„Cute animal babies are not interesting“

Green Screen festival director Gerald Grote talks about the up-coming nature film festival in Eckernförde – and his personal film favourites

Working for the nature-film: Gerald Grote in front of the festival-office in Eckernfoerde. Foto Michael Ruff

For ten years running Eckernförde turns into a festival city in autumn. At that time the international nature film festival Green Screen takes place, according to information provided by the leader it is the largest festival in Europe with the largest audience. The Green Screen concept was developed by filmmaker Gerald Grote from Kiel who is also the festival director. In the interview Grote tells us how it all came about and why he worries about nature film in Germany.

Mr. Grote do you remember the first nature film you have ever seen?
No, not the film, but I remember the voice of the narrator. It was Prof. Grzimek‘s, and I’ll never forget it.
One of the big protagonists of nature films who explained the world to the German public at the time.
Indeed. Heinz Sielmann, Jacques Cousteau, Hans Hass and also Horst Stern, one shouldn’t forget him. And Eugen Schumacher, who is hardly remembered now. Interestingly these men all come back because today‘s nature films refer to them. The technology has changed, but there are still many references to these pioneers.
What are these references?
They were telling stories for the first time with their pictures and their narrative style. Also the courage and attitude of these early film makers. Unfortunately in this context we see that the editorial departments of the public TV stations are not as courageous as the people making the films for them.The funds are being cut. Soccer gets more expensive and there is no money for real content. With the costs for one soccer broadcast at the European championship one could have commissioned 22 nature films.
Will this issue be a topic at the festival?
Maybe we should put more emphasis on this topic. We always enjoy these wonderful films and don’t make it clear enough under which hardships they are made. For the annual income of a nature film maker a professional soccer player wouldn’t put his foot on the grass. Something has to happen otherwise these wonderful works which we show will not be affordable for those who make them. This topic worries me a lot.
How does the lack of courage show?
Do they film only cute and presentable animals? That, too. Showing a film about battery farming during prime time, which Horst Stern did for the first time, is unthinkable today. Even Grzimek or Sielmann wouldn’t be on anymore because they too were courageous.
Telling stories in wildlife films is quite controversial. Critics say that animal behaviour is forced into a human pattern to make the pictures most touching.
Those stories point out certain issues and I would not see that too critically. We want to reach people and this is a little trick. The first wild life films showed big game hunters shooting animals. And at some point we learned what a nature film is: it tells a story, does not interfere but observes only. It does not harm animals nor tries to influence their behaviour. That also goes for filming in a studio.
Is there an animal which you personally don’t want to see anymore?
Yes, sweet baby animals. Personally, I find that uninteresting.
Does the jury look at films with animal babies more critically?
Not at all, we benefit from them: if you show a film with baby elephants it will most certainly be sold out.
And if you are showing the reproduction behaviour of lizards that would not be the case?
Yes, that is more difficult. Nevertheless, topics and films which are less popular have a place at an international film festival.
Are there any social trends, which are brought into the festival?
Yes. We sometimes place these topics ourselves. We once had a very controversial film – „My sexy High Heels“. It showed that women’s shoes were made from the hide of unborn calves, because it is very soft. People became sick one after the other. We don’t just have pretty pictures but also controversial topics. That’s why the price for ‘Green Report’ was created. The best nature film for me is anyway the one which stirs things up a little.
How many films are sent in annually?
About 200 this year from 35 different countries. Worldwide about 500 films are made, if about half of them submit that is very good. About 100 Films from 20 countries make it into the festival programme. That’s the rule of thumb.
This year you are celebrating 10 years  Green Screen-Festival. Is there a moment during this period which stuck with you?
Yes, it was the first day of the first festival. We sat together at the evening before the opening, drank too much beer and said: “Nobody will show up tomorrow.” We had only one box office. At least we knew that some schools had made reservations and we wouldn’t be completely on our own. And suddenly it was packed. From these modest beginnings a steady flow of volunteers developed, who still support us with their incredible dedication. We have 120 volunteers. Some of them take a holiday to help at the festival. Sometimes I am moved to tears because of so much identification.
Where will the festival be in 10 years?
I would like to have my own festival theatre to facilitate nature film beyond the time of the festival. Eckernförde is, what many people don’t know, the only film festival town without a movie theatre. This is my official wish. And my personal dream is to see a beautiful marine film in Eckernförde on a big screen that is build up in the water.
Interview: Martin Schulte, Translation: Barbara Schlesinger

Green Screen festival director Grote criticises public service television

ECKERNFÖRDE  This coming Wednesday the nature film festival Green Screen opens its doors in Eckernförde. The 10th edition of this international meeting point for the film making community brings many professionals to Schleswig-Holstein. Festival director Gerald Grote talks in this interview about the beginnings of the festival and issues a warning about the growing faintheartedness in public service broadcasting, concerning the funding of films. „Something has to happen, otherwise these unusual films which we show cannot be financed by filmmakers.“ Grote criticises TV-stations for shortening the financial means for nature films.