Sunday, February 15, 2009

Die Filmfestspiele Berlinale

21:51 on a Sunday night. I have officially finished/concluded/survived a breathtaking, exhausting, thrilling, and even angering film festival. As I slowly drip into my delirious, sleep-deprived state of mind, describing how I feel about this festival should be hard based upon my current abilitly to process my thoughts, but it's actually easy. The Berlinale was one of the greatest experiences of my life. Really - I'm not exaggerating. Before I ever go back to Rome, Barcelona, Istanbul, wherever, I would undoubtedly first come back for another 10 days at the Berlinale. It was honestly that good.

First of all, let me give you a quick brief on the Berlinale. The Berlinale is Europe's second biggest film festival after Cannes, and is the largest publically attended festival. This year was the 59th annual, and it lasted from Febuary 5-10. The actual films in the festival are divide up into different categories:

1) The competition hosts big budget films that will likely be in the box-office within the next year. This years opening film was "The International" featuring Clive Owen and Naomi Watts, which hit theaters midway through the festival.
2) Panorama brings an international flavor with films from across the globe (all sections have numerous international films but this section is the main focus for such). Here, you can get the best feel for where cinema is headed throughout different countries and what social issues are pressing in each.
3) Forum: strong focus on East-Asian films but has a variety of American and German films as well. Probably one of the harder sections of the festival to describe - usually not as big of a budget as the competition and panorama, but still some quality films.
4) Berlinale Shorts consists of just that, short films. I really liked the short films because it's extremely interesting to see how a film is going to make an impression on you with only 10 or so minutes of run time.
5) Generation K+ and Generation 14+ focus on the younger age groups but the 3 I saw would easily be rated "R". Again, I really enjoyed these films because they cut through all of the politically and morally correct BS, and instead of pretending that drugs, sex, etc. don't actually exist, they show teenage life for what it actually is.
6) Perspektive Deutsches Kino gives an array of all German films and shows where German cinema is heading. This was my favorite portion of the Berlinale because on the whole I found these films to be better than any other section.
7) Retrospektive: this year's section brought back cinematic classics that were filmed in 70mm. To put this in perspective, normal box-office films are 35mm, meaning that 70mm has double the width and way more visual quality. It is astonishing to watch a 70mm film - basically the equivalent of watching a VHS versus DVD, or you could compare it to watching an IMAX film.
8) A collection of other German films are shown as well as entries into the festival that focus on mixed media and film experimentation.

They way the Berlinale worked for me was that through my Stanford film class we were given passes to the festival. These granted us free tickets to most screenings; however, this did not mean that we just got to pick the films we wanted to see without having to work for them - it just means we already paid. The ticket office opened at 8:30 every morning in the heart of the festival at Potsdamer Platz, but to get tickets for the main showings you had to be in line early. I was in line almost every morning at 6:45 where I would either nap once in line or work on German for a couple hours. This was the only way to guarantee that there would be tickets for the screenings I wanted. After this, I would head to the Stanford villa and go to class from 11-1, then usually head back to Potsdamer Platz or wherever my screenings were to watch 3-4 films a night. The films would usually end about midnight, which means I would get home at 12:30 then get up at 6 then next morning to head back to the ticket line. That said, working on German lasted for the first 2 days in line - after that naps took over.

Throughout the Berlinale, I saw 31 films (10 of them were shorts). I also was unable to go to any films today as our passes do not work on the last day of the festival since it is open to the public, and did not go to any the first day (we just got back from Istanbul) or yesterday because I was at the Hertha BSC vs. Bayern Munich game. In other words, I saw 31 films in 7 days at the festival and was/am thoroughly exhausted. What I didn't realize before the festival is that film festivals in general are about more than just the films themselves. It's really a whole experience. For instance, the sleep deprevation definitely plays a huge part. I took it personally when a film did not do a good job, and became very analytical about film. However, this also makes you appreciate even more the films that make you laugh, grab onto your seet in fear for what is about to happen, etc. Outside of the films, I lived off an Asian restaurant in the Arcaden and at the festival ate an Asian fast food dinner for 5 of the 7 nights. I actually enjoyed (oddly enough) that I basically tried and was completely aware of the fact that I was trashing my body with a fast food dinner and a 1-1/2 liter of diet coke every night during the screenings. Not to mention I usually had a bag of knock-off M&M's with me too. Mixed with the sleep deprevation, I'm actually surprised I'm still breathing today. The festival is also unique because of the internation crowd it draws which creates a distinct atmosphere. There's a certain buzz in the city that you thrive off of and without knowing it become addicted to. You realize only now that it existed when sitting at your computer with the festival over, and even though you can barely keep your eyes open, can barely stand up from your chair to go to the bathroom, all you can think about is, "damn I should have seen more films" or "damn I wish the festival was still going on tomorrow." And then you realize, "damn, I just had an awesome week."

Among all the films in the Berlinale, my favorite was a film that came out in Germany in November of 2008 called, "Der Baader Meinhof Komplex." It is a phenomenal film about a 60's German post-WWII terrorist organization. The film is up for an Oscar in 2 weeks for best international film. A comical/memorable film experience was on the first Sunday of the festival I headed over to the Babylon Kino to see a Generation 14+ film titled "Cherrybomb." I had really no idea what the film was about, just had read the short 2 sentence description and decided to get a ticket. Upon arriving, I could not even get into the kino because of a red carpet laid out in front of the doorway. So, I decided to wait amongst about a million teenage girls while I laughed at the idea of waiting for what I figured was going to be some tight-jeans German teen movie star with a fohawk stepping out of the car and onto the red carpet. As the car pulled up, every single teenage girl started screeming and out of the car pops Rupert Grint (aka Ron Weasley from Harry Potter) for the world premier of his new film. I have to admit, even I got a little excited. That was one of the cool things about the festival: I saw 7 world premiers of films and most every film had a Q&A with the director and cast afterwards. It definetely adds to the viewing experience and makes you appreciate film even more.

It's sad now that the Berlinale is over - I loved every second of it and have to figure out a way to return in the future. Even though some films were god-aweful, I'm still glad when looking back that I saw them...well, all of them except one. If "Rage" ever makes it to the box-office in the United States, and even though it stars Judi Dench, Jude Law, Dianne Wiest, Steve Buscemi, and Eddie Izzard which makes you feel like you should buy a ticket, don't. If you do buy a ticket, I will be more than willing to personally fly back to the states to burn your ticket for you to save you the time. It is the only film in my life I have ever walked out on, and I will passionately argue anyone who dares to think a ticket to the film is worth any more than 5 cents. Other than "Rage", I had one of the best weeks of my life at the film festival. With absolutely no idea what to expect having never been to a film festival before, the Berlinale completely caught me off guard and gave me no choice but to love every aspect of it from the first day. If you ever find me in a bad mood in the future, just say "Berlinale" and I'm sure a smile will come to my face.

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