Fokus 2022 celebrates the best of German cinema

The Goethe-Institut's Fokus Film Festival returns to give a snapshot of the German documentary and narrative features released in the last 12 months

Feature by Carmen Paddock | 07 Jan 2022
  • Fokus Film Festival

What do a jet setting actor, supernatural nightmares and a cross-cultural story of love and loss have in common? They are all subjects of films appearing in this year’s Fokus line-up, returning in-person for the first time since 2020. Curated by the Goethe-Institut, this selection of German films shines a spotlight on the best of the country’s storytelling and creative talent.

The selection is a small slice of a cinematic year at a mere seven films. The programming, however, reveals an ambitious global focus. A purely German lens would be myopic, as the Goethe-Institut admits. “The topics [explored in the programme] are by no means tailored to Germany, but have worldwide relevance,” they said in a statement. Priorities for German foreign cultural policy include social coexistence and exclusion, migration and asylum, populism, antisemitism, and racism – issues that are by no means exclusive to Germany today.

While the global heart of Fokus 2022 is clear, this year’s selection encapsulates two key themes: 'Cultures of equality' comprising intersecting identities, abuse and globalisation; and 'How the news enters the world', which looks at changing communication methods, social media, bots, fake news, artificial intelligence and biases – conscious or not – that affect humans’ interaction with and understanding of the world around them. Both themes are hot button issues beyond Germany and the UK, and the Goethe-Institut’s hope is that such programming brings about a “lively and fruitful, mutually inspiring exchange.”

While the majority of these films have premiered at 2021’s physical and digital festivals, collecting them into one programme allows these two thematic strands to come to the fore in an environment conducive to dialogue. This, the Institut stresses, is more important than ever after almost two years of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Society, and therefore our communication with each other, has inevitably changed", they say. "From this point of view, it is only natural that these themes appear more frequently in films in general and also in our personal choice of films. It is also important to provide a safe platform where the topics can be screened but also for some films, like The Case You, explored further in a Q&A or talk.”

The Case You, directed by Alison Kuhn, is a documentary that flips the camera back on to the entertainment industry's legacy of sexual abuse. After a director made footage from auditions – including footage where actresses were assaulted in their pursuit of a role – into a documentary, Kuhn and other survivors rewrite the narrative, turning the abusive director’s camera back on itself in outrage, anger, and a quest for recognition – if not justice.

The Case You is one of three documentaries at Fokus 2022. Trans – I Got Life (directed by Doris Metz and Imogen Kimmel) follows Dr Schaff, a world-renowned gender affirmative surgery practitioner, as he helps patients in Munich and San Francisco’s world-class transgender surgery practices as well as his more covert work helping patients in Russia. The Guardian (Martina Priessner) has a much tighter geographic lens, and follows a Syrian Orthodox nun and the growing aggressions she faces in her isolated existence.

The four fiction films in the programme are no less diverse in topic and scope. Next Door – written and directed by its star, Daniel Brühl – is a day in the life of an actor more successful with film audiences than at his local restaurant. Anne Zohra Berrached's Copilot is an aching love story set against a shocking real-life tragedy, exploring a relationship built on – or in spite of – secrets. Michael Venus's Sleep sees a daughter venture into her mother’s nightmares, only to find a centuries-old demonic curse. Lastly, the creatively titled Curveball - A True Story. Unfortunately (Johannes Naber) explores the absurdity of Germany and the West’s quests for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and the lengths leaders would go to in order to justify their case.

Fokus 2022 is “not a talent scout,” says the Goethe-Institut. The excitement and relevance of the content come first. Star power is a happy accident: “When actor-personalities like Daniel Brühl bring these film narratives to an interested film audience [...], then this is a fortuitous side-effect.” Pointing to The Lives of Others (2006) as a past German film that transcended seemingly difficult subject matter to find international acclaim, Fokus hopes that its selection this year – and every year – will challenge, inspire, and delight audiences who may not have encountered these films otherwise.

Fokus runs 11-31 Jan, with screenings at Filmhouse, Edinburgh; Dundee Contemporary Arts; Glasgow Film Theatre; Belmont Filmhouse, Aberdeen; Shetland Arts, Lerwick; Eden Court, Inverness; Ayr Film Society; and Goethe-Institut, Glasgow.

Full programme at