It is next to impossible not to stumble across Berlin’s most popular event of the year in February, when winter-weary Berliners are relishing the draw the Berlin film festival has on an international crowd of film enthusiasts, actors, directors and glitterati.

Titled one of the ‘Big Three’ of Europe, the popular audience festival has suffered a little pummeling of late because of political choices to consolidate artistic and production leadership under a single individual and enforce stringent austerity measures. The move resulted in the resignation of the leading duo Carlo Chatrian and Mariette Rissenbeek, who will co-direct the festival for one last time this year. Especially in the case of artistic director Chatrian, critical voices on the events leading to the resignations have been heard from as far as Hollywood, namely from this year’s lifetime achievement award recipient Martin Scorcese. Meanwhile, cultural secretary Claudia Roth is trying to make good and has come up with publicity-boosting personnel announcements, such as presenting 2014 Academy Award winner Lupita Nyong’o as the head of the Jury for 2024, as well as Tricia Tuttle, the former director of the BFI London Film Festival, as the future sole director.

Cornelia Brelowski: Berlinale Draw

The 2024 Berlinale poster. Photo: © Internationale Filmfestspiele Berlin / Claudia Schramke Berlin

Public debate and political decisions aside – the Berlinale, having returned from its COVID-induced online existence back to the various venues across town since 2022, remains open to all who are interested. This non-exclusive attitude may make for its biggest draw – the Berliners are after all a crowd of film enthusiasts per definition, and happily flock to the various screenings, be it for the main competition, the documentary or short film awards, or indeed the screenings listed for the audience award. Personally, some of my favourite Berlinale memories concern the directors’ talks, which usually include an open Q&A.

I remember a talk with Istvan Szabo joined by Ralph Fiennes, who was in town to promote his own first work as director. Together, they held the talk and Q&A on the stage of a packed theatre, relishing in shared memories. Another time, Olivier Assaias and Claire Denis held court at the old art academy in Tiergarten, a rare screening included. The year Juliette Binoche headed the jury, I happened across a flyer at a rehearsal house I frequent, announcing a talk with her and her longtime coach Susan Batson on the morning after the award ceremony. Set in an unassuming gym hall, the talk aka release of Batson’s book Truth was free to all early risers, and it turned out to be as down-to-earth an event as you could wish for. Ms. Binoche had exchanged last night’s couture for a woolly jumper – and danced into the room to the tune of a soul song. Right after the talk and Q&A, she was scheduled to fly home. In the audience was German acting legend Angela Winkler. These ‘side’ events to me make the Berlinale a jewel among festivals, and in a way, they also show that questionable political decisions or not – it will always stay as resilient and colourful as the town hosting it.

Berlin Notes: Town of coffee

Photo: Coline Mattée

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