Two Oscars for Germany

Students from Hamburg and Ludwigsburg win the film trophy. They address controversial topics. Films that get under your skin.

Winner of a Student Oscar 2017: Film student Johannes Preuss shooting footage in West Africa.
Johannes Preuss shooting footage in West Africa. privat

Germany. To hold an Oscar in your hands just once in your life – that’s surely the wish of every filmmaker. For Katja Benrath and Johannes Preuss the dream has already come true: On 12 October 2017 they will each be awarded a Student Oscar for their short-film productions. Johannes Preuss from Filmakademie Baden-Württemberg convinced the jury in the documentary film category with his “Galamsey – Für eine Handvoll Gold”; Katja Benrath from the Hamburg Media School won the trophy in the Narrative category for her “Watu Wote – All Of Us”.

Defying terrorism

Katja Benrath tells a true story in her film. A story that is touching, shocking and also offers a sign of hope: for humanity, against violence, hatred and mistrust. In the border region between Kenya and Somalia, the Islamic al-Shabaab militia stops a coach and demands that the travellers on it split up. Their goal: to kill the Christians. The attempted killing fails, as the Muslims take a protective stance in front of the Christians and do not reveal who belongs to which religion. “For me, the topic seemed like a mission,” Katja Benrath says. “It expresses what many people definitely want: that we stand up for one another and see ourselves as what we ware, human beings.”

Katja Benrath
Katja Benrath dpa

The director, who before training in film at the Hamburg Media School completed an apprenticeship as a seamstress at a theatre and studied Acting and Song in Vienna, refers to the work on set for “Watu Wote” as one of “the experiences that left me happiest ever”: “We worked together with people from different cultures, religions and tribes to make something together.” She believes the Hollywood award confirms the value of the piece: “The Oscar gives the entire film team the feeling that we and our story are being seen.”

Dirty deals with gold

Johannes Preuss also chose Africa as the location for his documentary. “Galamsey – Für eine Handvoll Gold” reports on illegal gold prospecting in Ghana and shows: Both people and the environment suffer as a result of the business. “With their lax use of mercury, the prospectors are poisoning the rivers, and with the bulldozing they destroy the natural river courses,” Preuss says. Moreover, corruption and criminality undermine the social structures. “Nevertheless, the gold is like a magnet in how it appeals to people.”

He had the idea for the film back in 2010: “I was working back then in development assistance in Ghana and helping to set up a radio station,” Preuss says. “I experienced the gold industry boom thanks to new mining techniques first hand.” Exploring Africa for his own film projects and also doing good: When shooting teaching films for African mango and rice farmers on behalf of Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) Preuss came across the topic for his final-year project: He wants to complete his studies at Filmakademie Baden-Württemberg with a documentary on “Nollywood”, Nigeria’s version of Hollywood.