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Birgitte Weinberger of Odense International Film Festival

Interview / by Festival Formula

Tell us about your festival

OFF – Odense International Film Festival supports and celebrates short films in all its forms. With the launch of the festival back in 1975, OFF is the oldest film festival in Denmark and has been a significant cultural event in its hometown Odense for more than 40 years. Hundreds of locals sign up as volunteers every year, and thousands of guests and filmmakers visit the festival when it takes place in late summer. OFF is the only Oscar- and EFA-qualifying film festival in Denmark and is widely recognised in the Danish film industry and among film professionals all over the world.

What made you start your film festival?

It wasn’t me who started the festival – I wasn’t even born back then! The festival was started in 1975 in recognition of the 100th anniversary of the death of the world-famous Danish poet Hans Christian Andersen. Back then, the festival focused exclusively on animation films inspired by fairytales in honour of Hans Christian Andersen, but today OFF covers short films in all genres, both documentary and fiction and live action as well as animation. So even though short films continue to be an artistic niche in the film industry, the festival concept has evolved quite a lot since the beginning. I took over as festival director in 2009, and I continue to feel so very grateful for my job and proud of the festival every day.

What are you most looking forward to in your next edition?

What I am looking forward to more than anything this year is to bring together people from the entire world of filmmaking in Odense for a full festival week of short films. That one week in the company of our amazing volunteers and enthusiastic filmmakers from all over the world fills me with love and a positive energy that keeps me going all year around.

What have you learnt the most from being involved with a film festival?

At OFF, our motto is to always “expect the unexpected”, which essentially sums up what I’ve learnt from being involved with OFF for more than a decade. You never know what you are going to learn from a short film or what kind of stories the filmmaker has to tell. And that’s the beauty of an international short film festival; people from all corners of the world contribute with each of their unique perspectives on life. Some things are always very similar no matter what corner of the world the filmmakers are from – like the enthusiasm they have about their works, for instance – while other things differ in just as many ways as there are different cultures, people and films in this world.

How does your selection process work?

Short films from all around the globe are submitted every year from the beginning of January until submission closes on April 1. This year we received more than 3,500 films, and our team of experienced short film aficionados watched all of them during the pre-selection process. 20 % of all submitted films went on to the next round to be watched by the selection jury – which includes me. We spent about a month watching and discussing all the films and finally narrowed it all down to the 121 short films that will compete at this year’s edition of OFF. The selected films will all be shown at least three times during the official festival programme, and by the end of the festival week we have an official award ceremony where the juries announce the winning films in more than fifteen different categories. And then we throw the best after party in town!

What’s your protocol for sending out rejections?

On the day when we announce the selected films, we also e-mail the filmmakers behind every other submission, thanking them for their contribution and informing them about the selection process – and we let them know that unfortunately, they did not make the final cut. 

Length of short film – discuss…

I’ve watched thousands of short films in my ten years as festival director at OFF, and it is impossible so make an absolute statement about the pros and cons of shorter versus longer films. It all depends on so many things, but we definitely love it when a filmmakers manage to tell a great story in only a few minutes. This is one of the reasons why we require competing short films to be shorter than 30 minutes at OFF.

Describe your festival in three emojis or less than five words.

Short films & Love 📽️🤗♥️

What’s a personal favourite film festival of yours?

I really like Tampere Film Festival, which I’ve attended several times. The timing is great as the festival takes place during the selection process at OFF. Also, our Finnish colleagues always host an awesome sauna party during the festival, which is something I absolutely do not want to miss out on!

What do you wish more filmmakers did, and didn’t do?

I personally love it when filmmakers put themselves out there and dare to take chances and sometimes do something in an unconventional way. That kind of thing is so inspiring to myself and everyone involved in our festival, so naturally I love it when filmmakers make an effort to come to Denmark and visit OFF and seize the day when networking opportunities present themselves during the festival week.

What questions do you get asked the most by filmmakers?

Young, aspiring filmmakers often walk up to me and ask; “What does it take to be selected for OFF?”, which is a really tough question to answer. I always encourage those people to never give up on trying, though. 

What’s your favourite film?

Sorry, but there’s simply no way I could ever pick just one single film to answer that question.

And drink of choice whilst the festival is underway…?

These days, I drink lots and lots of coffee to keep myself going as the work days are getting longer as we’re getting closer to the festival. Once the festival takes place, I have a lot on my hands during the day, but in the evenings I like to kick back and have a nice G&T in the company of my festival colleagues, the volunteers and the visiting filmmakers.

Birgitte Weinberger, Chief Coordinator for OFF – Odense International Film Festival

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