and why even the movies you hate can have value.

How did you choose the films you screen in Corvallis?

I basically look at what is playing at the Berlin Film Festival in February. I go through the website, reading reviews. Then I look at if I can get a screener, and look at some trailers. Then I talk to colleagues who have watched the films already.

How do you narrow it down? Do you consider films thematically, or pick the best of the Berlin festival?

I try to pick the biggest hit in Berlin. Sometimes I try to get the surprise film, or the one that resonates most with the people there. Because I think also it’s probably one of the ones that would be popular here.

Winter's Daughter
"Winter's Daughter" is one of the films that will be playing at the festival.

Have you found that what you choose for people to see here resonates in the same way than it tends to in places like Berlin?

Well, yes and no. Some of the films I show are not necessarily the popular films, but sometimes also independent productions or art films—things that would play in L.A. or New York, and that would be it. But in Corvallis you can try and see what happens.

What do you hope your students get out of it?

Pretty much like with any other film that I show – that they’re open, that they immerse themselves in that type of a film experience. It’s seeking out other films—not just German films—that they would never go to see. The films play at the Darkside Cinema. Many do not know that such a cinema exists in Corvallis.  I think that’s something that we need to support simply because you cannot see these smaller independent productions anywhere else but at the Darkside.

Are most of the students in your film classes studying German?

Some. But some of them don’t take German at all. They go because they want to experience something and see something different. And it’s a lot cheaper than flying to Berlin!

What motivated you to do the Iris Gusner retrospective?

I was offered the West Coast premier of “All My Girls.” And the fairy tale that we’re showing, “The Blue Light,” the subtitles were created here at OSU. My students in German 355 last winter term worked on subtitles. These are the subtitles that will be shown everywhere. They get credit in the film.

What do you like about Gusner? What is special about her in the realm of East German filmmaking?

When you think of East German film, often you don’t’ think that this type of film was actually that liberal, that open, that critical and creative. You think it’s more regulated and censored. She was one of only 5 female feature filmmakers for East Germany, ever. She was one of only 2 making what I would consider feminist films. I like being able to show that East Germany was not just the gray, drab, regulated state. But film was very critical and confrontational at times. The Gusner films show the different nuances—the things that she was able to do.

What are some highlights of the upcoming festival? Without spoiling anything, what can people expect?

A little bit of everything. Comedies, like Baiknour, for example, the one taking place in Kazakhstan. That is a great comedy. Also the cinematography is outstanding. That would be really good to see on bigger screen, instead of an iPad or cell phone. 

All of the films are somewhat international. German films are not just German productions anymore. They take place in a more international setting. They have more than one language featured often.

Combat Girls
"Combat Girls" is about an angry teen whose worldview is upended when
she meets an Afghan refugee.

Do you have a favorite?

I do. But I don’t know that I want to give it away.

Will any of these films be available on DVD in the U.S.?

I don’t know which films will get picked up by a U.S. distributor. I would guess that Biknour might. Others? Probably not. Like “Winter’s Daughter,” the Monday film. I have my doubts that it will be released on DVD in the U.S., even though it’s an excellent film.

And seeing the Gusner films in the movie theatre is probably your only chance.

Do you choose films based on how you interpret them and what you think would be valuable? Or do you get caught up in the audiences’ reaction to films? Is that part of what influences you?

My research has to do a lot with audiences. I go to film festivals not just because I want to see the films. I sit in the back and I look at how the audience reacts to them. You get the vibe of everyone. I want to be the first one out, and then I stand at the door and listen to what people say and think.

Do you ever just go to watch a movie? Or can you not help to pay attention to the audience?

I always pay attention to the audience. That’s why I like going to the movies instead of watching them at home. When you’re at home you’re in your own space, maybe with some friends. But otherwise you don’t have people you don’t know. I like to know who leaves a theatre. Does anybody leave at all? Or is the film so gripping that people do not leave at all, not for a drink or to go to the bathroom.

What was the last movie you saw that was as gripping?

I would say it’s probably one I saw at the San Francisco Film Festival last year:  Andreas Dresen’s “Stopped on Track.” It was a very sad and touching film about a young man who learns he has a brain tumor, and dies. I had to go to the bar afterward and have a drink.

What kind of buzz do you get from your students after your screenings?

It’s also a mixed bag, but one of the biggest compliments was, ‘I never thought that a film like this would ever play in Corvallis.’

On the other side of the spectrum but what I also took as a compliment was, ‘I will never get these two hours back.’

I thought, ‘Well wonderful. You watched a film you would have never watched. You’ve grown up watching the same kind of Hollywood movies your whole life. And this film doesn’t give you closure, or a sense of who’s a good guy and who’s not. Even though you hated that film, you sat through the film and you were engaged, even if it’s with total aversion.’

All films are subtitled and will play at the Darkside Cinema, 215 S.W. 4th St., Corvallis. The schedule is:

Monday, Oct. 8, 8 p.m.:
Winter's Daughter” (Wintertochter ) 2011. Eleven-year-old Kattaka is celebrating Christmas with her parents at home in Berlin when an unexpected phone call turns her world upside down. She begins an unusual road trip through Eastern Europe to find her real father.

Tuesday, Oct. 9, 8 p.m.: Baikonur,” 2012. An unusual love triangle in a small village among the local residents who collect the space debris that falls from the nearby Baikonur space station.

Wednesday, Oct. 10, Iris Gusner Retrospective.

7 p.m.: “The Blue Light” (Das blaue Licht) 1978. A farmer who is being sent to war goes on a magical journey that includes meeting a beautiful princess, a dwarf, a witch and a king, who holds his life in his hands. Subtitles to this film created by OSU students.

8:30 p.m.: “All my Girls” (Alle meine Mädchen) 1980. A film student making a documentary about a brigade of women workers gets to know the personalities in the lamp factory, including brazen Susie, reprobate Kerstin, lonely Anita, single Ella, withdrawn Gertrud and the superior forewoman.

Thursday, Oct. 11, 8 p.m.: Combat Girls” (Kriegerin) 2011. An angry young woman with hatred of foreigners and outsiders meets an Afghan refugee and begins to have her worldview changed.  Adults only.

Friday, Oct. 12. 8 p.m.: Lessons of a Dream” (Der ganz große Traum) 2011. In 1874 a young teacher in Germany experiments with a highly contested way of teaching English to his students: by introducing football despite the protests by the community.

For more information on the films and the festival, visit the German blog at Oregon State.