Family Crossing Europe

The Crossing Europe Film Festival Linz ended yesterday, and looking at my work calendar (and my bank account), there are other things I should be doing right now, but somehow I don’t feel quite ready to rejoin the rest of the world yet.

Since the first festival was held in 2004, I have worked on the catalogue and translated newsletters and press releases, and Peter has done the network administration to make sure all the computers keep working together, even under the pressure of massive access when the festival starts. This year we further expanded family participation, as Christopher was invited to act as MC for the Awards Presentation again, and Paddy’s film was selected to be shown in the Local Artists section. Not to leave anyone out, Seth then stepped in to operate a subtitle projection machine for two screenings of a film in German. All present and accounted for.

Five people trying to do very different jobs all in the same – exhilarating, overwhelming – context is not a simple matter. Trying to find the right balance between taking my sons seriously, appreciating what they do and do well, and going into embarrassing mother mode is not a simple matter either. Let’s all take a wild ride on an emotional roller coaster together.

Peter and I share a long, long history with this festival. When we first got married and bought a car (our old “yellow shoebox”), we were happily able to escape the dismal cinema program in Linz and drive to Freistadt, a town closer to the Czech border, where more interesting films were shown in the original language (including English) with subtitles. Given the state of the roads then in the direction of the Czech border, which was still closed at that time, along with my need to be sitting comfortably in my seat before the lights go out in the cinema and the mutually incompatible and conflictingly different understandings of time that Peter and I have always had, it was very fortunate for our relationship that Wolfgang Steininger, who was responsible for the films in Freistadt, started bringing alternative cinema to Linz. This alleviated the necessity of tense, mad dashes to Freistadt. When Wolfgang first told me about the idea of starting a film festival in Linz, I wasn’t entirely convinced that it sounded like a good idea. Most of all, it sounded like a lot of extra work for me, which I wasn’t sure I wanted to do, but which I obviously would do, if Wolfgang asked me to.

As it turned out, the festival was indeed a good idea, and I have thoroughly enjoyed the translation work involved in it for me ever since, even though I still have the feeling I don’t really understand enough about film, and translating simple, but vital practical information for international visitors still poses a huge challenge. Nevertheless, the festival director Christine Dollhofer is high on my personal list of most admired women, and working with the wonderful team she has gathered to run this festival is a privilege that I enjoy every year. I think Peter feels much the same way about the people we work with, although he has a different perspective, of course, since he is looking more at the technical infrastructure side of it than the content. And since this is a festival where even such marginal figures as ourselves enjoy appreciation and recognition, we have always had the pleasure of being provided with festival passes, even if we don’t always get to make much use of them.

When the first festival took place in 2004, Paddy was twelve years old and Christopher thirteen, not quite fourteen. This is generally not an age, when children are inclined to be interested in what their parents are doing, but it means that the boys have largely grown up with and now into the festival. That too is a great privilege. However, it is one thing to be able to offer one’s children access to interesting people and very different ideas. It is something else entirely to deal with them becoming involved themselves – as themselves, not as their parents’ children.

This first came up several years ago, when a film by a young (very young) director from the UK was shown at Kapu, and Peter, Christopher and I went there together to see it. I think that may have been the year that Christopher helped with subtitles for a special series of hip hop videos shown in the festival, but in any case he had ended up in conversation with the young director, and the two of them got along quite well. At Kapu the director introduced me to his parents, explaining that they had also come along to see his film there. Suddenly I found myself in the uncomfortable situation of not knowing how to explain that I was not there at Kapu as Christopher’s mother, it was one of the places I preferred to go without him – one of the places where I could just be Aileen and not “somebody’s mother”. When Christopher first started going out, it took some time to adjust, to renegotiate spaces, figure out which spaces we could share or not. That night at Kapu was one of those moments of renegotiation, although at that point we were still “me and my son”, rather than “Christopher and his mother”, but it was a position I felt I needed to defend against misunderstandings.

Last year, when Christopher was invited to act as MC for the Awards Presentation as a young “Local Artist” just beginning to make a name for himself with his first CD as a hip hop musician and as a spoken word performer, the balance shifted a bit again, but it was still manageable. Just. This year we reached a new level, because not only was Christopher acting as MC again for the Awards Presentation, but with a film in the program Paddy was also competing for one of those awards.

It was an odd feeling to translate the press release for the program press conference this year and find Paddy’s name mentioned in it. It was strange to encounter Patrick Derieg not as Peter and Aileen’s son, but as a young filmmaker from Linz, a Local Artist, the director of a zombie film that has been surprisingly well received. Or maybe it is not that surprising, but since there is no way I can look objectively at what Paddy does, I have the feeling I usually end up oscillating between almost deprecatory reticence and embarrassing enthusiasm.

Following Paddy’s experience at the Youki festival last November, where he received the “Innovative Film Award” for his zombie film (innovative zombies?), but felt more than a little overwhelmed by the attention and the difficulty of speaking in public, he was nervous about Crossing Europe. He was thrilled that his film was selected for screening, but he was nervous about having to talk about it. Very nervous. When Paddy gets nervous, it tends to be contagious. Having worked on the catalogue and translated newsletters and press releases, I assured him that he was unlikely to have to do much talking. The Local Artists section includes an impressive number of highly talented people with considerably more experience than Paddy has yet, many of whom have already been nationally and internationally widely recognized for their work. I didn’t really believe that an eight-minute zombie film by a 19-year-old director would attract all that much attention at an international festival showing 159 other films as well. At some point, however, I started realizing, rather uncomfortably, that just because Paddy is still “my little guy”, that doesn’t mean his film is not to be taken seriously – and it was, in fact, actually in competition with the other Local Artists films. Then I started getting nervous.

Then Christopher arrived, flying in from London, where he has been auditioning at acting schools again. In some ways, perhaps that sounds impressive, but I didn’t have the feeling that his self-confidence was particularly high. But whenever Christopher comes back to Linz now, everyone is happy to see him, and of course that makes Christopher happy too. So my butterfly-brained child returned and started worrying me again, as he has done all his life, flitting cheerfully from one colorful idea to the next without any sign of actually having a plan, but generally having a great time at life’s great party.

At some point, Christopher also realized that Paddy’s film was, in fact, in competition for one of the awards that were to be presented Saturday evening with Christopher as MC. He also realized that he had a last line for the text he was to perform, but not a first line, and the middle was still a bit wobbly. So he started getting nervous too. However, we agreed (or at least Christopher and I agree that we agreed) not to supply any “insider information” at all about the awards in advance. None. I’m still not sure that was the right decision, but it seemed to make the most sense at the time. I think. We each had advance information about the winners because of our respective jobs in the festival, but keeping jobs and family separate seemed to be the right thing to do. Let’s be professional about this. In any case, by the time I got the jury statements to translate on Saturday afternoon and realized that I could stop being nervous on Paddy’s behalf, I had also heard from Christopher that the rehearsal went badly, so I went straight into maternal panic mode that Christopher was going to crash and burn and embarrass himself and everyone else and end up devastated by his failure.

Last weekend I made a new shirt for Christopher to wear for the Awards Presentation. I found a beautiful black fabric that I loved working with, found myself recalling so many sewing tricks that I learned from Bean, and felt quite pleased with myself – until I ran out of black thread Sunday afternoon. Sophie kindly brought me some black thread that evening so I could finish everything else, but I was afraid it wouldn’t be enough for the button holes, so the button holes had to be finished later. That worked fairly well this time, except that I realized too late that the button holes are not exactly in a straight line down the front of the shirt. So there was Christopher on stage with slightly crooked buttons, his mother watching in annoyance about the crooked buttons, but otherwise frozen with a fear of looming disaster (briefly distracted by hearing the jury statements read aloud and wanting to rearrange that sentence again), Paddy wound up close to the point of exploding, and Peter cheerfully, albeit erroneously, convinced that Christopher and I would have told Paddy if he hadn’t won, we hadn’t said anything, ergo Paddy must be about to win an award.

Crash, bang, boom: emotions flying every which way, colliding with disparate roles and responsibilities, bouncing off different expectations and intentions, becoming entangled in miscommunications and misunderstandings. Basically a montage of eight years of European filmmaking exploring manifold facets of familial interrelationships and functions. Pick your favorite film scene – comedy, tragedy, documentary, experimental – I’m sure we covered it at some point during the weekend.

In summary: Paddy did not win an award and Christopher did not make a complete mess of the Awards Presentation (despite his crooked buttons). Once the dust settled, of course it was clear what was really important. When Paddy spoke at the Q&A following the second screeing of the program with his film on Sunday evening, I was impressed by how well he presented himself. He learns fast. Sitting with Paddy and Susi in Solaris afterward, I enjoyed seeing a stranger at another table lean over to get Paddy’s attention and say, “Aren’t you the director of that zombie film? I really liked that one!” On the whole, I think there was just too much tension that had built up over the months, weeks, days, hours before Saturday evening, and it was released too quickly. In the meantime, we have all calmed down. Christopher has gone back to Vienna with clean clothes and cheddar cheese, although he has probably forgotten something else, Peter has gone ski mountaineering with a group of enthusiastic ski mountaineering people, Paddy has gone back to work serving society by looking after residents in an old folks’ home, and I am back in my office, almost ready to focus again on other translating work. My work.

I love working with the Crossing Europe team, but I don’t think I particularly love working with my family. I love being with them, listening to them, sharing in a bit of their lives, but a “family business” is not likely to be an option for anyone. The festival has become very important to me, and one of my favorite parts is that it includes Local Artists, many of whom I know and have worked with, some of whom are friends – and two of which this year were my sons.

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