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Is This Seat Free?
by Becky Tan

All cinemas filled up fast. Many people searched for seats and asked if they could sit next to me. I answered, “Sure, but you’ll have to talk to me.” That earned some shocked faces as people debated a seat next to a crazy person, but I wasn’t as bad as they might have thought.

I talked to Maria from Vienna. She was aspiring to a career in the film business. She had a chance to work during the Berlinale in a special café open only to film makers who happened to be in Berlin for the event. During all of her free minutes, she went to films, which were just across the street from her third-floor café.

An older man said he worked for a radio station in Greece. I asked him his name and he said, “You’ve never heard of me.” He obviously was tired and discouraged conversation.  He slept through the film.

Six young German women from Bielefeld were on a four-day holiday to experience the Berlinale. They bought tickets online, two at a time, so three of them took over this job for the others and almost always managed to get their first choices.

Angela and Inge from Berlin, both about 60, always go to many films at the Berlinale, with no preference for any certain ones. They realized that two of their films were going to overlap, so they gave me a ticket to the one they would miss. I actually got four tickets in this manner, and paid the normal price. (One man trying to sell a ticket to Cinderella at four times the normal price was laughed off the sidewalk.) The ladies kindly told me where to buy tickets to films showing at the Berlinale Palast, namely,  across the street at the Blue Man Group Theater (where there was a special Berlinale line).

Another man next to me said he was a producer for Mr. Morgan’s Last Love (2013). He said he didn’t have much time to go to films since he more or less works fulltime with the filmmakers, but that night he took his wife to see Selma. After the film, he planned to drive her home, pick up his 17-year-old daughter and come back to see Life – the story of James Dean. That afternoon he had taken his 14-year-old daughter to Cinderella. His 11-year-old son isn’t really into films, and also his English isn’t good enough yet to understand the subtitles for foreign films. This producer said he spends lots of time at various film festivals, including, recently, Sundance and Shanghai, always interacting with film makers, and seldom actually watching a film. He was the only person I talked to in neighboring seats, who had chosen certain films. Everyone else was satisfied to watch any- and everything.