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HANS HURCH – LIVING FOR CINEMA

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Soon, the long-awaited Viennale 2019, Austria’s most important non-competitive film festival will begin. And if, today, Vienna can be proud of the prestige of this great little festival that is so beloved by all Viennese (and not only), it is also thanks to Hans Hurch, its long-time director, who held his position from 1997 until his sudden death in 2017. But who, in fact, was Hans Hurch?

Culture. Cinema. His Vienna.

The long-awaited Viennale 2019, Austria’s most important non-competitive film festival, will soon kick off. This is an event that, over the years, has become increasingly important on a national and international level. And if, today, the city of Vienna can be proud of the prestige of this little big festival that is so loved by all the Viennese (and not only), it is also thanks to Hans Hurch, its long-time director, who held his position with passion and commitment from 1997 until his sudden death in Rome on 23 July 2017, at only 64. And looking back, one cannot start an edition of the Viennale without first thinking about a person who was so important to the Viennale itself. But who was, in fact, Hans Hurch?

It happened that in the summer of 2018, director Gastón Solnicki presented out of competition at the 75th Venice Film Festival the sensitive documentary Introduzione all’Oscuro, dedicated precisely to his friend Hans Hurch, who had passed away just over a year earlier. Particularly impressive in the film is the attention paid to small objects and details concerning the private life of Hurch himself, his methodical daily routines and, above all, that aura of mystery and reserve that, outside of working hours, always characterised his days. And so, thanks to Solnicki’s attentive and loving eye, even those who had never had the opportunity to meet the famous film historian in person were able to get to know him, in their own way. At least a little.

Born on the 18th of December 1952 in Schärding, Hans Hurch became interested in the seventh art at a very young age, thanks to regular visits to the Rex cinema and the Froschauer cinema in his small home town. It was in these little dark theatres that the young Hans first discovered the short films of Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton, as well as getting to know the young directors of the Nouvelle Vague, to whom he also dedicated several retrospectives during his long and prolific career. Unfortunately, however, as is often the case, these cinemas closed down a few years later and so young Hans began to go to the Passau film club, learning about the most important works in film history.

His career in the world of the seventh art finally began in 1976, the year in which Hans Hurch – after studying art history, philosophy and archaeology, and later also psychology and sociology at the University of Vienna – started working with the newspaper Falter, of which he later also became the Editor-in-Chief. It was not long before he started to organise his first retrospectives for small festivals such as the Wiener Festwoche and the Danube Festival.

An long and successful road, then, for a career that also included, over the years, frequent collaboration as assistant director with filmmakers Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet on The Death of Empedocles (1987), Black Sin (1989) and Antigone (1992). He will be a friend to them for the rest of his life, as he was to all his other collaborators he met throughout his life, thanks to his gentle, calm and always friendly personality.

In addition to directing documentaries such as Now and All Time and Ins Empty (both 1993), made in collaboration with his long-time partner Astrid Johanna Ofner, Hans Hurch is also particularly remembered for having curated the event Hundertjahrekino, or “One Hundred Years of Cinema”, from 1993 to 1996, a series of events, screenings of specially experimental films and retrospectives organised to celebrate the hundredth anniversary of the seventh art.

And so, finally, Hans Hurch came, in 1997, to the directorship of the Viennale, which, thanks to him, developed considerably. Just think that the big Gartenbaukino hall (containing no less than 700 seats) was ‘saved’ from imminent and certain closure, as was the Metrokino in the heart of the city, not to mention the numerous screenings organised throughout the year in the charming location of the Augarten (a large park located in the second district where the Filmarchiv Austria is based). It is also thanks to him that the Viennale has become what it is today: an important two-week festival in which extremely sophisticated films from all over the world can be watched, delighting Viennese (and others) of all ages.

For his laudable commitment, Hans Hurch was awarded the Silver Grand Decoration of Honour of the City of Vienna in 2003 and is still remembered today as one of the city’s most outstanding personalities in the field of the seventh art. Famous in this regard were his convivial character, his great culture, his constant desire to discover new names and new talents and his strong dedication to the job he loved so much.

A personality that Gastón Solnicki has been able to portray so well in his documentary, making us feel part of his daily routines, his breaks at the Café Engländer (located right in front of his place), his passion for Bösendorfer pianos and his habit of always writing by hand. This was Hans Hurch. And even now that a new edition of the Viennale is about to begin without him, his presence at the festival is certainly still felt alive and pulsating. Those who got to know him, worked with him or even simply visited the now legendary film festival will certainly not forget him.

Info: the page of Hans Hurch on iMDb