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That was the 2018 Berlinale
by Becky Tan

The 68th Berlinale showed February 15 to 25, 2018. There were 385 films, all world premieres, in all the usual categories: Competition, Special, Panorama, Forum, as well as Perspective Deutsches Kino, NATIVe, and short films. Both short and full-length films showed in the children’s section under Generation KPlus and 14Plus – the former for younger kids, the latter for teenagers. Also parallel was the section Culinary Cinema (Kulinarisches Kino). Older films showed in the sections Hommage (to honor William Defoe), Retrospektive (which featured Weimar films this year) and Berlinale Classics. They welcomed 21,000 accredited participants from 130 countries and sold 330,000 tickets (about the same amount as last year).

For participation in the Berlinale Talent Section there were 3,191 applications from 132 countries. In the end 250 young wannabe filmmakers from 81 countries were accepted. The Teddy Awards (gay/lesbian section) were as highly popular as ever. For the first time an animated film played in competition and even opened the festival: Isle of Dogs by Wes Anderson. It was well-received and Bill Murray (who lent his voice to a dog) was on hand for both the opening and the closing ceremonies, where he took the Berlinale Silver Bear Prize for Best Director to give to Anderson, who couldn’t attend, saying “Ich bin ein Berliner dog.” All of my film showings were very full, even on the last day, when the event was technically over, when journalists and stars had gone home and films were shown for the pleasure of general audiences.

Prizes were a topic, especially when the topmost winner, the winner of the Golden Bear, was announced: Touch Me Not. Strangely, no one in our group of five attendees had seen the film. Perhaps it did not fit any schedule. More likely none of us saw the need to watch a film about repugnance against sex in variations. We were more like “touch us not with this film, which might have been interesting in the 1970s, but who cares about this topic today?” A few minutes earlier, the film, directed by Adina Pintilie, DID win 50,000 euros for Best First Feature, which was acceptable, but no one was prepared for it to shove out good films to receive the Golden Bear. I heard that reporters and the general public alike got up and left the showings during the week and there was a groan and shocked silence when it was announced as top winner.

There were no predictions of a possible win in the newspapers. Six journalists for Der Berliner Tagesspiegel listed their predictions in order of preference and Touch Me Not was number 11, i.e., in the bottom half. Afterwards Die Welt asked “Is this worth a prize?” The Guardian said, “Stupid Bear.” Even the Texas newspaper San Antonio Express-News said, “Why this embarrassing experiment received the Golden Bear will remain the ‘therapeutic’ secret of the international jury under its German president, film director and producer Tom Tykwer.”

Six members made up the jury to choose the winners in the competition section; they were from Belgium, the USA (2x), Spain, and Japan plus the president of the jury: Tom Tykwer from Germany. Of the 19 films in competition, four were from Germany and at least two should have won a prize; or at least actors in those films such as Franz Rogowski or Marie Bäumer could have well accepted a price for best actor/actress. I’m not sure how much influence the jury president has on the voters, but I think it is suspicious that he is German and no German film won. After 50 years residency in Germany, I am aware that Germans want to be the “nice” people and let others go first. Perhaps that played a role – even an unconscious one – and once again others got to “go first” so that German films lost out. I personally always like the first film I see at the Berlinale, no matter what it is. In this case, it was Transit, which should have won something.

#MeToo and women’s rights played a role at the Berlinale, but more in the background. Moderator at the opening and closing ceremonies, Anke Engelke (excellent as expected), did not wear black, nor did many other women on stage. There was a petition in the beginning to replace the red carpet with a black one, but that soon lost steam. Perhaps the Berlinale honors women in a concrete way by showing their work as directors and actresses. Eight of the 19 films in competition starred women. Seven of the 12 main prizes went to women.

Series are becoming more and more popular at festivals. (We noticed this at the last Filmfest Hamburg as well). This year there were seven sets of series. Women played the main roles in almost all of them. Naturally, the festival depends on money from the government and organizations, but also from commerce. This year L’Oreal Paris celebrated its 20th year of sponsorship.

Whether red or black, the carpet did not bear the weight of many U.S. Hollywood stars, possibly because there were no typical Hollywood films in competition this year. Arthouse films from the US in competition were Damsel and Don’t, Worry He Won’t Get Far on Foot (starring Joachim Phoenix who looks a bit like Franz Rogowski) or Unsane by Steven Soderbergh. Isle of Dogs was US/German. There were a few U.S. feature films and documentaries in the Panorama section. On the other hand, anyone who speaks English has a definite advantage at the Berlinale. All films I saw were either in English or had English subtitles. Q & As were mostly in English. Press conferences were often in English, and, if not, there were always headphones available to hear a simultaneous translation in English. Causal conversations with people sitting nearby were always successful in English, such as a discussion with a young actress on the rise, Corinna Seiter, who was hoping to make some good career-building connections. I’m not sure if the fact that the Oscars were awarded this year AFTER the Berlinale had ended, affected the participation. Often the Oscars were before or during the festival, and added to the hype. At any rate, Berlinale organizers were quite happy that, in the end, four films which had shown at the 2017 Berlinale, i.e., a year earlier, won Oscars this year.

The Filmförderung Hamburg-Schleswig-Holstein was present at the festival with seven films, from Hamburg and neighboring areas, which they had brought to life with financial support. Maria Kopf, head of the FFHHSH was very proud listing such films as 3 Tage in Quiberon, Das schweigende Klassenzimmer or Mein Freund die Giraffe. They held their annual brunch get-together on the first Sunday. Sadly, since several years, they have no longer felt it necessary to invite anyone from our staff. Perhaps with 650 attendees, including such famous people as director Fatih Akin, they no longer “need” us to report on the event. We’ll hope to be recognized and invited next year.

Otherwise, I have the impressions that the journalists liked their red Berlinale bags. Normally, everyone gets a bag and then leaves it a home for posterity. This year more people seemed to be actually using them, perhaps because they were backpacks. Smoking seemed to be hugely popular at the Berlinale and I’m not talking about inside cinemas or restaurants or hotel lobbies, but rather about scenes in films. Every film I saw had some characters lighting up;  cigarettes almost actors in their own rights. What we can no longer do in the public domain, we can experience second-hand on film.

The 69th Berlinale will be February 7-17, 2019. It will also be Dieter Kosslick’s last year as head of the Berlinale. He will step down after taking on the job in 2001; we will learn who the successor will be and whether the event will continue as we know it or change in unsuspected ways. Perhaps Kosslick could return to Hamburg where he was very influential in film, culture and financing from 1979-1992. That would be wonderful.