My boring Berlinale: why the Berlin Film Festival leaves me cold | Scene in Berlin | DW | 18.02.2011
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Scene in Berlin

My boring Berlinale: why the Berlin Film Festival leaves me cold

It may be in its 61st year and is one of Europe's key film-market meeting points, but that doesn't mean everyone is seduced by the glitz of the Berlin International Film Festival. Least of all DW's Gavin Blackburn.


Legendary German film producer Bernd Eichinger, who sadly and unexpectedly passed away at the end of January, was once quoted as saying: "I breathe film." Well, I don't like film quite that much. But the allure of the cinema is something I've found especially attractive for many years.

When I was a journalism student back in the UK, my university offered an optional module in film history, which I immediately signed up for. I spent countless hours in that chilly lecture theatre enthralled by tales of how cinema first came into being. I devoured cinema history text books and watched virtually anything and everything I could get my hands on.

I've seen the workers leaving the Lumière Brothers factory – arguably the world's first piece of cinema ever – and the train arriving at the station which allegedly caused a panic in the screening room for fear it would burst through the screen. I've seen that hokey rocket ship crash into the moon in George Méliès "A Trip to the Moon" and heard cinema's first faltering words in "The Jazz Singer."

Humphrey, Bette, Lauren & Co.

I know what an f-stop is and how Orson Welles used deep focus in "Citizen Kane." Well I could go on, but I'd just be showing off. The point is, I take a keen interest in the development of this cultural phenomenon we call cinema, the millions of hours of entertainment it has provided us with, and the endless list of timeless screen stars it has created over the years. Cinema just wouldn't be cinema without Humphrey Bogart and Bette Davis, Lauren Bacall or James Cagney.

Metropolis film still

They don't make 'em like they used to, DW's Neale Lyatollis says

So how then, armed with all this information, can it be that one of the world's biggest film festivals takes place every year in my city and I rarely, if ever, bother going to it? Truth be told I've been to the Berlinale twice in my life - and both times on assignment as a journalist. I was at the launch of this year's Berlinale Talent Campus, where I saw not a foot of film, and I stood shivering at the Brandenburg Gate last year to interview the crowds watching the complete version of Fritz Lang's "Metropolis."

But it seems I am not the only one who can easily turn a blind eye to the glitz and glamour of the event. Several of my friends bemoan the fact that it's all so exclusive and only geared towards industry professionals out for ten days of hardcore hob-nobbing. This, of course, is rubbish. Far from being an elite, members-only club, the Berlinale is keen for everyone to come and see the films. Public screenings take place all over the city during the festival's run.

Parade of boring faces

Still, I can see their point. The festival does have a whiff of being a super swanky exclusive event - one to which me and my tatty mates are not invited. If you take a look at the press pictures that end up splashed all over the newspapers, they're full of size-0 starlets in fancy dresses and square-jawed actors in sharp tuxes. Somehow me and my raggedy jeans and out-of-bed hair wouldn't sit well in this world.

But then of course there's the film program, and I think here we come to the crux of the problem as far as my relationship to the Berlinale festival is concerned. I studied film history, not contemporary cinema. My interest lies in crackly black and white footage, the earliest products of Edison's Black Maria studio, Hitchcock's first forays into sound productions, movements like French New Wave or Italian Neo-Realism. There is no room in my cinematic world for new stuff - which may well explain why the only thing I ever bothered going to see at Berlin International Film Festival was a sci-fi epic from 1927.

I suppose I am just going to have to come clean and join the millions of other bores who bemoan the fact that our big cinema names these days don't have a fraction of the appeal of Stuart Granger or Olivia de Havilland, Cary Grant or Vivien Leigh. The films might be just as good as they were back then, but boy are the faces in them boring as hell.

Author: Gavin Blackburn
Editor: Jennifer Abramsohn

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