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NZ poet in the ZEBRA Poetry Film Festival, Berlin

Poet and Zebra - Photo ©Sandra Ratkovic
ZEBRA Poetry Film Festival
Festival accreditation and map of Berlin
One of my films in the festival programme
Two film poems by the NZ artist and poet Charles Olsen selected for the 7th ZEBRA Poetry Film Festival which took place in Berlin from 16–19 October 2014.


I was recently in Berlin where two poetry films I made with Antena Blue had been selected, out of 550 films from 70 countries, to be shown in the ZEBRA Poetry Film Festival. Fortunately I’m based in Madrid, Spain, only a 3-hour flight away and I have friends living in Berlin who kindly put me up.

The festival is held in the Babylon cinema in former East Berlin near Alexander Platz and the first thing I found when I asked for tickets for a number of the showings was that there were three different screens as well as a room for debates and everything overlaps so it was pretty much impossible to see everything. It was great to find some filmmakers from down under in the festival including New Zealanders Marian Evans and Struan Ashby with the disquieting “Interrogating Tinkerbell” based on a poem by Hinemoana Baker.

Apart from the films selected for the competition the festival selects films around different themes and my film In Silence using my poem of the same name originally written in Spanish was included in “Parallel Worlds” focusing on the details that occur all around us that we often aren’t aware of. The second film poem, included in the section “Wracking Your Brains” – our preoccupations with the past, doubts and spiritual unrest – was a piece we made for the Spanish poet Ángel Guinda, “Libro de Huellas” (The Book of Traces) where, in a series of striking aphorisms, he reflects on memory, religion, and power. As a participant it was great to see my work on the big screen with a good audience and those directors who’d made it to Berlin were invited to speak about their work and answer questions from the public. Apart from the rare technical mishap the quality of the projections and sound was superb and almost all foreign films had English subtitles. The discussions also have simultaneous translations in German and English.

I began making film poems using my own poetry and that of my wife, the Colombian writer Lilián Pallares, with whom I direct the production company Antena Blue, “The observed word”. There is a great freedom to explore all the aspects of the image, sound, text, words, narrative, pace, and as a poet-filmmaker it is not necessarily the poem that has to come first. It may be an image or a personal story that lends itself to a poetic treatment later inspiring the text or a filmmaker may piece together fragments of dialogues, sounds and images to create a collage of words and images. The requirement of the festival is that “All films submitted must be visual realizations of one or more poems.” Many were animations ranging from stop-frame to the latest 3D techniques, others used Super-8, found material, even screen recording using the internet and the computer's camera. From lone filmmakers to high-budget works with funding from their country’s arts councils or television channels, particularly from the UK and France, the ZEBRA Poetry Film Festival is the perfect place to take the pulse of the poetry film world, to meet and talk with other filmmakers and to return home with new ideas for future projects.

Fortunately for those who couldn’t make it the festival have set up a channel on Vimeo where you can see many of the films from the official selection for 2014:

This was my first trip to Berlin and the city itself is very inspiring; from coming across an impromptu experimental jazz installation mixing opera and Japanese dancers in the street, to land windsurfing, kite flying and BBQs on the runways of the former Templehof Airport, to a photography exhibition in an abandoned sports centre set among the towerblocks to the east or the Käthe Kollwitz Museum and the elegant café and garden of the Literaturhaus in the west, it is a city to explore.

To round off my visit my friend Asoka Esuruoso just happened to be curating an event "Arriving in the future Vol. V" at Ballhaus Naunynstraße with "an evening of live music and performance filled with Soul, Funk, Beatbox, Jazz, Latin beats, and poetry featuring Black musicians from Germany, England, Cuba, and the US." This was a different side to the city and very much alive with the venue packed and the after-party thumping. Asoka has also edited along with Philipp Khabo Koepsell the anthology of poetry and creative writing by Black writers in Germany, "Arriving in the Future – stories of home and exile" which I began reading on the flight home, and felt an affinity with some of the reflections on living in a foreign land.

I'll leave you with the online premiere of my film poem, "In Silence", presented in the 7th ZEBRA Poetry Film Festival, Berlin, and in the Liberated Words festival in Bristol, UK, 2014:


Further information: 

You can see more of Charles Olsen's work at and

Contact details: 
Boris Nitzsche, Press & Publicity, Literaturwerkstatt Berlin, Tel: 030. 48 52 45 25

Written by

Charles Olsen

10 Oct 2014