Born in the southern German city of Konstanz, in 1942, Ulrike Ottinger is the granddaughter of a kosher butcher and Jewish mother who survived the war with fake documents.
By Oliver Bradley
The 70th Berlin International Film Festival announced that director and artist Ulrike Ottinger will be honoured with its prestigious Berlinale Camera.
In their press release announcing the award committee’s decision, the festival’s newly installed director-duo, Mariette Rissenbeek and Carlo Chatrian wrote: “With the Berlinale Camera, we celebrate artists whose work has always maintained a close relationship between the subjects which comprise cinema and the act of ‘film-making’ itself. In light of this, Ulrike Ottinger is the ideal recipient of an award that bears the word ‘camera’. As a painter, a photographer, an all-round artist, she has always regarded cinema as a form of art which is created and crafted by meeting other people, objects, books, stories, places, sets in which reality makes itself felt. Her latest film Paris Calligrammes is a beautiful autobiography and a captivating journey through time.”
In her acceptance letter, Ottinger thanked the festival’s leadership for “such a wonderful prize,” adding her hope that “a miracle will come out of [the award]and my wish that my script will be transformed into a film with moving pictures will be fulfilled.”
Ottinger, who has been one of the most important German filmmakers since the 1970s , has led a career that is hardly in need of miracles – unlike her birth in wartime Nazi Germany and her adolescence in post-war Germany.
Born in the southern German city of Konstanz, in 1942, Ottinger is the granddaughter of a kosher butcher and Jewish mother who survived the war with fake documents. Although she survived the war, she grew up with a stark sense of what it means to be an outsider.
“I had to deal with resentment as a child in [a]monastery school, I was always an outsider. But being outside the norm is what makes you awake for others,” she told Zeit-Magazin in an interview of January 14, 2016.
Being “outside the norm” caught the attention of those who recognized Ottinger’s artistic prowess and paved the way for international recognition of her works.
In addition to the Berlinale, her films have been shown at numerous international festivals and have received various recognitions, including at the Cinémathèque française in Paris and the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
Ottinger’s film work comprises 25 short, documentary and feature films. She was awarded the Deutsche Filmpreis (Federal Film Prize) and repeatedly received the German Film Critics Award. In 2011, the Hannah Höch Prize of the City of Berlin was bestowed upon her for an outstanding artistic life’s work. This encompasses not only film, but also theatre directing, painting and photography. Her artistic work has been shown at the Biennale di Venezia, the documenta and the Berlin Biennale.
Ulrike Ottinger initially worked as a freelance artist in Paris before she directed with Tabea Blumenschein in 1972-73 her first film Laokoon & Söhne (Laocoon & Sons). She then moved to Berlin, where she still lives today. Beginning in 1979, she realised her “Berlin Trilogy”: Bildnis einer Trinkerin (Portrait of a Female Drunkard. Ticket of No Return), Freak Orlando and Dorian Gray im Spiegel der Boulevardpresse (Dorian Gray in the Mirror of the Yellow Press).
A series of long documentaries followed, such as China. Die Künste – Der Alltag and Taiga, works which were created when travelling through Asian countries. In Countdown she applied a comparable ethnographic perspective to a Berlin between the fall of the Berlin Wall and the reunification. In her longest documentary so far, Chamissos Schatten (Chamisso’s Shadow) from 2016, Ulrike Ottinger embarks upon a voyage for several months, tracing the course of Adelbert von Chamisso through the Bering Sea.
Chamissos Schatten is just one of a dozen of Ottinger’s films which were invited to the Berlinale during her career. The majority ran in the Forum, Johanna D’Arc of Mongolia (Joan of Arc of Mongolia) competed in the Competition in 1989. Her first Berlinale contribution, Dorian Gray im Spiegel der Boulevardpresse from 1984, ran again last year in the context of the Retrospective “Self-determined – Perspectives of women filmmakers”.
The Berlinale Camera, which pays tribute to personalities and institutions who have made a special contribution to filmmaking and with whom the festival feels closely connected, is a miniature camera consisting of 128 moveable parts made of silver and titanium. Recipients have included Gina Lolobrigida, Clint Eastwood, Daniel Day-Lewis and the grande-dame of Israel’s film archive and festival circuit, Lia Van Lier.
The prize will be awarded to Ulrike Ottinger on Saturday, February 22, at 4.00 pm in the Haus der Berliner Festspiele. The world premiere of Ottinger’s documentary Paris Calligrammes will be presented afterwards in the Berlinale Special.
The Berlin Film Festival will run from February 20 to March 1, 2020.