11 facts about the 70th Berlin film festival | Film | DW | 20.02.2020
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11 facts about the 70th Berlin film festival

New leadership, red carpets stars, exciting programming and a Nazi-era related scandal: Get the lowdown on this year's Berlinale as it kicks off on February 20.

1. New leadership, new ideas

This year the Berlinale turns 70 and faces a new beginning. After 19 years of festival leadership under Dieter Kosslick, a new era has begun under artistic director Carlo Chatrian and executive director Mariette Rissenbeek. The largest German film festival has gotten a makeover with new venues, film series and forums for discussion.

Potsdamer Platz remains the festival's epicenter, while Alexanderplatz also serves as second central location. The Berlinale's program has slimmed down a bit, and will screen no more than a total of 340 new films this year. Movie lovers are still spoiled for choice, however: 13 sections will showcase premieres.

2. The race for the Golden Bear

The heart of the Berlinale remains the Competition section. Carlo Chatrian and his team have invited 18 films to compete for the Golden and Silver Bears. Films from Germany, Western and Eastern Europe, the USA, Latin and Central America, Southeast Asia and Iran are all hoping to take home one of the prestigious trophies.

This year, those competing include both well-known directors and newcomers, too. Yet the new and improved Berlinale is no longer emphasizing Hollywood red carpet glitz and glamour, but instead taking a look at new innovations in cinema and films that are outside the box.

3. An international jury

British actor Jeremy Irons heads this year's jury. Irons, who has a 40-year successful acting career behind him, was awarded an Oscar in 1991 for his role in thriller flick Reversal of Fortune. Irons has enjoyed success both in Hollywood's blockbuster films and avant-garde cinema and is sure to bring a discerning eye to the panel.

He is joined on the jury by French-Argentinian actress Berenice Bejo, Italian actor Luca Marinelli and directors Kenneth Lonergan (USA), Annemarie Jacir (Palestine) and Kleber Mendonca Filho (Brazil), along with German producer Bettina Brokemper.

4. Beyond the Competition

It would be a mistake to reduce the Berlinale merely to its main category, the Competition, which consists of 18 films. In the tried and tested sections such as Forum, Panorama, Generation and Retrospective, visitors can watch films from all over the world and find everything they desire, from experimental films to documentaries. This year also features a new series, Encounters, which presents works from innovative filmmakers who use unique narrative techniques.

Film still | Undine (Christian Schulz/Schramm Film)

Christian Petzold's 'Undine' with Paula Beer is one of the highlights of the competition

5. Opening film out of competition

Chatrian made a bold decision not to open the Berlinale this year with a competition film. His rationale, he said, was that too much international media attention can harm the opening film. As a result, My Salinger Year, a Canadian-Irish production starring Hollywood star Sigourney Weaver opens the festival, but it is not out to get any awards. It tells the story of a young author who deals with the estate of the famous writer J.D. Salinger.

6. The Germans at the Berlinale

Traditionally, the Berlin International Film Festival is a venue to highlight new German cinema, and this year is no exception. A total of 46 German films and co-productions will be screened.

One highly anticipated premiere is Berlin Alexanderplatz, a modern adaptation of the 1929 novel of the same name by Alfred Döblin. The new film by Afghan-German director Burhan Qurbani depicts modern-day Berlin with its protagonist, Francis, a refugee who is tempted by the city's shady underworld.

Also in the competition is the new film by German director Christian PetzoldUndine, as well as another one starring German actorsLars Eidingerand Nina Hoss, the Swiss film My Little Sister. In addition, German films are screened across all sections, with the Perspektive Deutsches Kinos section focusing on young talent.

Film still: Persian Lessons by Vadim Perelman (HYPE FILM)

German star Lars Eidinger is in several works: 'Persian Lessons' by Vadim Perelman is screened in the Berlinale Special section

7. A political lean

The Berlinale has always been regarded as the most "political" of the three major European festivals (Berlin, Cannes, Venice), and this is unlikely to change under the new management. 

A glance at the current program shows numerous films focusing on current events and historical topics, such as Competition documentary film Irradiated by Rithy Panh about the massacres in Cambodia. Then there's the series Hillary, which follows the career of Hillary Clinton. A new film by Iranian director Mohammad RasoulofThere is no Evil, about structural oppression is likely to provide fodder for discussion. It is still unclear whether or not the director will be allowed to even travel to the premiere.

Berlinale Special | Speer Goes to Hollywood von Vanessa Lapa (Hanns-Peter Frentz)

The documentary 'Speer Goes to Hollywood' by Vanessa Lapa looks into the myth surrounding the infamous Nazi

8. Stars, red carpet and Hollywood flair

Even though the festival's new leadership may not emphasize the red carpet glitz and glamour as much as their predecessor, this year's events are nonetheless packed with star power. A formidable group of celebrities appears in The Roads Not Taken by British director Sally Potter. It stars Javier Bardem, Elle Fanning, Salma Hayek and Laura Linney.

Willem Dafoe will also be in attendance; he's presenting his new film, Siberia. Sigourney Weaver is also expected on the red carpet.

9. Women reign

"The Berlinale attaches great importance to transparency in the gender distribution of the Berlinale program," according to a statement put out by the festival. The organizers have meticulously prepared a list of statistics about gender diversity during the 2020 festival.

Out of 340 films, for example, 137 women were "involved in the field of directing." When it comes to the number of women on management and selection committees, the Berlin festival gives other similarly sized festivals a run for their money. Two of the festival's major awards will go to women: Helen Mirren receives the Honorary Bear, while filmmaker Ulrike Ottinger is the recipient of Berlinale Camera.

Ulrike Ottinger (Jelka von Langen)

Ulrike Ottinger will be honored with the Berlinale Camera award

10. A place of business

The Berlinale is not only a festival for viewers, critics and cinema-lovers. There's also plenty of film industry business taking place. At the European Film Market, more than 500 exhibitors from 62 countries sell films to approximately 1,100 buyers from all over the world.

Another initiative, the World Cinema Fund, presents projects and films from regions that are otherwise not in focus internationally.

The Berlinale Co-Production Market also provides information about the latest productions made with the help of the Berlinale, while Berlinale Talents brings together the best and brightest young filmmakers from all over the world.

11. Dealing with a Nazi past

Around three weeks before the start of the 70th Berlinale, the festival found itself in the center of an embarrassing historical debacle. According to information unearthed by German media, Berlinale's first director, Alfred Bauer, was a staunch Nazi. Bauer, who helmed the Berlinale from its inception in 1951 until 1976, had always played down his political past, despite the fact that he had been a bankrolled member of the party. From 1942 onwards, he was an adviser to the ReichsfilmIntendanz, which regulated the cinema industry under Hitler. The Berlinale suspended a major prize named after Bauer as a result. This topic could still be trending once the festival gets underway.

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