Oldenburg Film Festival at 25: Founder Picks Best Films, Moments and Parties

'A Coffee in Berlin'

Selected favorites from a quarter century of indie cinema at "Germany's Sundance."

The Oldenburg Film Festival — Germany's leading indie festival, dubbed "Germany's Sundance" — turns 25 this year.

In honor of a quarter century of bringing the weird, wonderful and cutting edge in modern cinema to a tiny town in Northern Germany, The Hollywood Reporter asked festival co-founder and director Torsten Neumann to pick his favorite films, moments and parties from two and a half decades in Oldenburg.


A Coffee in Berlin (2012, Winner, Audience Award, German Independence Award, Best Actor Award)

Clearly the biggest success to come out of Oldenburg. After choosing it as our opening night film in 2012 we immediately knew it was destined for a wider audience. The film won all three awards – audience, jury and best actor for star Tom Schilling. It went on to sweep the German Film Awards the following year.

Familiye (2017, Winner, German Independence Award)
Such a triumph of pure Independent film making. Familye had no connection to the industry at all, until (German star) Moritz Bleibtreu took it under his wings and brought it to Oldenburg. It is the most intense filmmaking, showcasing talent that just needs to be given a chance in the industry … something that doesn't happen often enough. Everyone tends to just rely on the films that come out of the system. But it's important to take a look beyond and also to dare to support the outsiders.

Hardcore (2004, Winner German Independence Award)

One of our very early success stories. The film had its international premiere in Oldenburg, in front of a very enthusiastic audience, and won the audience award, en route to a successful festival tour. And it was Dennis Illiadis' Hollywood calling card. He went on to direct The Last House on the Left and Delirium.

That Man from Rio (Retrospective 2003)

As the retrospectives and tributes are such a special part of our profile, this one remains one of my personal highlights of the past 25 years. Director Philippe De Broca was never appreciated enough as a filmmaker beyond light entertainment, but we honored him as the filmmaker Francois Truffaut called “a poet of gentle ridicule."

One of my very special moments was to introduce That Man from Rio alongside De Broca to the audience. He told the famous story that Steven Spielberg supposedly watched That Man From Rio nine times and it inspired him to do Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Wolfen (Tribute 2008)

This film is maybe the most underappreciated, or even misunderstood, film of all time. Director Michael Wadleigh could always and only be a political filmmaker, even when he was doing a genre horror film like this one. The studio (Orion Pictures) obviously didn’t have a clue of how to market Wolfen.

When we honored Wadleigh in 2008, he'd been gone from Hollywood and the movie industry for years. No one had an idea of how and where to get a hold of him. We’d been trying to track him down for quite a few a years before we found him: Living in Wales of all places! It was one of my all-time favorite tributes and I think Wolfen is just a masterpiece.


Reach for Me Screening in 2008

This was my most memorable experience about the power of cinema. It was in 2008. Seymour Cassel had pushed the producers of Reach for Me to bring the film to Oldenburg. Seymour stars in it; LeVar Burton directed. 

We decided to present the film as a centerpiece premiere in Oldenburg’s beautiful State Theater. We had a packed screening – and once the films started I went out on the balcony with Seymour to have a smoke. After a while, one of my team members came running to us, all excited, and said the producer just ran out of the screening crying. We went back in to check on her and found she was completely overwhelmed by the reaction of the audience. Everyone was so touched by this film and especially Seymour’s performance that the whole room was crying.

It was something I never experienced before. When we walked onstage after the screening, the audience gave LeVar Burton a huge standing ovation and when Seymour walked onstage it was just unbelievable — a second standing ovation that wouldn’t end. That was the most beautiful and powerful proof of what cinema is capable of: The common experience within a group and the big screen has an impact that no home projection can ever compete with. It was the magic moment of my 25 years at Oldenburg.

The Way Premiering in the Lamberti Church

We presented the German premiere of Emilio Estevez’s The Way in 2010 at the Lamberti Church in the heart of Oldenburg. The place was completely packed, 700 people were sitting on wooden benches, the acoustics were not good at all, but still the screening created this magic moment where everyone was completely caught by the film.

After the screening, the attending stars Deborah Kara Unger and Yorick van Wageningen were receiving a long, lasting standing ovation, and after the screening I was hugged by many strangers. The unusual venue created something very special. These moments where cinema gets to people’s hearts are quite memorable.

Zulawski’s Anger and Zulawski’s Love

Saturday night at the festival in 2004, I received a call from the Casablanca cinema: “Torsten, I think you should come, your guest of Honor Andrzej Zulawski is pacing up and down in the aisles, loudly cursing the festival.”

He just did a test screening of the print of Possession and realized we only had the (German) dubbed version of the film, even though he made me promise beforehand to play nothing but the French original. When we couldn’t get a subtitled version I decided to go with the dubbed one without telling him — a big mistake. Zulawski made me suffer for this disrespect.

When I introduced him at the official screening, he called me out in front of the crowd and gave me shit — big time. But on closing night, he came up to me and apologized. He told me that he realized that we truly put our hearts into the festival and that he appreciated it. I asked him if he could repeat that on stage to the closing night audience. He didn’t hesitate.

When I asked him to join me on stage, it was such a touching moment. His speech was a pure love letter to our festival. I had to hide a few tears.


Prison Party
When the old prison in Oldenburg was closed, we got the chance to invade the place for a party. We had a French indie band MyPark playing a live concert in the halls, the cells were open and the bar was in the block-control area. It was a legendary night!

Punk Party – in an Undergound Parking Garage
This was one of the first parties that defined the Oldenburg Festival idea of creating events in locations that have never been used for a party before. It was 1998, German actor Til Schweiger was a rising star and he came to Oldenburg with Matthew Lillard to present his very first American film, James Merendino’s SLC Punk. We found the perfect location: An underground parking garage, complete with a cage for the VIP area. We even had an old car and a few sledgehammers and invited guests to smash it. Pure punk!

Empty Police Station
Maybe one of our the best locations ever.  The holding cells were converted to a drinks hangout and the whole atmosphere felt like John Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13.

Boarding School
The town boarding school still had all school equipment: The small chairs and tables, the blackboard and even some school books. We put the huge gym mats in one room as a hang out. Luke and Owen Wilson were in town that year and had a blast.