February 11, 2008
Well, it’s day five of the festival and I’ve finally found my groove. The Berlinale continues to grow in the number of screenings, especially in the European Film Market which runs concurrent with the festivals established programs including the Competition, Panorama, Forum, Retrospectives, and Generation–the new identity for the children’s film series. The film catalogues resemble phone books in their thickness and with nearly 30 films playing at the same time, quite a bit of work goes into planning a daily screening schedule to maximize coverage.
Most mornings, I’m out the door by 8:45 to get to the first screenings that usually start at 9 am. Having a European Film Market pass has allowed me to bypass most of the daily ticketing which also begins at 9 am. With a huge number of accredited guests for the festival, lines for tickets can reach back a couple blocks in the mornings. If I feel that a screening will sell out, I’ll stop off to pick up tickets, but for the most part I’ve been waived into public screenings with this time-saving pass. The market screenings are much easier. Most of the films are screened in small cinemas with around 30 seats within one of two multiplexes next to each other. The main point of this program is to provide an opportunity for buyers to consider films for distribution, but many film festivals also take part in this as new films and works-in-progress are screened. If you see something good, you can negotiate with the sales agents who are all making deals in the Martin Gropius Bau–normally an exhibition space that is converted into a market for the run of the festival.
Since, I arrived on Thursday morning, I’ve seen some exciting new films including two super films from Mexico. One of my favorites so far is Fernando Eimbcke‘s low-key Lake Tahoe. With a tone reminiscent of the early films of Jim Jarmusch, the sparse story of a teens search to have his car fixed over the course of a day slowly unfolds as a funny and sweet tale. The other, Stolen, is a damning documentary on the inconsistencies in the 2006 Mexican presidential elections and the protests that erupted in light of fraud allegations.
One of my other favorite films was Wonderful Town a Thai drama on a blossoming relationship between a big city architect and a shy innkeeper in a small vacation village struggling in the wake of the Tsunami disaster. I had read great things about the film that also played in Sundance.
There were a couple of other films with connections to artists who have been presented at the Walker. Yousry Nasrallah‘s new film The Aquarium had its world premiere in the Panoram program on Saturday evening. Nasrallah was at the Walker two years ago to present his film Mercedes in one of the first partnerships the Walker had with the Institute for Advanced Study Film Collaborative. There were new documentaries on British Artist Derek Jarman (directed by Isaac Julien) and Gilbert and George (by one of their former models Julian Cole). Patti Smith was on hand for the post-screening Q & A (thankfully due to missing her train to Paris) for an insightful documentary Patti Smith: Dream of Life. Finally, Isabella Rossellini‘s hilarious brief series Green Porno was installed in small vitrines in the lobby outside the Arsenal theatre where the viewer could use the attached magnifying glasses to view the work which played on screens which could not have been one-inch across.
Leading up to my departure on Friday, there are several films that I’m looking forward to seeing. Errol Morris’ Standard Operating Procedure plays in competition. Bruce La Bruce’s Otto; or, Up with Dead People. Jesus Christus Savior, the documentary on Klaus Kinski‘s contentious one man performances portraying his interpretation of Christ which led to near riots in the 5,000 seat halls where it played. There is a short section of one of the concerts in Werner Herzog’s My Best Fiend. Matt Wolf’s Wild Combination: A Portrait of Arthur Russel focuses on the amazing underappreciated musician. Noam Gonick and Luis Jacob’s installation Wildflowers of Manitoba which I missed in Toronto as it played in a gallery that was nearly as far away as Winnipeg. It’s closer here. Finally, Heinz Emigholz who has several of his films playing at Walker this weekend, is back with a new Film Loos Ornimental and his exhibition The Basis of Make-Up is currently on view at the Hamburger Bahnhof museum nearby.