William Huffman in conversation with Katharina Fichtner, Cultural Officer at the Embassy of Canada in Berlin. Published in partnership with Inuit Art Foundation.
In a city known for its thriving art scene, the Embassy of Canada in Berlin is not only an important diplomatic outpost but also a dynamic cultural hub. Everything from symposia and lectures to screenings and exhibitions, the Embassy works overtime promoting Canada’s cultural identity to locals and visitors alike.
Although there’s always plenty of Aboriginal representation within the Embassy’s public programming, it’s during the Berlinale International Film Festival when Canada’s Indigenous, and particularly Inuit, talent really shines. Earlier this month, Inuit Art Quarterly’s William Huffman caught-up with Katharina Fichtner, Cultural Officer at the Embassy to talk about the Arctic effect on Berlin.
William Huffman: The Embassy is such a unique place – its architecture, its prominent location at Potsdamer Platz and its outstanding public programs. Can you tell me a little bit about how and why the Embassy became such a lively space?
Katharina Fichtner: Opened in 2005, the Embassy is located in the heart of Berlin, at Potsdamer Platz, right next to the central Berlinale International Film Festival venues. The architects of the Embassy created an inviting space, which highlights Canadian design, art, and technology while mirroring the diversity of Canada’s geography through the use of materials from different Canadian regions. The Embassy building is a symbol of Canada’s commitment to a newly rebuilt and revitalized Berlin while serving as an expression of the openness and diversity of Canada.
Since the very beginning, the Embassy has collaborated with German partner institutions on public events including conferences, exhibitions, and screenings. We have spacious event facilities, including the Marshall McLuhan Salon, a multimedia information centre and an auditorium, with seating for 75 people, to accommodate media events and film screenings. For nine years now, the Embassy has been a close collaboration partner of the Berlinale, presenting exhibitions in the Marshall McLuhan Salon and hosting screenings and panel discussions within the official festival program.
WH: Berlin has certainly emerged as a global cultural force. In addition to what’s homegrown, the city also draws artists and arts tourists from all over the world. I assume that means lots of artistic activity and experiences happening all over the city. With that kind of heavy competition, how are audiences responding to the embassy’s program of Canadian creativity?
It’s true; in Berlin we have a surplus of cultural offerings and events. Any day of the week you can select from a large number of top notch concerts, exhibitions, readings, and performances. The Embassy doesn’t try to compete with established cultural institutions or to have its own independent seasonal programs. From the onset our focus has been to organize events in collaboration with strong German partner institutions and festivals such as Berlinale and transmediale. Through these collaborations we are able to reach out to new audiences, which are both more specialized and diverse, but above all to promote Canadian innovation and creativity.
WH: Let’s talk a little bit about Berlinale. The Embassy has maintained a special relationship with the festival, particularly as it relates to the NATIVe and Forum Expanded programs. Once again this year, Inuit artists play an important role in representing Canada – what are some of those highlights?
For nine years, the Embassy has been a close partner and official venue of the Berlinale, presenting exhibitions within the Forum Expanded section of the festival – many of them with a strong indigenous component. Following the project Perdre et retrouver le Nord by Marie-Hélène Cousineau in 2013, which involved the Inuit community of Baker Lake, this year we presented the film Fish Plane, Heart Clock by Canadian artist Arvo Leo. It is a beautiful film, which features the life and work of Inuit artist Pudlo Pudlat. Another highlight of our Berlinale program this year was a number of screenings, which we presented as part of the new initiative NATIVe – Indigenous Cinema at European Film Market. The screenings featured a collection of Canadian and international short films by First Nation and Inuit filmmakers representing Indigenous talent and visual storytelling.
WH: Tell us a little bit about the Pudlo Pudlat exhibition and its relationship to the Arvo Leo documentary Fish Plane, Heart Clock.
The Forum Expanded exhibition at the Marshall McLuhan Salon presented the film Fish Plane, Heart Clock by Canadian artist Arvo Leo. The film, an experimental documentary, features the work and life of Inuit hunter-turned-artist Pudlo Pudlat (1916-1992). Twenty-two years after Pudlo Pudlat’s death, Arvo Leo travelled to Cape Dorset to spend the spring living in the place where Pudlat made his work. In Fish Plane, Heart Clock many images of Pudlat’s drawings and paintings are collaged with imagery that Leo created during his time there. Leo portrays the daily life of the small town while subtly evoking the surreal and enigmatic energy that was intrinsic to Pudlat’s art. The presentation of the film in the Embassy’s Marshall McLuhan Salon was complemented by a selection of original drawings by Pudlo Pudlat, which were generously loaned to us by Feheley Fine Arts in Toronto.The Embassy is very proud to have hosted this exhibition. Since the contemporary life of the Canadian Inuit is the focal point of both Pudlat’s drawings and the film, this project offers visitors a meaningful glimpse into the daily realities of the Inuit people.
WH: I know that there is first-ever Canadian Indigenous presence at the European Film Market – which is a very important international platform for film promotion. Can you describe what that initiative looks like and how Inuit filmmakers are involved?
With the program NATIVe, the Berlinale is the only international A-list festival that has given special attention to Indigenous filmmaking. For the first time this year, Indigenous cinema was also officially represented with a stand at the European Film Market. NATIVe – Indigenous Cinema is an initiative of the Canada Council for the Arts and the ImagineNative Film Festival in Toronto, and brings together partners from around the world to spotlight remarkable works made by Indigenous filmmakers. The booth at the market is an important step forward in presenting Indigenous-made films to an international market of producers, buyers, distributors, exhibitors, and financiers. The Embassy has been a partner of this new initiative from its beginning and the central venue for its events, including a panel discussion with Canadian First Nations and Sámi directors and the screenings featuring international, Sami, and Canadian Indigenous short films. The Embassy is not only delighted to have hosted these events (which attracted over 400 guests) but is also very proud to see what great attention Indigenous film has been receiving on an international scale.
Photo credits: Fish Plane, Heart Clock (2014). Modified film-still showing a drawing by Pudlo Pudlat, New Parts for an Inuk, 1981, National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa; Film-still courtesy of the artist © Arvo Leo