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Scene in Berlin(ale)

Lavinia Pitu
February 11, 2015

The Berlinale is the largest publically attended film festival in the world - and that can get pretty overwhelming. DW's Lavinia Pitu braved the red carpet madness on a quest for the festival's hidden gems.

Berlinale 2015 bear, Copyright: Berlinale
Image: Berlinale 2015

Ten days of film premieres, press conferences, workshops, stars, trade fairs, parties, after parties, and after-after parties. I need a clone. Or maybe 40 clones. This year, a whopping 441 new films are being screened during the festival - and I have to miss the vast majority of them.

Most people here at the Berlinale focus on the star-studded red carpet: Which VIPs are in Berlin, who came with whom, who is wearing which label, and of course where do they all take their expensive outfits out for dinner?

Last year, George Clooney's appearance was the icing on the cake. But this year he's presumably too busy with his love life to show up. Without George, and since I'll never get to see more than maybe two percent of the movies anyways, I thought I'd focus my visit this time on the more unusual treasures at the festival.

Directing via Skype

By far the most eye-catching project I've seen was the live stream of Chinese artist Ai Weiwei's work on his new film, "Berlin, I Love You." The Chinese government has revoked the dissident artist's passport and forbidden him from leaving the country, so he had to get creative when it came to participating in the Berlinale.

Movie set of Ai Weiwei's "Berlin I Love You", Copyright: Heike Mund/DW
The set of Ai Weiwei's 'Berlin I Love You' spanned two continentsImage: DW/Heike Mund

From China, Ai Weiwei directed his short film via Skype and telephone and it was streamed onto a screen on Potsdamer Platz, Berlinale's headquarters.

In an interview for "The Hollywood Reporter," Ai Weiwei said, "The film is about my son. He's been living in Berlin since August, and I cannot visit him." Six-year-old Ai Lao plays himself in the movie, under the direction of his long-distance father and producer Claus Clausen, who was on location in Berlin.

Speaking of short movies, the festival's youngest director, Indonesian Wregas Bhanuteja made it into the Berlinale Shorts Section with his film, "Lembusura." Bhanuteja is only 22 and portrays the legend of the Lembusura demon, who lives inside a volcano on the island of Java.

There are not only short films at the Berlinale, but short - I mean, extremely short - titles. "H," for example, is a co-production from Argentina and the US which is running in the experimental Forum section. Directors Rania Attieh and Daniel Garcia allude to Greek mythology and Helen of Troy in a contemporary reinterpretation of the legend.

'Strong women in extreme situations'

Including Helen, there's certainly no shortage of women at this year's Berlinale. "Strong women in extreme situations" is how festival director Dieter Kosslick summed up the feminine side of the event. And these mighty females just happen to be international superstars.

Nicole Kidman and James Franco in 'Queen of the Desert', Copyright: 2013 QOTD Film Investment Ltd.
Nicole Kidman and James Franco in 'Queen of the Desert'Image: 2013 QOTD Film Investment Ltd. All Rights Reserved

Nicole Kidman takes to the desert as English traveler and spy Gertrude Bell and can be seen in almost every scene of Werner Herzog's latest work, "Queen of the Desert." Juliette Binoche, on the other hand, plays the wife of North Pole explorer Robert Peary in Isabel Coixet's "Nobody Wants the Night," which opened the Berlinale last week.

Then there's Cate Blanchett, who appears in Terrence Malick's romantic fantasy drama "Knight of Cups" together with Natalie Portman. Of course I didn't forget about Christian Bale in the lead role - but he doesn't quite fit into the category "Strong women in extreme situations."

Those extreme situations apply off camera as well: 155 of this year's Berlinale films were produced and 115 were directed by women.

It's all about the Net

In my quest for the new and unusual at the festival, I didn't have to look far beyond my mobile phone: Follow the Berlinale on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or YouTube and you'll constantly discover something you haven't heard about.

Scene in Berlin logo, Copyright: DW

But the real "novelty" is that the festival now has its own social hub, BerlinaleMoments, which compiles the best posts with the hashtags #Berlinale and #BerlinaleMoments.

I found a post there that sums up my personal Berlinale experience pretty well: "You know you're at a festival when your breakfast and lunch are a blueberry muffin you chow down while running to the cinema."

Running to the cinema is one thing, but running and forgetting what you're about to see could qualify as a case for the psychiatrist. Maybe I should post that on BerlinaleMoments, too.

Episode one

Another semi-psycho situation I've been dealing with lately is that I can't possibly follow all these discussions about TV series that I'm confronted with practically 24/7. At work, over lunch, on Facebook - everyone is talking about characters from "House of Cards," "Game of Thrones" and other - I've been told - "must-see" TV shows.

Cartoon image of a couch potato, Copyright: Fotolia / robotcity
German and international TV series are premiering at the BerlinaleImage: Fotolia/robotcity

I guess I have some catching up to do. Particularly because "serial narratives have become an essential component of the audiovisual culture," according to the Berlinale organizers. And since (unlike myself) the Berlinale keeps up with the trends, serial formats are given a lot of attention at the current edition. "Better Call Saul" (USA), "Bloodline" (USA), "Blochin"(Germany), and "False Flag" (Israel) are all premiering in the German capital.

And that is kind of soothing. After all the frustration of not even managing to see half of the movies you've planned to during the festival, the TV series are at least something to look forward to on those days in the near future when there is no longer anything worthwhile in the cinemas, no stars to watch, no designer outfits, and no parties and after-parties to panic about.

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