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The People Connection
by Karen Pecota

People make the Berlinale go around. Stars are important, but local networking is the most satisfactory. This year I saw my Hamburg colleague Eckart Alberts at the 1927 Russian film. I complained that “nobody else from Hamburg is here” and he pointed out a few others who were new to me. Eckart also attended the Filmfest Hamburg. He is an exception; our Hamburg colleagues seem to be festival wimps.

Cinestar 3 showed many documentaries, gay films and gay documentaries. The man in charge was Robin Spaetling, whom we had interviewed in 2004 when he was an apprentice working for the Filmfest Hamburg. He went on to a real job at the Hamburg Filmförderung and since last year resides in Berlin where he organizes film festivals on a free-lance basis.

I had lunch with British Phillip Bergson who was the chair of the FIPRESCI jury. FIPRESCI is the international film critics’ organization, which gives prizes at all major festivals. He gave me a ticket to the premiere of the Czech film I Served the King of England and said, “You need to see this. I can’t tell who will win our prize; all I can say is Check it out, as in Czech.” Wink. Wink. Phillip is very sweet and generous and very cool, especially with his new hairdo. He said that heading one of the independent juries is not a lucrative job, in fact earns no money at all and he was standing in for a colleague who had cancelled at the last minute. I attended Phillip’s early evening award ceremony to see director Jiri Menzel pick up his prize.

The premiere of this Czech film was in the afternoon. Afterwards I walked out on the red carpet, craning my neck to see whether I was on the big TV screen, only to see Albert Wiederspiel, head of the Filmfest Hamburg, walking beside me. I said, “Guten Tag Herr Wiederspiel. Ich bin Rebecca Tan von Hamburg.” He pretended to acquiesce, but my name rang no bells with him and he looked for a quick get-away. Too bad our colleague Adele Riepe wasn’t with me. Herr Wiederspiel would have kissed her left and right and remembered!

Victoria and Angela were two American film makers from Florida. This was Angela’s first trip to Berlin and she was thrilled. “Nobody in Florida is standing in line to get a ticket to an obscure Italian film. This is so great,” she said.

Angela McLaren, the president of the American Women’s Club of Berlin, dropped by. She headed a huge conference just a year ago, so the Berlinale didn’t awe her. She said Berlin has become such a melting pot that you hear all languages. It’s possible to live in an entirely English-speaking environment in Berlin. Two main multiplexes, Cinemaxx and Cinestar, show English-language movies year round – not just during the Berlinale. Hamburg should be so lucky.

I spent time with Dieter Koslick, head of the Berlinale. He doesn’t know that we met, but I hung onto his every word at the pre-festival press conference and at the independent jury award ceremony. Herr Koslick is every reporter’s dream, full of one-liners. For example, the weather was terrific for a change and the moderator said, “Herr Koslick even controls the weather during the Berlinale.” Koslick said, “As a Catholic and former Jesuit, I know I’m not God. Anyway in 30 years we won’t be talking about the weather. With global warming, we’ll have Cote d’Azur and Cannes weather right here in Berlin.” He aggressively defended Bordertown which critics called “a bad B-movie with no place at the Berlinale.” Koslick said, “I will take full responsibility for Bordertown. That was my choice and if by encouraging this film we can stop the killing of one single person on the Mexican border, then it was worth it.” In past years Koslick was noted for his signature wide-brimmed hat and red scarf, which were missing this year. But there was a Koslick look-a-like at all the films wearing, yes, the exact hat and red scarf. His terrible English is no hindrance to communication; he just spits it out and keeps on going. He is spontaneous and cheerful. In the U.S. he went up to hug long-lost friend Chip who turned out to be someone else, namely Clint Eastwood. He never broke his stride, but hugged him anyway and said, “Clint, when do you come to Berlin?” Eastwood said, “Dieter, don’t stop pushing me” and he came with his film Letters from Iwo Jima. Journalists asked why the film program appeared so late. He said, “We had almost 5000 films submitted and every film had to be watched and evaluated and catalogued and every filmmaker called at least once a day and sent emails which he expected to be answered the same day.” Koslick modelled the new pink and purple Berlinale bags, the hat and the t-shirt. He praised the teddy bears (which sold out quickly) and distributed Berlinale chocolate bars to “you film critics who always look so tired and pale.” The Berlinale would be wise to hang on to such director who has such a comfortable feeling for public relations and spontaneous, enthusiastic answers.

Rita Maaz sat next to me at the Cate Blanchette-Judi Dench press conference. She said she writes for Jane Magazine which appears in the U.S. since 1997. She sent me her Jane Magazine Berlinale blog