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International Debut Feature Film Competition

The Cologne edition of the Festival pays particular attention to showcasing the work of young film-makers. The International Debut Feature Film Competition is considered a useful barometer not just of directorial talent – which we would like to much more of in future – but also of current themes, narrative styles and tonalities. Worth 10,000 euros, the biennial prize recognises the directorial accomplishments of women and provides award-winners with financial support for future film projects. Introduced in 1995 and presented for the 10th time in this form, the award has celebrated such directors as Neus Ballús, Susanna Nicchiarelli, Claudia Llosa (Golden Bear Berlinale 2009) and Carla Simón (Golden Bear 2022).

In 2024, eight films from Belgium, Germany, Finland, Great Britain, Cameroon, Morocco, Mongolia and the Netherlands were nominated from a record 170 submitted feature film debuts. These films take risks, break with stylistic conventions and make bold use of genres and different narrative traditions. They explore perspectives often overlooked in mainstream cinema. We are interested in films that offer a clear view of the world, but treat their characters with empathy and respect and they tackle difficult subjects like grief and separation with great sensitivity.

The festival opens its 41st edition with the German competition entry Elbow, the film adaptation of Fatma Aydemir’s novel of the same name. Director Aslı Özarslan will be a guest at the festival opening in Cologne.

The international jury

The award winners are decided by our jury made up of German actor and activist Thelma Buabeng, Spanish director and CIMA president Cristina Andreu Cueavas and US film director Jennifer Reeder. The award ceremony will be held on 21 April at Filmforum NRW.

Nominated films

Directed by Sofia Alaoui, FR / MA / QA, 2023, 90’
Itto, heavily pregnant, lives with her husband and his super-rich family whose rules she objects to. The country is suddenly struck by a mysterious disaster and there is an invasion of aliens. Itto’s odyssey through shaken Morocco becomes a more-than-human spiritual journey to her liberation in this visually stunning sci-fi drama. The film won the Special Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival.
In cooperation with the Afrika Film Festival Cologne.
19 April, 8.30 pm, Odeon

Camping du lac
Directed by Éléonore Saintagnan, BE / FR, 2023, 69’
After her car breaks down, Éléonore finds herself stranded on a campsite – overlooking a lake in which a giant fish is said to live. As she observes the long-term campers, the present and fictional past intertwine and her imagination takes over. Documentary film-maker and artist Éléonore Saintagnan appears herself in this unusual feature film debut about the relationship between people and nature and about how this story can be told.
21 April, 2.30 pm, Odeon, guest: Éléonore Saintagnan

City of Wind (Ser ser salhi)
Directed by Lkhagvadulam Purev-Ochir, FR / MN / PT / NL / DE / QA, 2023, 103’
Ulaanbaatar. Ze, a 17-year-old shaman, struggles to reconcile his spiritual obligations with the challenges of growing up. This coming-of-age drama tenderly explores the tension between tradition and capitalist urbanisation in Mongolia.
18 April, 8.30 pm, Odeon

Elbow (Ellbogen)
Directed by Aslı Özarslan, DE / TR / FR, 2024, 86’
Hazal fails to get an apprenticeship and isn’t even invited for an interview. All she wants to do on her 18th birthday is forget about the constant rejections and party with her girlfriends. A bouncer at the club turns them away. On her way home, Hazal’s pent-up anger erupts into a momentous act and she flees from Berlin to Istanbul. Film adaptation of the acclaimed bestseller by Fatma Aydemir.
16 April, 7 pm, Filmpalast, opening ceremony, guest: Aslı Özarslan
17 April, 6 pm, Odeon, guest: Aslı Özarslan
20 April, 6 pm, Schauburg Dortmund

Family Time (Mummola)
Directed by Tia Kouvo, FI / SE 2023, 116’
Three generations of a family get together for Christmas at the grandparents’ house. The family patriarch gets drunk in the morning while the daughters and grandchildren perform time-honoured rituals, swap anecdotes, watch TV or hang out in the sauna. Under Tia Kouvo’s clever direction, what has the makings of a drama oscillates between comedy and a tender study of familiar family dynamics.
20 April, 8.30 pm, Odeon, guest: Tia Kouvo

Mambar Pierrette 
Directed by Rosine Mbakam, BE / CM 2023, 93’
Pierrette works as a seamstress in Douala. She brings up her children on her own and cares for her elderly mother. She sews school uniforms and dresses for special occasions and is someone her customers like to confide in. She works hard every day to maintain her independence, but heavy rains flooding her home are not the only problem that constantly threatens her survival. A non-sentimental portrait of a strong woman in a supportive community. In cooperation with the Africa Film Festival Cologne.
20 April, 4.15 pm, Odeon, guest: Rosine Mbakam

Milk (Melk) 
Directed by Stefanie Kolk, NL 2023, 96’
After giving birth to a stillborn baby, Robin struggles when her breasts start to produce milk. Unable to throw her milk away, she makes the decision to donate it. This involves some emotional challenges, bureaucratic hurdles and a fridge full of bottles. A story of loss that arouses empathy without being unsettling.
17 April, 8.30 pm Odeon, guest: Stefanie Kolk

Directed by Charlotte Regan, GB 2023, 84’
A heart-warming father-and-daughter story. Living alone in a London flat after the death of her mother, 12-year-old Georgie faces a new situation when estranged father Jason (Harris Dickinson/Triangle of Sadness) turns up out of the blue. Both realise they still have a lot of growing up to do.
18 April, 4.30 pm, Odeon
18 April, 11 am, Filmforum NRW Köln, Programme for Kids and Young Adults
18 April, 9 am, Schauburg Dortmund, Programme for Kids and Young Adults

Information about the jury

Thelma Buabeng
The actress and activist appeared in Berlin Alexanderplatz, Borga and the series Clashing Differences, among others. She has been working at Schauspielhaus Zürich since 2019. She was one of the presenters of the SWR chat show Five Souls. In her web series Tell Me Nothing From the Horse, she slips into various roles to satirise racist clichés. Her Black Womxn Matter community is committed to strengthening female Afro-German perspectives in the media and society as a whole.

Cristina Andreu Cuevas
Cristina Andreu Cuevas is a film-maker, producer, screenwriter and lecturer. She has produced several documentaries and short films, and was nominated for the Spanish Goya Award for her feature film Brumal. As president of CIMA, the Spanish Association of Women Filmmakers and Audiovisual Media, she has been a driving force behind the recognition of female directors and enshrined gender equality in the film industry in Spanish law – the first country in the world to do so.

Jennifer Reeder
Jennifer Reeder is a director, screenwriter, video artist and lecturer from Chicago. Her feature films about teenagers, relationships and trauma draw their inspiration from film forms such as after-school specials and amateur music videos. They can be seen all over the world both in art contexts and at prestigious film festivals. Her fourth feature film Perpetrator is running in this year’s IFFF Focus: Rage & Horror and has cemented “her status as a horror doyenne” (The Playlist).

Competition curators are Stefanie Görtz and Jennifer Jones.