Should you be in Berlin this September, you might be late for - or even miss - an appointment. After all, strange things can happen along the way.
There are plenty of reasons to be late in Berlin: say you were caught in traffic, or that the rails are under construction (always works in Berlin), or just blame some spontaneous demonstration.
Why would one miss an appointment, you might ask? Well, the other day, I (a pretty punctual person) caught myself traveling back and forth on the subway to finally arrive about 20 minutes late to a business meeting. I live in Berlin, so it's not like I got lost. No. The thing is, I was dying to see the next movie they were showing on the subway screens, after I had been laughing out loud together with my co-travelers at some birds trying hard to fly against the airflow of an electric fan.
I can assure you this was not my imagination on overdrive during a boring subway ride. It was a comedy animation by Bulgarian director Sotir Gelev, called "Chickens." It was also the first movie shown throughout the international short-film festival Going Underground. The event, which lasts until September 30, is in its 11th year and takes place simultaneously in the subways of Berlin and Seoul.
Largest festival in the world
The combined 4.2 million viewers a day from both metropolises make Going Underground the world’s largest festival of its kind. An event that brings cinema into our daily life. For free. An event basically dedicated to anybody, regardless of nationality, age group or social class. Anybody traveling by public transport. According to statistics, in Berlin, each person commutes about 20 kilometers (12 miles) a day. Just enough to get to see all 27 ultra-short movies shown on thousands of underground screens during the festival.
All productions, short films from 14 countries, are no longer than 90 seconds, which ensures passengers a more enjoyable ride from one station to another. Or, as in my case, to a completely different stop, than the one you had initially planned to get off at. Anyhow, it will keep you away from your smart phone, Facebook, reading newspapers or whatever else you usually do on the subway.
I was terribly amused by a Norwegian animation called "Stop Blaming the Iceberg," by Rune Eriksson, a parody of the Titanic, in which the famous ship disturbs the peaceful existence of an iceberg and, in return, is sunk by God. But there is a wide range of movie genres in the competition, from animations and comedies (Missed Call, Canada 2013), to dramas (The Sweet Present, South Korea 2013) and productions that contain fantastical elements (Butterfly, Ukraine 2013). One of the prerequisites for entering the competition was that each movie's narrative be comprehensible in the absence of sound.
Going Underground was launched in 2002 by Berliner Fenster, an infotainment company, which operates soundless passenger televisions in the underground trains, in cooperation with Seoul Metro and SESIFF (Seoul international Extreme-Short Image & Film Festival).
Another cool thing about the whole concept is that the jury is exclusively made of passengers. Anybody can vote online. You don't have to be a specialist or a movie critic, you only have to watch. I couldn’t resist going online to www.goingunderground.de in order to vote for my favorite - the absurd chicken film. I saw there is even a raffle prize for voters, consisting of a free weekend in Berlin. Should you also vote and win, this might be the perfect excuse for you to come back to the city where strange things happen in the underground.
You might ask what my excuse for being late was. There was no need for me to find one. My partner did not arrive on time either. I didn't ask why. But I know he also came by subway.
It's an exceptional event: Glamorous stars meet challenging political filmmakers on the red carpet during Berlin's International Film Festival, the Berlinale. Get your facts straight here before it opens on February 11.