There is something very special in attending for the first time one of the ‘Big Three’ film festivals. Together with Cannes and Venice, the Berlin International Film Festival is one of the three major gateways for non-studio produced films to gain critical attention and break into the market. Extensive and often real-time media coverage of the premieres, of the critics’ responses and of the awards contributes significantly to the make-or-break of films, but also to the festival’s own prestige status. By the time you read this report you will have heard about the winning films, you may have read a few reviews about them, and … you might have even have contributed to the box-office receipts of the widely anticipated studio-produced erotica Fifty Shades of Grey, which also had its European premiere at the Berlinale , out-of-competition, of course.
I arrived in Berlin in the evening of the second day of the festival, too late to secure tickets for any screenings, but just in time to catch some distant glimpses of a luminous Nicole Kidman on the red carpet and get a scribbly autograph from James Franco – both of whom were in town for the premiere of Werner Herzog’s Queen of the Desert. But as star-gazing was not my priority, I was very relieved the next morning when I found a way to actually see some films: rather than queuing outdoors in the freezing cold from 7am each morning for next-day tickets, my experienced journalist friend showed me how to queue for same-day press screenings indoors instead… Excitement notwithstanding, I soon realised that the Berlinale is a trying experience even for accredited participants like me. Hierarchies abound, privileges vary, queuing is de rigueur – and often in vain. During the five days of my stay – half the duration of the festival – I saw nine out of the nineteen competition films, as well as a few films in other strands. Two competition films stood out for me: Romanian Aferim! and Guatemalan Ixcanul/Ixcanul Volcano, while two other Latin American films, both from Chile – El Boton de Nacar/The Pearl Button and El Club/The Club – were also very powerful. Pleased to find that all these films won awards, I was nonetheless sad to have missed Jafar Panahi’s Golden Bear winner Taxi – although undoubtedly its award will help it reach my nearby art-house cinema. ... More