2021 Berlinale will focus on industry first, then fans | Film | DW | 27.02.2021

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2021 Berlinale will focus on industry first, then fans

An online event taking place from March 1 to 5 is restricted to film professionals. Here's why some films are waiting for the red carpet in June to launch promotion.

Berlinale logo with light effects

Berlin's international film festival will take place in two separate events

The Berlinale has a certain number of established rituals. Braving the normally bitter end-of-February weather — when the international film festival usually takes place — there's always a crowd of die-hard autograph collectors flocking at the corner of the street where actors and filmmakers are dropped off from limousines ahead of their movie's press conference. And before the premiere of a film, fans spend hours waiting to see their favorite stars walk up the red carpet, hoping to get a selfie or simply to soak up the exciting atmosphere of the festival, even if it's freezing outside.

Meanwhile, journalists usually run around from one press screening to the other, scrambling to fit in press conferences and interviews into their packed schedule, all while quickly filing stories on deadline.

All that won't be happening this year — at least not during the part of the festival kicking off next week.

Golden Bear trophy

The winner of the Golden Bear will be announced at the end of the week but the ceremony will be in June

Film industry first

Due to the pandemic, the organizers of the Berlinale have decided to split the festival into two separate events. An industry event, restricted to film professionals and the press, is happening online from March 1 to 5, while the "summer special," which will feature public screenings, is set for June 9-20.

The industry rvent primarily serves as an alternative platform for the European Film Market (EFM), which is one of the top three meeting places of the international film and media industries, along with Cannes and the American Film Market.

As these events have an established order in the film industry calendar, Berlin's market — barring a complete cancellation — definitely had to take place in the first quarter of the year. Holding the entire festival in June to allow the usual Berlinale synergy between the public and the filmmakers "would have been too late," explained Frauke Greiner, the festival's press spokesperson. "It wouldn't have been good for the film industry."

A filmmakers' hub

But even without the hordes of film fans, it will be a busy week: Over 470 companies from nearly 60 countries have registered for the digital version of the EFM. Without the usual travel expenses, the format is also attracting many new players, with nearly 200 companies participating in the EFM for the first time, according to the market's website.

Those registered industry insiders will have access to a dizzying list of 780 films available for market screenings, not to mention the 90 "EFM Industry Sessions" planned during the week — which include discussions, workshops and pitching opportunities.

A streamlined selection

Meanwhile, the Berlinale has streamlined its official selection. Although the program's different sections still feature way more films than a human can possibly watch in a day, there are for instance only 15 films in the official competition this year. The selection of works usually vying for the Golden and Silver Bear awards usually includes around 20 titles.

While the press has also been invited to cover the festival, not all titles are directly available for media coverage. Film producers — and not the festival — were entitled to determine whether they wanted to have their production available online for press screenings, or restrict them through geo-blocking for specific regions.

Including film critics in this part of the festival "was above all an offer to the productions, in order to support those who already wanted to create a certain media visibility for their films," Greiner told DW. Some films, she said, willingly took on the offer, while others decided that they would rather keep their media launch for the summer, during the public festival. "We're now in the industry event, that always needs to be emphasized," Greiner added.

Two German films with a special status 

Most productions chose to include press promotion in this phase of the Berlinale. Among the 15 competition titles, only two films are not included on the media's screening platform.

Film still from 'Next Door': Daniel Brühl walking in a Berlin street

Daniel Brühl is not only the director of 'Next Door,' he also stars in the film

They both happen to be German movies: actor Daniel Brühl's directorial debut, titled Next Door, and Dominik Graf's Fabian Going to the Dogs, based on the 1931 novel by Erich Kästner, set in Berlin just before the Nazis took power.

In Germany, these few keywords alone are enough to create a media buzz. But unless the films win an award, the movie directors and actors are keeping their public appearances and interviews for the June festival. 

Online streaming vs. film theaters

The decision to sidestep the Berlinale's media service in March was in no way related to fears of having the films illegally copied by allowing them to be streamed online ahead of the premiere. Lupa Film producer Felix von Boehm, who's behind Fabian Going to the Dogs, told DW he absolutely trusted the Berlinale's server. With several festivals being held completely online since the beginning of the pandemic, there are meanwhile "extremely high security standards, with watermarking," confirmed the Berlinale's spokesperson.

Film still from Fabian – Going to the Dogs: Tom Schilling smoking a cigarette

Tom Schilling stars in 'Fabian – Going to the Dogs'

For producer Boehm, it was rather because "the film was made for the big screen, for the cinema," and, respecting current coronavirus hygiene restrictions, their production preferred to organize press screenings in different German cities ahead of the festival. "I'm personally a great advocate of cinema, and of cinemas as a venue," said Boehm, "That's why I chose that option."

Producers with Warner Bros. Germany were not available to comment on their specific reasons for keeping Next Door off the Berlinale's media platform. But with Daniel Brühl being one of Germany's most recognizable names on the list of directors, strategically speaking, it does make sense to focus on celebrating the film's actual world premiere in June with him, and with the fans, on the red carpet.

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