Reviews Short Documentary

7 Jahre – Kunst aus Berlin BrückenKunst 2019 (2019) – 3.5 stars

Director: Gilbert Brüning

Running time: 20mins

Full disclosure: I did not read the whole title before watching 7 Jahre – Kunst aus Berlin BrückenKunst 2019, so for the first 10 minutes I thought I had been offered insight into another of those distant time-capsules we sometimes get at Indy Film Library. Filmed entirely on a DVCam, I assumed the buzzing, distorted footage was unearthed during a house-move, 20 years after it was filmed. My jaw almost hit the desk when someone revealed on screen that this was in fact 2019 – not 1999.

It is perhaps the only piece of exposition which occurs in Gilbert Brüning’s documentary. Whether or not that is a problem for you, depends on what you think the unfolding events were documented for.

If you are of the more traditional and direct belief that a documentary ought to inform the audience about its chosen subject, you’re liable to come away from 7 Jahre dazed and confused. The goings on depict some kind of arts festival being held near Berlin – with the Fernsehturm occasionally looming over the horizon to remind us the city is nearby. The event features live international music, as well as an exhibition of photography down one long hallway. That is an inadequate description of the place, but it is never clarified whether the cavernous facility they are in is a dedicated art space, a retired aircraft-hangar, or part of the old mine which the event is apparently taking part in.

The links between all these things – or the group who seem to be organising proceedings – aren’t thoroughly explained. It is possible the BrückenKunst grew out of some kind of miners’ association, to become a cultural event, similar to the Durham Miners’ Gala – albeit far less politicised – and it would have been nice to explore that potential origin. If it is the case, why did the miners hope to create such an event? If not, why is their legacy so prominent at the event?

We’re never really given a direct insight into the forces driving the organising team, either. In the early stages of the event, they seem exasperated, one exclaiming he thinks they are making too little progress from past incarnations. Perhaps it might have been a nice touch for Brüning to ask people to introduce themselves, or speak about what keeps bringing them back – even in leaner times.

To the film’s credit, though, I would argue that there are answers to be found for that. One clue shows up when one of the organisers – who Brüning sardonically refers to as Mr Holz – gives an impassioned defence of his art, which is on display. Holz is the same man who moments ago was looking rather grumpy and almost doubtful of how worthwhile his efforts were for the event. But when asked to talk about his work at the showcase, he notes that some people might say what he does “is not art” – due to snobbery about his process. For him, it seems, how or why a picture is created is always less interesting than the final form of the picture itself. Events like this help him and artists like him reach audiences for their work, with that final form.

Like Holz’s pictures, perhaps we don’t need an extensive profile of how and why BrückenKunst came about in order for this footage of it to matter. We don’t need to know the exact details of the lives of those appearing in Brüning’s imagery, who are happily forming bonds around the event, and their personal connections to art, to know that they matter – or to understand how those bonds have become so tight. To that extent, Brüning’s documentary speaks to us on a universal level.

Having just survived the fourth edition of IFL’s own annual festival, I know full well what forces are at play here. People have come together around BrückenKunst because it gives them a chance to communicate via their own work, or to help explore their feelings through the creations of other people. That is a precious atmosphere, worth its weight in gold – and befitting of Brüning’s antiquated filming apparatus, which immortalises the event with all the sentimental warmth of old family movies.

Ideally for a 20-minute documentary, 7 Jahre should be able to offer up the magical moments of interaction between people and art, while still finding space to give us context. There is more than enough of the former on display here to get all but the most detached audiences to empathise with what is going on, though, meaning the latter’s omission is more forgivable.

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