Every year, Berlin welcomes the film industry for 10 crazy days of screenings, parties and star-watching. DW's Anne Thomas finds the best way to enjoy the festival is to be open to surprises.
The Berlin International Film Festival arrived just in time. The city was in need of a bit of glitz after months of grey skies and drizzle. Actually, many Berliners had already headed to warmer climates weeks ago - almost everyone I know is in Mumbai, Bali or Bangkok at the moment. But there is one good reason to stay in Berlin in February and that is 10 days of non-stop movies. For a brief interlude, a slew of Hollywood stars leaves their homes on Sunset Boulevard to slum it in the grungy German capital.
The festival is not only about shiny, Botoxed actors, however. Some 19,000 representatives from the film industry descend on the city from over 100 countries, as well as about 4,000 journalists. And that's why my apartment looks pretty much like a youth hostel right now, with futons everywhere, queues for the bathroom, people coming and going at all hours, and fervent discussions happening in various languages about what films are must-sees and which are bombs.
It all began with an email from a Paris-based Chilean critic asking if she could crash at my place. Then more cheap sleep requests piled in from all over Europe. "Sure," I said. And who's complaining? I now have a dozen expert cineastes to advise me on what to see.
Getting into the theater
With 400 features, documentaries and shorts on offer, it's good to get a few insider tips. Then I can also avoid coughing up 17 euros for the massive program catalogue. My experience is, however, that the best way to pick a film is to leave it to chance.
One year, I traipsed across town to a cinema hoping to get hold of a couple of last-minute tickets for a Spanish experimental short only to be offered seats by a generous stranger for something completely different. And another time, I sat down and leaned back comfortably expecting to watch a French melodrama and ended up being scared out of my wits by a horror set in Rio de Janeiro. Did they change the reel at the last minute, or did I just take a wrong turn?
Either way, it's the unplanned moments that make the festival exciting - and unpredictable. Besides, the ticket system is so baffling that one friend has already announced that he is not going this year. "Buying tickets for the festival is a full-time job - I just don't have the energy," he moaned.
And he's right; if you don't have a press pass and didn't happen to star in one of this year's films, you have to wake up at the crack of dawn to buy tickets online, and then queue at a shopping mall on Potsdamer Platz to pick them up. Or you can just join the queue without booking online and hope there are some tickets left.
While there's no avoiding queues, there is some consolation for Berlin's die-hard cinephiles: Ticket prices range from six to 12 euros, roughly the same price as on any other day of the year.
For festival director Dieter Kosslick, it's a bit easier to to get tickets to the film screenings than for most Berliners
Don't overdo it
If you didn't get invited to the opening screening of "True Grit," the odds are still good that you might catch a glimpse of the Coen brothers hanging out in a hotel lounge or a swanky restaurant, or you could bump into the stuttering Colin Firth on his way to a gala event for "The King's Speech."
Personally, though, I'm more interested in seeing the stars on the big screen rather than in a bar. This year, I also intend to finally watch all those Ingmar Bergman movies I've somehow managed to miss - the festival is dedicating a special retrospective to him. And if that doesn't work out, I'll just settle in a comfy seat and let myself be surprised.
Speaking of getting comfortable, it's not uncommon to hear people snoring in the cinemas and I too have been known to nod off. After a night partying at one of the numerous post-premiere bashes around town, the morning showing has to be a gripping film if you're going to stay awake. A thriller might prove more suited to a sleepy hangover than a four-hour black-and-white documentary.
But right now - exhaustion is still a few days off at least, and all the beds at my place are taken anyway - so I'm off to Potsdamer Platz to kick off this year's mega film marathon.
Author: Anne Thomas
Editor: Kate Bowen