The Berlin International Film Festival is one of the most important cinema showcases in the world. The 63rd Berlinale kicks off on February 7, but who's in the running for a coveted gold or silver bear?
It's pretty much business as usual, but visitors to the 63rd Berlin International Film Festival can expect elevated cinema and a number of striking twists.
Festival director Dieter Kosslick promises a mix of productions from major studios and independent filmmakers, a large selection of films from and about women and - in the great Berlinale tradition - globally sourced and politically committed works.
Courage, greed and fracking
Examples can be found in all sections of the festival, during which 404 films will be screened. A total of 19 productions are in the running for coveted gold and silver bears.
A film by Bosnian Oscar-winner Danis Tanovic tells the story of the existential adversity as well as the courage of a Roma family in Bosnia-Herzegovina. "An Episode in the Life of an Iron Packer" was made using amateur actors and filmed, in part, using a handheld camera.
In "Synopsis," Russian director Boris Khlebnikov takes audiences to the north of his country, to the Kola Peninsular, portraying the tragedy of an upstanding man who refuses to give into greed and corruption, and who risks everything he values.
And American director Gus van Sant offers a political thriller about modern-day ecological conflict. "Promised Land" examines the new method of "fracking" - the controversial practice of hydraulic fracturing used to tap oil and gas reserves deep in the earth's surface. The profits, risks and the dreadful devastation caused by fracking are the primary subjects of the film.
Big names, big cinema
This year, American and French cinema appears to have particularly impressed Berlinale director Kosslick and his selection committee. Both countries are represented with three films each in the competition, featuring a smattering of stars including Matt Damon, Jude Law, Steven Soderbergh, Juliette Binoche, Catherine Deneuve and Isabelle Huppert.
The hotly anticipated Iranian entry, "Pardé" ("Closed Curtain") from Jafar Panahi and Kamboziya Partovi, tells the story of two prisoners in a building without windows. The film was made despite the fact that in 2010, an Iranian court sentenced Panahi to a 20-year ban on writing and directing for disseminating "propaganda against the system."
In contrast, Germany has just one film in the running for a bear. Nina Hoss takes the lead role in Thomas Arslan's émigré western "Gold." The winners will be decided by a stellar international jury under the leadership of Chinese filmmaker Wong Kar-Wei.
However, one winner has already been announced: French director Claude Lanzmann will receive a golden bear for his life's work and he'll also be honored with a homage to his career in cinema. With "Shoah," Lanzmann directed what is indisputably the most important film about the Holocaust, Kosslick said. "And I think that it was time to honor not only Claude Lanzmann, but also for the first time in the Berlinale's 63-year history, a documentary filmmaker."
Films for all
Throughout the decades, the Berlinale has continued to grow. Today it encompasses culinary and indigenous cinema, films for kids and youth, and as a result of its growing popularity among the public, now extends to cinemas throughout Berlin. The festival program actually caters to a range of very different tastes. The Retrospective section is dedicated to the influence of Weimar Republic-era cinema on international film after 1933.
The Panorama section showcases independent film from the Americas, as well as five from the Middle East and - as always - several gay and lesbian works. In the International Forum for New Cinema, a space for new, original narrative techniques and formats, many of the films explore the effects of political disorientation on the living conditions and psyches of people.
The boundaries between fiction and documentary films are blurred in the process. According to Christoph Terhechte, the director of the International Forum for New Cinema, cinema tries to find new positions, "formal answers to the question of how films actually reflect reality."
The opening of the 63rd Berlin International Film Festival will be celebrated at the Berlinale Palast on February 7 by a cast of national and international stars and a bow from jury president Wong Kar-Wei. His film "The Grandmaster" will be screened during the 10-day cinematic marathon. His story about two kung fu masters is set in 1936, on the eve of the Japanese invasion.
The competition really gets underway on February 8 when the public begins to stream into the cinemas to view the first Berlinale screenings. The winners of the golden and silver bears will be announced on February 16.