It seems that everything associated with the Berlin International Film Festival has grown this year. From the number of films screening to the accredited guests, it’s making great strides to raise the profile among the top festivals in the world.
The festival is made up of several programming strands curated by separate staffs. Most attention is directed at the Competition which features world or European premieres that are judged by a prestigious jury. Charlotte Rampling is the president of the Jury and Matthew Barney is one the members. One of the most anticipated competition films this year is Prairie Home Companion which is receiving it’s world premiere here.
Next is Panorama, which focuses on independent and queer cinema. It’s like an edgy-Sundance festival, and several of the biggest films from Sundance have their European premieres in this series. Quinceanara (which brought in top prizes at Sundance) and Container (directed by Lukas Moodyson) are a couple of the titles receiving the most buzz.
The Forum features some of the most challenging auteur world Cinema and is one of the most respected sections. Sharon Lockhart’s Pine Flat (which will open at Walker in both film and installation components in April) and James Benning’s One Way Boogie-Woogie/27 Years Later are receiving much attention. The program has also added several media installations throughout the city including a new work by Michael Snow.
In addition to this, there is a children’s film festival, a retrospective of some of the film sirens of the 1950s, premieres of new film restorations (Dryer’s Michael will screen this weekend with a live score), a shorts festival, and a celebrations of the 20th anniversary of the Teddy Award, the festival’s best gay and lesbian film.
Running concurrent with the festival is the European Film Market, which has doubled in size this year. With more of major distributors setting up shop in the huge new market hall, the Martin Gropius Bau and twice the number of screenings, buyers are flocking here. In previous years, the market was shoe-horned into the lobby of an insurance building. This year, the festival invested over 2 million dollars to remodel a huge lavish building, the site of art exhibitions most of the year, into a place better able to meet the demands of the film business. In fact, the market was oversubscribed and some of the distributors had to set up shop in a nearby office complex.
The line between business and art is becoming blurred. One example of this is the red VW cars parked all around the market. Each one of them has smoked glass in the windows with a description of one of the “Traumfrauen (Dreamgirls)” feted in the retropective. Inside each of the cars is a TV monitor playing clips from one of their films. You can view them only by looking through a peek-hole in the passenger window.
I arrived yesterday morning and hit the ground running. When I arrived at the market to pick up my accrediation material, former Walker F/V Curator Cis Bierinckx was in line right in front of me. We did a quick run through the market stalls together and he introduced me to his colleagues from Flanders Image. They pitched me on an interesting children’s film that I’ll see later this week.
Next, I rushed over to my first screening, A Perfect Couple by Nobuhiro Suwa which stars Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi (her film which she directed and starred in will play in the Women with Vision festival on March 10). It was an intimate relationship drama about a couple splitting up. The cinematography was stunning and it won the top prize at last summer’s Locarno Film Festival.
Later, I joined Cis for an amazing performace by Meg Stuart at the Volksbuhne. Replacement combines live video with some of the most exiting experimental dance that I’ve seen in years. The piece opened with a video camera on a crane panning the floor as the dancers moved in to stage disturbing tableauxs. These images are projected on a screen off stage right. The action takes place in an office which is suspended within a 3-story round frame which turns and spins during the performance. It remined me of the early films of David Lynch directed by Gene Kelley. It was beyond exhilerating. She’s performing a piece at Walker in April and you should get tickets right away.
Cis introduced me to their company manager and we all headed off to a party at Meg’s home. One of the guests at the party was lighting desiger Asa Frankenberg who had also worked with Lars von Trier on Dogville and Manderlay. She’s very talented and had a very difficult job with Meg’s piece.
Today has been filled with many back-to-back screenings which included the tense competition title A Soap, a disappointing story about the relationship between a woman who is separating from her husband and her new downstairs neighbor, a MTF transexual. Next was the colorful animated children’s film Kirikou and the Wild Beasts by Michel Ocet. Some people were fussing about the nudity, but it’s appropriate for a film based on African folklore and set withith a rural village. Quinceanara was a crowd pleaser, but could have had more of a bite in dealing with gentrification. Lucas Moodysoon’s Container was baffling as somewhat unconnected BW images shot with a handheld camera and lights are combined with a voiceover by a woman riffing on gender, celebrity and pop culture. The cinema was packed and a screening needed to be added to accommodate the crowds. It was too much to expect out of an intimate film that could really play better as an installation.
It was also great to catch up with some of my colleagues. After Kirikou, I met up with Noah Cowan, the programming director of the Toronto Film Festival; Marcus Hu, co-president of Strand Releasing; and Carl Spece, director of programming for the Palm Springs and Seattle film festivals to compare notes. I’ll see them later this evening at a reception honoring the Teddy Jury which Noah is heading.