Off To New Shores: Interview with Prof. Dr. Susanne Eichner

Back in 2000, Susanne Eichner directed the Sehsüchte Festival herself as a student – 23 years later, she is a professor at the Film University Babelsberg KONRAD WOLF and holds the teaching responsibility for the 52nd edition of the international student film festival. In this interview we talk about the new Sehsüchte era, the perspective of the teaching chair and which food truck Sanne will be on at the festival.

2023 marks the first major shift of the teaching baton: After more than 20 years of running the festival under the care of Lothar Mikos, you are now the new teaching supervisor. What is your vision for the future of the festival? What will be maintained and what would you like to change?

As a didactic project, the festival is an important part of the Media Studies program. As such, it has charisma not only as an event, but also as part of the studies at the film university. The festival is a good example of the special nature of media studies: The students bring many competencies that are taught during their studies into the festival and apply them practically – but at the same time they have the opportunity to act independently and to network in the regional media industry. This opportunity is unique and gives students of media studies the chance to make their mark in practice already during studies. Of course, this core should be maintained in the future. But what I would like to see in the future – and am currently planning in concrete terms – is closer integration of the other degree programs. In addition to Creative Technologies and Film Heritage, we are currently discussing how Scenography, Dramaturgy and Production can be more closely and consistently incorporated into the festival. In the future, I would like to see the festival truly function as an event by and for all students, with media studies students continuing to bear overall responsibility.

What exactly is your role behind the scenes?

Apart from the associated seminars, it is important to be in close contact with the coordination team. We usually have weekly meetings to exchange ideas. In addition, I am the link between the Sehsüchte team, the university administration, the Friends of the Student Film Festival Sehsüchte e.V., and colleagues from the other departments. However, Sehsüchte is a balancing act between giving students as much responsibility as possible while at the same time providing a “safety net”. This means that I must have sufficient insight to be able to intervene in a supportive manner if necessary.

How can you use your own experience as a former Sehsüchte head to improve the festival now as a lecturer?

My own time as a student was a few years ago, but I can still understand what it means to get involved in such a big project. When I was a student, the festival was not yet integrated into the degree program – that only happened with the conversion from a diploma program to a master’s degree. So we organized it in our spare time, so to speak, over and above our studies. That’s why I know from my own experience how the festival increasingly absorbs time resources and can override other study content. On the one hand, this internal perspective helps me to understand the students and, on the other hand, to see – and hopefully also to convey – the not always obvious connections between artistic-scientific teaching and practical application.

What are the biggest challenges in terms of Sehsüchte for you?

Mastering precisely this balancing act: I would like to anticipate the current stress – and preferably say: “Sure, just focus entirely on Sehsüchte”. At the same time, the goal of the program is not to produce event managers but experts who can get a great job in the media industry in a wide variety of fields. The theoretical, analytical-aesthetic skills, competencies and knowledge of the industry are not imparted by Sehsüchte alone, but by the overall package of the program.

In 2000, you were faced with a change of location yourself – just like we are this year. What tip do you have for this big change?

When I was in charge of the festival, the film university was still spread out over the villas at Griebnitzsee and the festival had been held at the Babelsberg studio grounds for a few years. The meadow between the Marlene-Dietrich-Hall and the cinema was legendary as a social meeting place – but so was the festival club we had set up in the studio. At that time, we needed a second larger venue and added the cinema in the fx center. This solution wasn’t there from the very start: before we could get the center, we discussed numerous possibilities – up to and including a circus tent. However, multiple venues lengthen the distances between the venues. My very practical tip for this year: many and well visible signposts between the venues are really important! And I could well have used a scooter back then to save time and energy!

“The biggest student film festival in Europe” – why does it work so well for us?

It works so well because since the 1990s, every year of media science students has been involved in putting the festival on its feet again and again. And with each successful year, that adds to the festival’s reputation and attracts new students who apply to us, not at least because of Sehsüchte. I think that the mixture of maximum personal responsibility within a protected framework also contributes a lot to the success of the concept.

If you were to meet the Sehsüchte wish fairy, what would you wish for the festival?

That the financial uncertainties are as low as possible! And new, great newcomers every year. So far, that has worked out excellently. But anyone who might be interested themselves: The application deadline for our master’s program is 15.05!

Where do you see Sehsüchte in ten years?

Sehsüchte has been around in its current form for almost 30 years. Before that, it was part of the former Hochschule für Film und Fernsehen as the FDJ Student Film Festival. I see no reason why it should no longer be needed in 10 years.

Let’s be honest: Which section are you looking forward to the most?

I don’t have a general favorite section, but this year I’m especially looking forward to the Sehsüchte Special on Iran. For this, there will be a panel on Thursday at 14:00 on the Theaterschiff with the theme “Women, Life, Freedom, Film” and there will be two film blocks – Focus Iran 1 on Thursday at 16:00 and Focus Iran 2 on Friday at 17:00.

Thank you. In closing, please tell us: Where can we find you at the festival? Are you part of the team that is permanently in the cinema or do you hang around the food trucks?

Unfortunately, I don’t manage to be permanently in the cinema – the festival is far too much a place of communication and networking for that. That’s why you’ll certainly find me between the venues a lot – gladly with tasty snacks in hand.