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Twenty-five years ago, when Thorsten Neumann launched a new film festival (with his old school chum, and now Beta Cinema executive, Thorsten Ritter), independent film had just entered a golden age. It was 1994, the year of Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction, Kevin Smith’s Clerks, Peter Jackson’s Heavenly Creatures and Wong Kar Wai’s Chungking Express. Indie film — fast, cheap and out of control — was back.
“It felt like New Hollywood lite, so many things were happening, so many new directors coming in from all over, and it felt open to everyone,” Neumann recalls. “It was easy to set up a festival. You could just call up people and they were interested.”
The two Thorstens picked the town of Oldenburg, Germany, for their indie film fest simply because Ritter had studied there. They began to program the kind of films they loved — weird, experimental movies, both new and rediscovered. Their first retrospective was for the works of maverick British director Alex Cox (Repo Man, Sid and Nancy).
A tone was set.
“It was about movies that were exciting and entertaining but also smart, ones that challenged an audience,” says Neumann.
Oldenburg’s 2018 lineup is characteristically unclassifiable, and includes at least one title certain to generate controversy. In addition to typically eclectic fare like John Hyams’ SXSW audience award winner All Square, the fest will screen James Toback’s The Private Life of a Modern Woman, starring Sienna Miller. In anticipation of a possible backlash for screening a Toback film now, after hundreds of women have come forward to accuse the director of harassment and abuse, Neumann defends the decision. “Sienna Miller is in every scene and nearly every frame of Modern Woman,” he says. “The entire film is Sienna’s performance, and she is masterful. For her work to go unseen would only add another female victim and artist to an imbalanced system that we’re all trying to equalize.”
One guaranteed Oldenburg highlight this year is the Sundance standout Mandy, Panos Cosmatos’ bloody thriller that features Nicolas Cage. If ever there was an actor who embodies the Oldenburg ethos, it’s the eccentric Cage. The man himself seemed to acknowledge that fact when he attended Oldenburg in 2016 to accept a lifetime achievement honor. Other indie stalwarts who have made the trek to Oldenburg include Matthew Modine, Stacy Keach and Amanda Plummer.
“I wish there was a festival like Oldenburg in every pocket of the world,” says Plummer. “I just wish more theaters, run by people outside the studio cartel, would show some of these films — these mind-blowing, independent movies that Oldenburg has every year.”
This story first appeared in the Sept. 5 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
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