Dir: Pepe Danquart. Germany. 1999. 95 mins.
Prod co: Quinte Film, Arte, Goethe Institut. Int'l sales: Amberlon Pictures. German distribution: Senator Film. Prod: Mirjam Quinte. Scr: Pepe Danquart. DoP: Michael Hammon. Ed: Mona Brauer. Mus: Walter W. Cikan, Eddi Siblik.
Before embarking on his rousing documentary about an East Berlin ice-hockey team, director Pepe Danquart went to see the team play on their home ground every week for six months. His commitment certainly paid off in this exuberant portrait of the Berlin Ice Bears' players, trainers and fans.
The Ice Bears are the only team in the German Ice Hockey League to be based in East Germany, and though this fast-paced portrait is far from a political investigation, the wealth of often funny direct-to-camera interviews do begin to offer up some ideas about the East-West divide, the fall of the Berlin Wall and the wall that may still remain in some Berliners minds. It is clearly not just a sports documentary but airs wider thoughts on fandom, heroes and personal identity. The team's trainer is Swedish, and though most of the players are East Berliners with their unique accents, the team is also bolstered by players from Canada, Italy, the Czech Republic and the Ukraine.
The fans, quite as boisterous as their idols, come for the most part from East Germany and apparently have little interest in spending time or money in the West. The home ground is in the Berlin suburb of Hohenschoenhausen, but Danquart - an Oscar-winner in the short film category - lets his wide-screen camera roam all across the busy city - particularly in the opening sequence, which blends urban noise with thumping drum and bass. The games themselves, filmed with a lively mix of extreme close-ups and strikingly-composed tableaux, are loud and lusty confrontations, with colourful chants from the cheering or jeering crowds.
On home territory, Heimspiel will be released on eight prints in Berlin alone, but, with English sub-titles that are an accurate and often witty rendering of the original German interviews, this is a documentary that has the potential to travel wide.