Conference 2019

Intensive Care Cinema: A Dose of Schlingensief, Please – Or, Why the World Cannot Be Saved with Polite Art

Conference at the Volksbühne Berlin, Wednesday, 06.02.2019 from 16:30

Isn’t cinema terribly polite nowadays? Especially when it comes to supposed big-picture filmmaking? In order to gain a new perspective on cinema, the opening conference of the fifth Berlin Critics’ Week will consider contemporary art via the internationally still too little-known work of Christoph Schlingensief.
The guests include director Milo Rau, poet Monika Rinck, actor Udo Kier, director Peter Sellars, actress Bibiana Beglau, filmmaker Andrew Kötting, theatre director Amelie Deuflhard, art historian Philip Ursprung and actress Susanne Bredehöft.

In cinema, whenever important matters are on the table, fun is the first casualty. Serious questions demand serious answers. That’s the safe, obvious choice, the one sanctioned by morality. The rise of right-wing politics, climate change, war and forced migration – these are issues that must be mulled over with care before filling out a funding application. Laughter, too, has to be carefully allotted. As a result, we have many dignified, decorous films with clear messages, and a few artistically accomplished, contemplative films that play it safe in a different way. A lot of it is edifying, some of it openly thought-provoking. But none of it is shocking. Because fear reigns at the cinema: no open flames, no shots fired – we’re sitting on a powder keg.

The question is: will we get out of this situation with everyone being so cautious? Someone who would certainly have screamed “No!” is Christoph Schlingensief. He preferred confusion to consensus, he liked friction better than success. Films shouldn’t illustrate virtue, they should find images for evil: “Spreading fear and terror is one of art’s main responsibilities.” As the son of a pharmacist he knew full well that medicine merely entails administering the right dose of poison. So he injected reality into hyper-real scenarios, had asylum seekers compete in Big Brother and neo-Nazis act in Hamlet, created new spaces by mixing together trash and pop and art. When German cinema’s good manners became too constraining, he broke out of it and brought film into the theatre, theatre onto the streets, and art into television. It should be fun to be disgusted, to waver in one’s convictions, to be unsure where the game ends and where seriousness begins. Let’s enjoy pranking ourselves, muddling our own morality, confusing our politics.

In collaboration with the Volksbühne, the Berlin Critics’ Week is inviting guests from the fields of cinema, theatre, theory and poetry to grapple with Schlingensief’s work and debate trashy art, the limits of cinema and fun in activism. In which circumstances can serious topics be treated without seriousness? How can cinema fluster its audience and burst the bubbles of discourse? Were Schlingensief’s disconcerting games ahead of their time or are they now out of date?


35mm screening of “The German Chainsaw Massacre”
(Director: Christoph Schlingensief, 1990, 63 minutes, original version w/ eng. subtitles)



Interspersed: video clips with rarely seen and so far unreleased footage from Christoph Schlingensief’s plays “Hamlet in Zürich” and “Quiz 3000”, as well as an excerpt from his most famous film, “Terror 2000”. Courtesy of Filmgalerie 451.

Welcome address

(All German-language parts will be simultaneously translated into English)

Susanne Bredehöft: Reading from a selection of texts by Christoph Schlingensief (German)

Bibiana Beglau in dialogue with Milo Rau: The Fun of Messing with Morality (German)

Peter Sellars in dialogue with Udo Kier: Transgression and Remembrance (English)

Break, around 8:15pm

In the lobby:
Monitors with scenes from Schlingensief’s archives.
Table talks with all guests.

Around 9:15pm

Monika Rinck: “A Traveling Soul in the Muddle of Immersion” – Lecture (German)

Anton Gernot (PENG Collective): Short Lecture: “Dirty Dancing” (German)

Panel discussion with Amelie Deuflhard, Andrew Kötting, Philip Ursprung, Susanne Heinrich: Sitting on a Powder Keg: Against the Accomplished, the Dignified and Playing It Safe (English)

Around 11pm

Reception at the bar


The 5th Berlin Critics’ Week will run from 6 to 14 February 2019. The conference will take place at the Volksbühne Berlin. The film programme starts on Thursday, 7 February at the Hackesche Höfe cinema.

Tickets for the conference and film screening of The German Chainsaw Massacre (Das deutsche Kettensägenmassaker)

Tickets for the conference only

The Berlin Critics’ Week is an event organised by the Association of German Film Critics, supported by the Hauptstadtkulturfonds, the Stiftung Kulturwerk of the VG Bild-Kunst and the Rudolf Augstein Stiftung. The opening conference takes place in cooperation with the Volksbühne Berlin.