Kinder Tiere Greise als Sammler

Petting Zoo

Devon Keller (Layla) walks through San Antonio, Texas in Micah Magee’s film, Petting Zoo

I started writing professionally in the Eighties while living in Barcelona. This was not so long after Franco’s death, and even shorter after the fascist, but fortunately only days long, coup d’état, in a time when things seemed to be very open in Spain, under discussion, led by a number of magazines, the famous La Luna de Madrid for example, and Madriz, the magazine that worked everything into comics, so that it would meet the short attention span of the common drughead, the main audience in those days, and it happened under the unfatigable eye of the newspaper El Païs. Besides making me familiar with a daily bull fight critic (in the theatre section), this newspaper had taken over the task of welcoming back people who had fled Franco’s Spain (30 million dead, this is how I heard it described once, which is the whole population), and who had with some luck survived the meantime and other dark times in their host countries, mostly Latin American, and had now decided to return to Spain, to Madrid, to Barcelona, after this long exile.

Every day El Païs had at least one page for one of the homecoming sociologists, artists, unionists, poets, actors, philosophers, heroes of then, and they were portrayed, honoured and reintroduced to the people who had forced them out, and to the new ones who had started to construct a new, a different Spain. Forces were joined, that’s how it felt, people found allies, the past was not dead, it seemed, but was populated with forgotten friends.

This was impressive (and not only because I knew that nothing of this kind had ever happened in Germany or Austria), and reminiscing about it, and perhaps reminded of it because of today’s victory of an anti-eviction and housing activist in her candidature for Mayor of Barcelona (and the knowledge that this is not imaginable back home in Berlin either), I thought of dedicating this column, normally known as fierce criticism of the ignorant and unjust art market, to people who leave Berlin, and I’m sad they do. However, this is not going to be personal, but a story about structure. A Berlin structure.

Because it is not so welcoming. We have to admit it, and most of the people a decent city would be glad to have, living and producing here, don’t get any recognition. Berlin proudly boasts an event schedule, theatre fulfills the need of something having to happen on a daily basis, but it has no institutions, no interesting, working, experimenting institutions, be it universities, academies or museums (but has found a budget to reconstruct a castle, to reconstruct this badly lit building block of two or three representative halls and thousands of square meters of dark corridors, a prison-like architecture, the built inhuman efficiency of Prussian kings who have used the city mainly as breeding grounds for their military, a long German tradition), and with these failing institutions it only aliments some insignificant but functioning bureaucrats and old men, dignified highly paid annuitants, and this exceedingly makes the people whose presence made it worthwhile to live here become commuters, and then leave.

This text is about what we lose when Micah Magee leaves Berlin, as she is invited to teach in Denmark, and it is also about her film, Petting Zoo, which premiered at the last Berlinale, in February 2015. Petting Zoo is a very good and astonishing film, and this it is because of its totally un-clichéed storytelling, in an unpredictable and un-doomed non-linearity. It may remind you of Irmgard Keun’s Gilgi, Eine von uns, in case you know it, and you should (the somehow similar novel that, in 1930, blew up every convention about guilt and dependency young women were supposed to endure, like in say Kuhle Wampe), because it clearly shows that, even if society may be doing its best to construct prisons—and see the Texas school building or the hospital that some scenes of Petting Zoo are set in—people are not prison inmates, they don’t all develop Stockholm syndrome, they are not part of it, but may take unexpected turns, bearing a lightness, an un-attachedness, a playful star-like quality, that shows that things may change every minute.

Petting Zoo is what is called a coming-of-age story, and in this is comparable, if only thematically, to two other German films that also premiered at this year’s Berlinale. One is called Victoria, and seemingly circles around a young woman, like Petting Zoo does, the other one was Als wir träumten, depicting a growing-up story in unification Leipzig, with a 1950s set up—as the taz critic put it: Die Halbstarken— for the only female lead. The young women depicted in both films are contemporary, though timeless, projections of older men, boring in their predictability (cruel but tearful), paving the way to disaster for those who fall for them, and in the end punished. And these films show us cities, in one case Berlin, and their projected inhabitants, especially the mysterious lower classes (played by the middle class). Cities we know not to exist like this, but sprung from the distinction-affine minds of the tourism creatives. In opposition, Magee’s film shows us something about a world we don’t know, while evoking feelings that resonate in experiences, some deeply hidden in everyone’s remembrance of growing up.

It should be seen.

All that was covered in Berlin’s (Germany’s) newspapers and magazines were Victoria and the other film, though. It was not coverage by enthusiastic film-critics, no, it was an economy-conscious, quota-related German film business coverage, the like that starts counting German films the moment they are accepted at film festivals, and defends in all too transparent ravings every Euro spent by the film boards. They wrote big feature articles about them, welcomed their originality (!), found small flaws in story or characters, but welcomed the steadfastness of German cinema and its output. Every imaginable world will forget about both films immediately (until they will be reminded by their scheduling in ARD and ZDF, to which their were sold immediately, no doubt about that, and which are now, by the way, force-financed by everyone).

Magee’s film also comes from a DFFB (a German) background, had some (albeit small) funding from the Film Board, but in the end it is not a film of someone who has subscribed to the bureaucracies, or worse the themes of German filmmaking. They, whoever they are, somehow missed to count it as German, maybe because not so much money went into it in the first place, and later no-one took the time to listen to what Micah Magee said at the press conference, that she couldn’t have made this film in America, but that it was altogether a film that was only possible because she was living in Berlin.

I am not the only one who saw this astonishing lack of recognition compared to the two male-directed attempts at the same theme. The film critic at Deutschlandradio Kultur, one of the few who noticed Maggee’s film (it needed a small premiere in Austin to get a real review in Variety), wrote about the strange discrepancy in attention between the “pushiness” of the “Jungsfilme” (boys flicks) and Petting Zoo, even though thematically very close (ok, Petting Zoo is placed in Texas, and won’t attract new tourists to Berlin, but is this by now the only criterium for being acknowledged?).

Alas, besides of its theme, and the fact that it would have met the overall theme of this year’s Berlinale, allegedly to put women and women’s stories to the forefront, there would have been many issues related to Petting Zoo that would have contributed to a general discussion about film, financing and self-organisation, funding, the future of the German Autorenfilm, to name a few which Micah Magee has discussed when she showed the film abroad. But not here.

I was always astonished by the lack of representation of the people who I notice to live and work here, and the ravings of the mainstream media about people I never have noticed to have done anything on the streets, in the city, in daily life—it’s difficult to put a name on it, but something noticeable. It seems as if there are two parallel worlds—but maybe that’s just because I’m not watching television. I don’t want to be mild here, this is not an isolated story, it has a structure, I am certain, and it still tackles the issue that Walter Benjamin has put so nicely as: to whom the right to being reproduced is granted. But besides this right, it also means: who gets the money, and then: who will be here in the future.

As many before her, Micah Magee is leaving, while the film doesn’t even have a distributor in Germany (but has one in Switzerland and France), and I hope we will get to see at least the films she is going to make in the years to come, even if we won’t be part of the discussion, the process, the whole productive environment of constructing a film, or a movie, or a picture, or an artwork, without which a city in the end is just walls.

Starship 13: Geld Alkohol Feminismus Sex - Cover Monika Baer
  1. Cover Monika Baer
  2. Editorial Starship 13 Martin Ebner, Ariane Müller, Nikola Dietrich, Henrik Olesen
  3. Greer Lankton Greer Lankton
  4. New New Impressions of Africa Jakob Kolding
  5. Contents
  6. Lost in numbers Karl Holmqvist
  7. Interview with Robert Bittenbender Robert Bittenbender, Robert McKenzie
  8. Das Lamas-Haus Florian Zeyfang, Lisa Schmidt-Colinet, Alexander Schmoeger
  9. Clouds Stephanie Wurster, Vera Tollmann
  10. Das Licht ist so hell Hans-Christian Dany
  11. Mollicutes Tenzing Barshee
  12. Crumbs Gerry Bibby
  13. Petting Zoo Francesca Drechsler
  14. Lee Miller Ariane Müller
  15. Dull and Bathos Jay Chung
  16. Liotard Christopher Müller
  17. Littoral Madness Chris Kraus
  18. aus: Am kühlen Tisch Amelie von Wulffen
  19. Visiting Highgate Cemetery Mercedes Bunz
  20. sub rosa Scott Cameron Weaver
  21. Institute of Flexibility Marte Eknæs
  22. The Bank of England Museum David Bussel
  23. Die kleinste Einheit (eine verrufene Münze kursiert geheim) Ulla Rossek
  24. Circles Drawn in Water: Play in the Major Key Lars Bang Larsen
  25. Orgy Marte Eknæs, Nicolau Vergueiro
  26. Circle, Senki, Mingei, Starnet Richard Birkett
  27. Untitled (F.P. #2, H.B.—  part 1 & part 2, Q.B. #2, Q.B. #1) Liz Deschenes
  28. 3 bad habits Monika Baer
  29. Moneydreams Rainer Ganahl
  30. Mathieu Malouf Mathieu Malouf
  31. Hallo, Dr. Fanta Max Schmidtlein
  32. Arts & Foods Amy Lien, Enzo Camacho, Ilya Lipkin
  33. Die Morschen Monika Rinck
  34. 1976, 1983, 2015 Julie Ault, Lucy R. Lippard
  35. what am i doing here David Antin
  36. 1. Get on board! Peter Wächtler
  37. Vacation Tobias Spichtig
  38. if you did, do we share something now? Lou Cantor
  39. Marinoni Tennis Club Ariane Müller, Martin Ebner
  40. Valparaiso Martin Ebner
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