Natalija Vekic reports back from Berlin, where she is attending the Berlinale, one of Europe's largest and most prestigious film festivals.
The Berlinale is a monster of a festival. I didn't understand the sheer size of it until I arrived and attempted to plan my viewing schedule. It took me days to understand the various sections of the festival. Not because there was anything confusing about the program guide, but because there are so many sections with varying impulses taking place within the festival at the same time. Not to mention the frenzy and daily information about films that are being bought and sold at the European Film Market, which runs concurrent to the Berlinale. Before I attempt to talk about the ridiculous number of films I have seen, I would like to introduce you to the diverse sections of the festival and give you a sense of their personality.
The films in Competition are an international selection of heavy hitters, mostly featuring big name actors, competing for the top prize of the festival, the Golden Bear. The jury is headed by Charlotte Rampling and includes a who's who of international cinema. These are the red carpet gala films, where screaming fans line up in droves to catch a glimpse of Meryl Streep, Robert Altman, Woody Harrelson and Lindsay Lohan in attendance with A Prairie Home Companion, German super stars Franka Potente and Moritz Bleibtreu featured in The Elementary Particles, Natalie Portman in V is for Vendetta and Heath Ledger in Candy.
But beyond the glitz, glamour and flash bulbs of the red carpet the Berlinale is dedicated to showcasing and supporting new talent from around the world, making discoveries, engaging the audience, celebrating rare films, and mentoring a new generation of filmmakers. The festival features the Panorama Section, screening 37 features, 14 documentaries, and 23 short films from 33 countries around the world. A showcase for for indie film premieres like Luke Moodyson's Container, Mary Harron's The Notorious Betty Page and Michel Gondry's documentary Dave Chappele's Block Party. This section of the festival swings from standard low budget features to more adventurous works by established filmmakers such as Barbara Hammer with her documentary Lover Other about surrealists Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore. The Forum also honors queer cinema with the highly coveted Teddy Queer film award. This year the festival celebrates the twentieth anniversary of the Teddy's with a retrospective screening 36 award-winning films from previous years.
The Forum section is by far the most experimental of the festival, pushing the boundaries of aesthetic, form and language of cinema. This is the place to witness the limits between fiction and documentary be smoothly dissolved in Conversations on a Sunday Afternoon by South African director Khalo Matabane and to revel in the fractured narrative structure of La Prisionera by first time Argentinean filmmakers Alejo Moguillansky and Fermin Villanueva. And as part of the expanded Forum, for the first time, the festival is collaborating with Kunst-Werke Institute for Contemporary Art to present a collection of performance, installation and video pieces that exist outside the confines of a traditional cinema screening space.
Besides these three big sections, (where I spent most of my time running to press screenings) there is the Perspective on German Cinema and the KinderFilmFest/14plus, which is a huge aspect of the festival. These are not kiddy films, but a serious attempt to examine the youth experience in an intelligent and open manner. The films are challenging and honest, not the PG family oriented fare kids get dealt in the United States. There is the Retrospective section, which focused on films from the fifties, especially the role women played in these films.
And finally the Berlin Talent Campus, in it's third year, is an truly unique and inspiring mentorship program which brings over 520 aspiring filmmakers together with the world's leading cinematographers, directors, composers and editors who present lectures, workshops, and facilitate pitch sessions and script clinics. This years roster of big wigs include Christopher Doyle, the cinematographer of Wong Kar Wei's most arresting visual images, Park Chan-wook director of Old Boy and Lady Vengeance and world class purveyor of baroque violence, and editor Angie Lam who has sliced and diced visually complex martial arts scenes in films like Hero and Kung Fu Hustle. Running concurrent to the festival, this year's Talent Campus focuses on editing and hosts a special program Films on Hunger, Food, and Taste.
The Berlinale is by far the biggest and most diverse festival I have attended in terms of presenting a range of film styles. Attending screenings here was a constant reminder of how homogenous and boring programming can be in the United States and how enigmatic and engaging it was at this festival. Some films were daring cinematic efforts, others boring stinkers, and some just left me scratching my head. But ultimately I appreciated the range and breadth of the offerings. Despite having a huge film market and mainstream competition, I saw films at the festival that captured the essence of independent filmmaking and pushed boundaries. In the end the Berlinale definitely manages to strike a unique balance between art and commerce.
More to come about the films.
-- written by Natalija Vekic