THE BERLINALE PHENOMENA
TEXT: CORNELIA BRELOWSKI
Denzel Washington with tears in his eyes accepting the Silver Bear for best actor in 2000, Juliette Binoche “smothering” former artistic director Dieter Kosslick with a human-sized stuffed teddy in 2019, or Johnny Depp offering slow but wise words on the state of human society – every Berliner, and many visitors, have their list of special moments to remember from years of attending a dearly beloved Berlin institution: the annual Berlin International Film Festival.
Ever since its humble beginnings in 1951 during the Cold War period, the Berlin Film Festival has evolved enormously, drawing the crème de la crème of the independent film world as well as many big names from the industry.
Honour your audience: the public aspect
The above-mentioned lasting impressions are as random and individual as the person remembering them – due to the fact that the Berlin film festival retains one key aspect which makes it quite unique: while being a magnet for the industry, it is also open to the public.
The Berlinale has always been magically and quite easily accessible to anyone interested in the latest, lovingly curated output of the film world. The general public can thus enjoy some of the most excellent and exclusive new films at moderate prices, for as long as tickets are available. Almost fondly remembered are the times when queuing played a big role – an event in itself, where both new friendships and future creative networks could be sealed.
Nowadays, you can of course browse the programme and purchase your ticket online and – as of this year – enjoy the festival crowd up close and on site again. Not to speak of the many industrial and public side events such as workshops and viewings with directors and actors, often including an open Q&A. Furthermore, there is the networking at the European Film Market fair (EFM) and the “Berlinale Talents” week. As ever, anyone and everyone can learn as much about the art of film-making as they please – and even become part of the jury by way of the Audience Prizes.
The reason behind the unique accessibility of the Berlinale is hidden in its own history. For the first years of the festival, the Federation Internationale des Associations de Producteurs de Films (FIAPF) banned the awarding of jury prizes at the festival – and as a consequence, the prize winners were determined by the audience members themselves. FIAPF finally relented in 1956, and ever since, the prize winners have been chosen by an international jury. This year, the jury is led by a rather independent spirit of the industry, renowned actress Kristen Stewart.
Film producer Mariëtte Rissenbeek, who has been Berlinale Executive Director since June 2019, is thrilled to have the festival running at its usual schedule and locations again, for the first time since the pandemic. She tells us about the unique role it plays for both Berliners and visitors: “Berlin is a major city with lots of film-savvy citizens with many diverse interests. This is a great starting point and allows us to pick up on current topics and to win an enthusiastic audience for them.”
Constantly evolving and ‘Young at Heart’
Together with Cannes and Venice, the Berlinale today counts as one of the ‘Big Three’ in Europe. Much like the city itself, its history reads like a rollercoaster. However, it has retained one guiding selective principle since its beginnings as a ‘showcase of the free world’: the Berlin International Film Festival has always been the most political one.
This year, the Berlinale Special Gala features the film Super Power by Sean Penn and Aaron Kaufman (USA 2022), a documentary on the Ukraine’s struggle after the invasion, which evolved under difficult circumstances, “into something less controllable but more meaningful”. The event marks its world premiere.
A counterbalancing and rather surprising theme is this year’s ‘Young at Heart’ theme. Youth and thus the conversations around change and hope interact with the gruelling and equally pressing topics of global warming and war.
Here, both Kristen Stewart, as the youngest ever Berlinale jury president, as well as the homage to the industry’s artistic icon Steven Spielberg, come into play. With The Fabelmans, he has recently created the magical yet realistic coming-of-age story of a future film-maker and his family. Berlinale artistic director Carlo Chatrian explains how the choice of Spielberg’s latest film fits the 2023 ‘Young at Heart – Coming of Age at the Movies’ theme perfectly: “While the usual magic resonates throughout the story of the Fabelman family, Spielberg’s latest film is also painfully real. The American Dream, which finds its perfect match in the coming-of-age genre, has always had a concealed darker side: the pain, strain and sacrifice every dream entails and demands.”
Both in Spielberg’s case and the Berlinale’s magical and never-stopping evolvement – it’s a big and magnificently realised dream, indeed.
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