Rascals in Abu Dhabi: the SCHLiNGEL film festival comes to town

Finn (Miran Selcuk) and Jola (Lotte Engels) outpace the hapless authorities in Stefan Westerwelle’s A Summer of Surprises. Image Jens Hauspurg

The German word ‘Schlingel’ loosely translates as ‘rascal’. It’s also the name of one of the world’s best established film festivals for children and young people, held since 1995 in the German city of Chemnitz and set this year for its 29th edition (25 September to 3 October).

The SCHLiNGEL International Film Festival always has a large selection of international short and feature films – last time 171 films from over 50 countries were screened to 20,000 film fans of all ages – and any filmmaker active in this field wants to be shown at SCHLiNGEL, not least because its juried prizes are so highly rated.

Now Abu Dhabi is getting a taste of SCHLiNGEL, with a mini festival of films that were first screened in Chemnitz. SCHLiNGEL Abu Dhabi is organised by Goethe-Institut Gulf Region, the local arm of the Federal Republic of Germany’s international cultural institute, and for this year it’s a weekend of films mostly suitable for ages from 9 or 10 up; if it goes well, we can expect an expanded version in the future.

In part the goal is to introduce new audiences to German talent – all the features being shown and most of the shorts were made in Germany. But it will surely also have the effect of introducing new possibilities to local filmmakers; because SCHLiNGEL provides an overview of the latest international productions, and one of its goals is to motivate distributors and television stations in the Federal Republic to include such films in their programming.

SCHLiNGEL Abu Dhabi runs in the Black Box theatre at The Arts Center, NYUAD, between 6 and 8 June. All screenings are free, but prebooking is recommended; the features are all in German, but with English subtitles.

Two of the films being shown are directed by one of Germany’s top filmmakers for young people, Stefan Westerwelle, and he’ll be at the screenings of his films to talk about his work and take audience questions.

The programme:

  • Thursday 6 June
  • 9.30am – 11.20am Weekend Rebels / Wochenendrebellen dir Marc Rothemund, 2023: 109 min, suitable for age 9+
  • 12pm – 1.30pm A Summer of Surprises / Kannawoniwasein dir Stefan Westerwelle, 2023: 90 min, suitable for age 10+
  • 5.30pm – 7pm Into The Beat / Dein Herz Tanzt dir Stefan Westerwelle, Germany, 2020: 90 min, suitable for age 14+
  • Friday 7 June
  • 9.30am – 10.30am Short film programme: 58 min, suitable for age 4+
  • 11.30am – 12pm A Summer of Surprises / Kannawoniwasein dir Stefan Westerwelle, 2023: 90 min, suitable for age 10+
  • 5.30pm – 7.20pm Weekend Rebels / Wochenendrebellen dir Marc Rothemund, 2023: 109 min, suitable for age 9+
  • Saturday 8 June
  • 9.30am – 10.30am Short film programme: 58 min, suitable for age 4+
  • 11.30am – 12pm A Summer of Surprises / Kannawoniwasein dir Stefan Westerwelle, 2023: 90 min, suitable for age 10+
  • 5.30pm – 7.20pm Weekend Rebels / Wochenendrebellen dir Marc Rothemund, 2023: 109 min, suitable for age 9+

The films:

Into The Beat / Dein Herz Tanzt

Dancing is in Katya’s blood, and she’s training hard to follow in the footsteps of her parents, both famous dancers. She’s on the verge of an audition for the New York Ballet Academy; but then she discovers street dance by chance and is captivated by it. She doesn’t want to disappoint her father, so she continues rehearsing Sleeping Beauty … but in the afternoon she dances hiphop with the Sonic Tigers Crew, and especially with the gifted Marlon. Which will she choose?

This is a great coming-of-age movie with a feel-good vibe and a strong but deftly handled ideological message: the hip hop culture is full of new age dynamism and it tears down the class barriers that still surround classical ballet … The director Stefan Westerwelle doesn’t dance himself (“I absolutely can’t dance”) but he says he always had a strong affinity with dance, especially from watching dance movies with his mother. “„There is something magical about them,” he says. “They’re about young people struggling with big issues: ‘Where do I go? Can I be loved for who I am?’” Adults might smile indulgently over a teenager’s perhaps overdramatic attempts to find answers – “but I believe that deep inside we still struggle with the same issues. Maybe that’s what makes dance movies so special, they remind us of the things that we’re still dreaming of”.

Into the Beat has fine acting especially from the two leads (Alexandra Pfeifer and Yalany Marschner), a tight screenplay, and good direction; the choreography is excellent, and the outdoor dancescapes are great.

A Summer of Surprises / Kannawoniwasein

Westerwelle’s most recent film is something of a contrast. Where dance provides the superstructure for Into the Beat, in this comedy-drama road movie it’s a quirky friendship and a glorious adventure. There’s still a realistic family tension, though, with lonely 10-year-old Finn travelling back and forth between his divorced parents; he’s a child who finds himself pushed away from the world, forgotten and unloved.

Finn is robbed on the train back to Berlin, and neither the conductor nor the police believe that his backpack and ticket have disappeared. En route to the police station, the car is hit by a delivery van. While the police and driver are negotiating, 12-year-old Jola appears – wild, adventurous, probably ADHD, and unhappy about being sent to spend the holidays with her annoying grandmother in Poland. She persuades Finn to go to the seaside with her, but first the thief from the train has to be caught … And the adventures begin, a catalogue of bizarre characters and unlikely situations including a biker gang, a real wolf, and a convincing villain.

Based on the award-winning series of YA novels by Martin Muser, A Summer of Surprises delivers in spades – it won the main award for the best feature film for children at the 2023 Zlin Film Festival (the world’s longest-running children’s and youth film festival) in the Czech Republic. The messages about friendship and self-confidence are clear but not unsubtle: the two young actors who play the kids – Miran Selcuk and Lotte Engels – are genuinely talented, and Westerwelle himself is obviously having a lot of fun too behind the camera.

Weekend Rebels / Wochenendrebellen

Ten-year-old Jason is autistic and his routines are non-negotiable. The educational establishment is keen to transfer Jason to a special needs school, which no one wants. Jason’s father Mirco makes a pact with his son: the boy promises to do his best at school if Mirco helps him find a football club that will become his favourite.

But to choose that club, Jason has to see all the candidates play live in their respective stadiums – that’s all 56 teams in the first, second and third German leagues. And Jason has very specific criteria – from mascots, sustainability and players‘ rituals to the colours of the football boots and the absence of Nazis from the fanbase. On their extraordinary journeys through Germany, father and son leave their home routines behind and find everything they were never looking for but definitely needed …

This sports comedy is actually based on the autobiographical account of Mirco and Jason von Juterczenka, and it manages three powerful themes deftly – the touching father-son relationship, the unique viewpoint of an autistic child, a passionate love of football. There are poignant moments and sadness, joy and celebration, and a subtle tension throughout. It’s an engaging film, with excellent acting from Florian David Fitz as Mirco and Cecilio Andresen as Jason. And it’s a must if you like football …

Short film programme

Eleven animated short films, none longer than eight minutes, drawn from the SCHLiNGEL festivals of the last few years. There are some real starlets in this hour-long programme – we’d certainly recommend Susann Hoffmann’s Looks, a beautifully drawn three-minute parable about the need to belong (above): Tundergarth (Spin Cycle) by Gurli Bachmann, where a pair of socks get lost in a washing machine; and Avant Card, Stella Raith’s tale of a postcard character journeying through the diverse world of postcards.

The filmlets are all animated, all wordless, and all very suitable for kids aged 4-10 years (and probably older too, since magpie enjoyed them).

  • Little Karl and the Elephants dir Friedrich Kießling 8 min
  • Night Moves dir Falk Schuster 4 min
  • Master Painter Bah Bizons’ Balloon Ride dir Uli Seis 2 min
  • Red dir Chen Yang 7 min
  • Wombo dir Daniel Acht 8 min
  • Fox for Edgar dir Pauline Kortmann 8 min
  • Avant Card dir Stella Raith 5 min
  • spin cycle dir Gurli Bachmann 7 min
  • Family Bonds dir Maria Schmidt 7 min
  • Looks dir Susann Hoffmann 3 min
  • Cat Lake City dir Antje Heyn 7 min
SCHLiNGEL Abu Dhabi runs in The Arts Center’s Black Box theatre on 6, 7 and 8 June. Find more information here.

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