Jochen Kürten of the German Program of the Deutsche Welle makes a final assessment of this year’s Berlin Film Festival.
Still from Jasmila Zbanic's film "Grbavica" which won the Golden Bear at th Berlinale 2006
Golden and Silver Bears awarded (Saturday, February 18) and safely packed away, all that remained for the film buffs of Berlin - and from the rest of the world - to ask was whether those 12 days of hectic had been worth it. Had it been a good Berlinale? Had it been something special? Above all, had it been a ‘political’ Berlinale, as both organizers and pundits had publicized in advance?
Yes, it was certainly a very politicized Berlinale, because so many of the films had a political content, such as the wars in Bosnia, Afghanistan or Iraq. But we must remember that the Berlin film festival had always been at the forefront of such political films – especially in the 70s and the 80s. It has always had the reputation of being the most politicized film festival in the world. Cannes got the big stars, the Hollywood glamour, and no doubt some good films. Venice, the third of the ‘Big Three’, has always had a soft corner for the art film, above all the European film. But the Berlinale was a part of divided Berlin, the city with Checkpoint Charlie and the Berlin Wall. Berlin was used to controversy. People fought over this film and that, in a kind of proxy battle of the systems. Russian films were boycotted, while American films about the Vietnam war filled screens and halls. One German film about the American trauma in Vietnam nearly led to the festival being scrapped.
But the main thing is that Berlin had always provided a platform for critical films from East European countries as well as from the GDR. Any number of public debates took place over invitations to film-makers of East Europe and many film bigwigs of the Communist countries gave the festival a wide berth. There were running fights with the Chinese authorities over Chinese films which hadn’t found favour with the powers that be in Beijing.
As such, the Berlinale has always been a political film festival. And what happened in those 12 days till Saturday was nothing new, in that sense. That of all entries, a Bosnian film should have made it to the Golden Bear, highlights the irony – since it was also the only entry from East Europe. Certainly, one can’t hold the jury responsible for it – but the fact is that this year’s Berlinale has neglected East Europe and Russia in a criminal manner. The much smaller and specialized festivals of Cottbus and Wiesbaden have shown time and again that despite all the difficulties in production, the East European nations still manage to produce a fair number of extremely good films.
Dieter Kosslick and his team should find it encouraging that the Golden Bear went the way that the rest of the festival did not. They should give the one or the other mediocre Hollywood film the go-by, maybe even some Bollywood bonanza or Chinese extravaganza whose aesthetic worth would be mathematically described as tending towards zero – and cast an eye on East Europe for those gems of yesteryear.