Living All Over Again – A Moving Portrayal of Death in Black/White

7 11 2009


Credit: Matthias Wurz

“The idea came to me when my mother died – she was 89,” Walter Schels’ thoughts rested for a moment, his eyes glanced at the audience and then smiled gently. The 73-year-old award-winning German photographer, dressed in all-black and his camera hanging casually from his left shoulder as he speaks.

“Unlike my sister, I could not get myself to stay the night when, as it turned out, she passed away. But I had photographed her before I left that evening.” You could not help but to be moved; and yet Schels’ inability to confront his own fear about dying led to his most remarkable project: photographing faces of people nearing the end of their lives, and then shortly after they passed away. It were these photographs that deservedly earned him the second prize of the World Press Photo Award in 2004.

Walter Schels and Spiegel’ science editor Beate Lakotta – now Schels’ wife – published this remarkable collection of short biographies, their illnesses and consequently the circumstances of death, enriched by Schels’ breathtaking vivid black-and-white photographs. The book, entitled Noch mal Leben vor dem Tod. Wenn Menschen sterben, suggests entirely different view of dying, or rather living without illusions or pretense.

It is, apparently, not only a comfort to those whose live is about to end, but also to relatives and friends. But Schels’ photographs express the unspeakable for those who remain left behind – and many were drawn to the Stadmuseum Graz on Nov 3, 2009 to see Walter Schels’ work. The museum’s director, Otto Hochreiter, is responsible for securing this short but nevertheless powerful exhibition, extraordinary in its simplistic concept and design – an abridged version of the book, and in a way the attempt of breaking a taboo of not talking about death in Western society.
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The Oscars: The Big Day – The ‘Revanche’ Party

27 02 2009

Johannes Krisch

Photos (by Matthias Wurz) from the ‘Revanche’ Party at the residence of the Austrian Consulate General, Martin Weiss, in Los Angeles

Sunday Evening, February 22, Brentwood

The sky was covered with heavy clouds, a few dozen invited guests as well as representative of some Austrian media had followed the invitation of the Austrian Consul General in Los Angeles, Martin Weiss, at his residence in one of Los Angeles’ most enigmatic areas, Brentwood, where elegant houses and villas are nestling between mellow hilly vegetation.

Last year’s legendary party at the residence, when Stefan Ruzowitzky’s Die Fälscher (The Counterfeiters) received the 2008 Oscar was still being talked about a year later when I arrived at the scene just before 5 pm; the live broadcast of the ceremony was about to start.

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The Oscars: Austrian Charm, Almost Convincing – The Foreign Film Nominee Symposium

27 02 2009

MP1_8084.NEFPhoto: Götz Spielmann at the Academy Awards. Photo Credit: Matt Petit / ©A.M.P.A.S.

Saturday Morning, Feb. 21, Beverly Hills

It was a cloudy Saturday, Feb. 21, when cineastes got a glimpse of the five films that were nominated for the Best Foreign Film at the 81st Annual Academy Awards. The legendary Samuel Goldwyn Theater at 8949 Wilshire Boulevard in Beverly Hills, used by the Academy for the Oscar nominations each year, was host to the traditional Foreign Language Film Nominees Symposium, held for the 31st time.

There were 65 submitted this time, and Austria’s submission, Götz Spielmann’s Revanche, was short listed, along with entries from Germany (Baader-Meinhof-Complex), France (The Class), Japan (Departure) and Israel (Waltz with Bashir).

From the outside, the theater looks like any other office building with its darkened glass façade, but the gowned and tuxedoed crowd passing through the security checks was clearly not on its way to work.

The red-carpet winds its way upstairs, past two Italian-made and beautifully crafted Bisazza mosaic Oscar statues, reflected in the mirrored wall, softening the otherwise sterile atmosphere. Upstairs, posters of movie legends are a reminder of the hay-days of Hollywood film-making. Finally, I enter the theater and take an unreserved seat in the middle.

Admission is free for any of the symposia, but registration is required on the Academy website, and events are quickly sold out.

The Foreign Film nominations are of particular interest, even in provincial Hollywood: these directors are exotic and bring a range of new experiences and projects. Along with it comes the huge international media interest.

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The Oscars: The Day Before the Ceremony

25 02 2009
Photos: Matthias Wurz

Kodak Theatre, Hollywood

For those that would want to absorb the atmosphere immediately before the spectacular Oscars Award Ceremony, a visit to the Kodak Theatre is a must. Together with the Chinese Theatre, it is located at the Hollywood & Highland Center at 6801 Hollywood Boulevard.

Throughout the year, guided tours are offered through this spectacular venue, but, of course, not today, a day before all film stars, film directors and celebrities take the stage to collect the prestigious awards.

The first thing one notice when approaching the area is the traffic diversion, as the Hollywood Boulevard and the surrounding blocks are closed for the famous red carpet, protected by a long tent-like corridor. This is where the crowds outside try to catch a glimpse of the Angelina Jolie’s, Brad Pitt’s and many other celebrities, admiring their outfit when exiting the limousines. ABC Television also conducts some of its interviews here.

The foot passenger, however, are diverted through the theater and shopping complex corridors, which lead to the circular foyer of the entrance to the Kodak Theatre. If one follows the diversion around on the First Level, one passes the famous steps to the left, before disappearing in the grey narrow corridors, which exits close to the entrance of the Chinese Theatre.

One can get a glimpse at the entrance, decorated with a huge golden-colored Oscar figure, but as the footpath is narrow here, security staff ensures that those who take their pictures do not block the moving crowds.

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The Struggle of Freedom

22 01 2009

p1000445Photos: Film Director Arash T. Riahi, January 2009. Photo Credit: Reinhard Bimashofer

Already from a distance, people passing by at the Gartenbaukino on Dec. 10 could notice the commotions at one of Vienna’s traditional 1960s cinema. With 736 seats, the last surviving large one-screen cinema (Einsaalkino) in Vienna was host to a special film preview, and indeed the seats were filling fast, judging by the long cues at the ticket office.

SOS Mitmensch, the Austrian human rights and anti-racism pressure group, was the host of this special film preview of the Austrian-French production Ein Augenblick Freiheit by the Iranian-born Austrian Film Director Arash T. Riahi. In a loose series of film previews, including the one tonight, under the heading of ‘Drei Filme fürs Bleiben’, the organization aimed to promote the legal framework of a right of permanent residency for refugees. And Ein Augenblick Freiheit translates the political demand into powerful pictures.

Riahi’s film was first shown at the Worldfilm Festival in Montréal in August 2008, where it picked up the award for Best First Feature Film. With almost a dozen of international awards in his pocket, including best Austrian film at the Viennale in October 2008, Ein Augenblick Freiheit started in Austrian cinemas on Jan. 9, 2009 .

Evidently, the film preview in December had something special, I noticed. Not only was the date set deliberately – Dec. 10 was the 60th anniversary of the declaration of Human rights by the United Nations – but the whole event, the screening and the following panel discussion and live performance of the Austrian-born Kurdish musician Karuan in the foyer, who composed and performed the soundtrack, offered much more than just a good evening at the movies. Read the rest of this entry »

The Booze, Sex and Marriages – An Exploration

4 07 2008

It is now my fifth time in Odessa, Ukraine, and every time I came I enjoyed the city’s architecture – the magnificent opera house in particular – the Russian language studies and just the comfortable weather. In December 2007, the overcast cloudy and foggy weather can be depressing, as in any other city.

As much as I love Odessa, its inhabitants and the culture, there are features within this 1.1 Mio inhabitants second largest Ukrainian city that feels out of place. Read the rest of this entry »

The EURO2008 Revisited in Odessa

27 06 2008

Pictures to follow for this entry shortly!

As Vienna prepares for the Finale of the EURO 2008  – a Football classic Germany vs. Spain – I am enjoying those days far away in the city of Odessa, Ukraine. As my home city prepares yet again for another stream of fans pouring into the city for this coming weekend – presumably at least another 200,000 German and Spanish fans – I had a chance to witness how the EURO 2008 is followed in a country not taking part – the Ukraine.

Naturally, the semi-finale between Turkey and Germany was moderately followed, as the Turkish citizens living and working here made their way home to watch and see their team lose. The game Russia vs. Spain was a different matter in the Russian-spoken Odessa, as Russia has strong support in these parts of the country. So, Douglas, the Irish photojournalist I met here in those days, and I decided to watch the final half-hour after a grand night out at the opera, and treat each other to a double-pack of entertainment.  Read the rest of this entry »