Berlin’s film festival is a glamorous affair, but not for this average movie-fan, who is having a tough time getting access. A not completely serious Berlinale survival guide.
To warm up, movie theaters are the place to go.
Geographically speaking, the Berlinale is the northeasternmost A-list film festival. The location has few ramifications for the program, but many for the festival’s climate. In 1978, the then-Berlinale director decided to move his show from early summer to February.
This proved to be a wise step in terms of getting publicity mainly because no other European film festival takes place in winter. But at what price? It’s usually bitter cold in Berlin in February, which is probably why the Berlinale mainly takes place inside. There’s no festival promenade, but a high cuddling factor instead.
Antifreeze for the movie theater
A few years ago, quite a number of festival-lovers dropped the intellectual black dress code for a more cheerful affirmation of all things colorful. There’s clearly no better way than winter accessories to brighten things up: Caps, scarves, gloves, knitted things to throw around you. As wardrobes on deposit still haven’t achieved hip-dom, this stuff – along with woolen coats and down jackets – gets dragged inside the theater, where it’s strategically placed around the seat.
It's cold in Berlin.
Anyone arriving late to claim his seat in the middle of a row is therefore forced to climb over these mountains of “antifreeze” and has to endure evil snarls for stepping on precious Gucci shawls. But there’s no point in engaging in a Berliner’s stereotypically favorite past-time – complaining. Think positive: Just like at home, watching a movie at the Berlinale guarantees entertainment with a “blanket” for cuddling on the side.
But we’ve still got a long way to go to get there. Choosing a film, or putting together a list of personal favorites, is the first hurdle. Fortunately there’s the Berlinale magazine with short introductions to all the movies to make things easier. The Berlinale-Berliner grabs it and rushes to one of the many Café-Latte-islands to show it off and comprise a wish list.
A lot of people already start getting depressed at this point as they remember that they’ve once again failed to get a press pass. That’s a sure way to be kept out of the A-list events, leaving only the hope of pushing aside the mouth-protecting scarf and screaming at celebrities on the red carpet from afar.
Socialist ticket lines
Buying the tickets is best described as pure torture. Grab your magazine and pen, race to one of the Berlinale ticket booths, despair for a moment over lines reminiscent of those common under socialist rule, take up position 128 and start waiting. While doing so, the snow on your feet will turn to small puddles around your shoes and leave ugly marks on the leather.
Standing in line is a favorite Berlinale activity.
It’s time for a reality check: Most films will be sold out – ticket sellers will let you know by crossing out the movie title with red ink. Be prepared to experience this several times while waiting. Once you’ve reached the front of the line, it’s possible that the last film on your wish list has just received the red cross treatment.
But you’re not about to leave without a ticket and end up taking anything – some B-movie that will make you wonder afterwards why so many people went to see it (until you start recognizing people who were waiting in line with you). Again, think positive: The whole standing-in-line-business gives you plenty of opportunities to flirt – and end up getting some cuddling of your own.
Is Weimar more sophisticated?
As a Berliner, one is always eager to bring some culture to those less fortunate and invites friends from the provinces to experience the metropolitan Berlinale. Better be careful. For reasons stated above, tickets for a – supposedly excellent – lesbian pirate movie are the only ones left in this particular case, which involves a visitor from the culturally-sophisticated eastern German town of Weimar.
The movie turns out to star a lot of hormonally-bred moustaches on rather rough female upper lips. The sound could be better, the air conditioning isn’t working and blankets and similar devices don’t help to stay awake. “Did you enjoy it,” one cautiously asks the non-Berliner after the credits. “The jury at the student film festival in Weimar decided not to show this film,” comes the proud answer. Ouch!
Celebrity sightings are another Berlinale dream. Meeting A-list stars is out of the question for the average festival-goer, but those ranking a few letters below are attainable. Even that’s not completely without risk. Stuck again with left-over tickets, you’re sitting in yet another fetish movie. This time the director shows how Californians get all sorts of things shoved through ear lobes, mouths and other skin parts. The companion, who has disappeared underneath a blanket in his seat, is surprisingly excited about this, ends up talking to the director and doesn’t surface again for a day. Touching stars, high cuddling factor – it’s all been done.
My own favorite Berlinale moment? Happened three years ago. On the spur of the moment I went to the last screening of the festival and met friends in an A-list spot in the ticket line. I got in and watched “2001: A Space Odyssey.” Afterwards, they handed out the Berlinale awards in front of the screen where Kubrick’s masterpiece had just been shown. A rare rush of happiness.