Berlinale Dispatch #8: Last Words

FILM, Film Festivals
Reflections on the 62nd Berlin International Film Festival.

The 62nd Berlin International Film Festival shifted my understanding of what a film festival can be. It wasn’t so much the city’s love for film or the quality of the festival selection (the New Zealand International Film Festival can lay fair claim here), but the sheer variety and energy on offer.

Standing with 300 or so other ticket holders outside the 1,800-seat Friedrichstadt-Palast for Gnade felt like queuing for a stadium concert. The anticipation was incredible, and so it should be—I’d love to see more films treated with the enthusiasm usually reserved for hot gigs or the Sevens.

The downside: tickets can be hard to get and the queues can be a hassle. I sat in the kitchen with a friend, ready to click the moment online sales for Iron Sky opened. The server crashed due to demand, not for the first time, and we missed out.

But the prices aren’t too bad (€8-12, from memory) and you’d have to be unlucky, disorganised or time-poor not to get any tickets at all. Even then, the festival includes a series of free entry film installations. If you add the culinary cinema programme, special screenings, public talks and Hollywood star spotting, there’s probably something for everyone.

I didn’t make it to all of the competition screenings (Miguel Gomes’s Tabu is the big regret) but made up for it with a few from the wider programme, including zero budget Hungarian omnibus Magyarország 2011 and extremely dark Iranian comedy-tragedy Modest Reception. Both were tough at times but worthy inclusions in a diverse, often politically charged festival selection.

Cesare deve morire (Caesar Must Die) took the Golden Bear for Best Film this year. Paolo and Vittorio Taviani’s documentary centres on a stage production of Julius Caesar at Rome’s Rebibbia prison – an idea suggested by the filmmakers after they went along to an earlier, different performance at the prison.

Bence Fliegauf’s Csak a szél (Just The Wind), a day in the life of a persecuted Romany family in Hungary, took the Silver Bear for Runner-Up Best Film. Barbara, Rebelle, A Royal Affair, White Deer Plain, and Tabu also won Silver Bears, for best director, actress, actor and script, photography, and “particular film innovation” respectively.

Ursula Meier’s L’enfant d’en haut (Sister) won special mention as a jury favourite—it follows a boy on the poverty line in Sweden, his attempts to make ends meet and his complicated relationship with his sister.

Other notable winners: New Zealand short Meathead by Sam Holst picked up Best Short Film in the festival’s Generation 14plus youth section. Keep the Lights On by Ira Sachs took the top prize at the Teddy Awards (for films with queer themes).

A number of the films in competition used non-professional actors or a mix of pros and non-pros, notably Rebelle, Brillante Mendoza’s Captive, and Just the Wind. Interesting, too, that the only documentary in competition (Caesar Must Die) took out the top prize—something that should raise the profile of non-fiction films at next year’s fest.

The festival itself is just one of three major film events happening at the same time. The real hive of industry activity in Berlin is the European Film Market, a kind of mecca/meeting hot spot for producers, distributors, buyers, and sales agents. The main EFM venue is a cavernous hall filled with market stands, talk of deals and parties, a central café/bar, and more free magazines and brochures than you can stuff a satchel with.

The Berlin Talent Campus, rounding off the trio, fosters young film talent from around the world including New Zealand. It also runs a series of amazing public talks, some of which are available here.

More than anything, Berlin has given me a new respect for the work needed to bring good films to festival screens. I’ll be watching in 2012 with fresh eyes.

Nina Fowler represented The Lumière Reader at the 62nd Berlin International Film Festival, which ran from February 9-19.