The Berlin International Film Festival – also known as Berlinale – is undoubtedly one of the three major events of the year for cinema lovers, along with Cannes and Venice. This article is a brief intruduction to this prestigious event which displays up to 400 films from around the world and attracts huge crowds of professionals, journalists and movie goers every year.
The Berlinale takes place in Berlin, Germany, in the month of February and the premiere is held at the famous Berlinale Palast. The origin of the Berlinale dates back to 1950 when a committee for the institution of an international film festival in Berlin was set up on the initiative of Oscar Martay, the film officer for the US Office of Military Government in West Germany. The festival opened in 1951 with the screening of Alfred Hitchcock’s Rebecca (1940) at the Titania Palast. Film historian Alfred Bauer was appointed director of the festival and the Alfred Bauer prize, which was introduced in 1987 in his memory, is still awarded to this day to films that open new perspectives in cinema.
The significance of the Festival was cultural and political – it meant to bring back the glory and glamour of the 1920s Weimar Republic, when the film industry in Germany had boomed, and looked to make a statement against the Communist regime in East Germany – as the motto of the first festival shows: “Schaufenster der freien Welt” (‘showcase of the free world’).
In the festival’s early days, the Berlinale wasn’t granted a high-status therefore prizes were not presented by a jury but, instead, by the audience. Only in 1956 was the Berlinale given A-status by the FIAPF (Fédération Internationale des Associations de Producteurs de Films), leading to the institution of an International Jury. The Bear is the heraldic animal of the city of Berlin, and The Golden Bear (Der Goldene Bär) and the Silver Bear (Der Silberne Bär) have been awarded in different categories since the first edition of the festival. The Golden Bear is the most prominent prize, awarded to the Best Film by the Jury. Silver bears are given in different categories including: Best Director; Best Actress; Best Actor; Best Script. The Silver Bear is awarded for Outstanding Artistic Contribution in the categories: camera; editing; music; score; costume; set design. The Jury also presents the Grand Jury Prize and the already mentioned Alfred Bauer Prize.
Along with the awards I have just listed, it is worth mentioning the Honorary Golden Bear and the Berlinale Camera.
This year the Berlinale will award an Honorary Golden Bear to Micheal Ballhaus who can boast a long and impressive career as a director of photography, working with remarkable directors in the U.S such as Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola and Robert Redford. Ballhaus has made a decisive contribution to U.S movie making and his collaboration with Scorsese resulted in the masterpieces The Age of Innocence (1993) and Gangs of New York (2002) among others. The Berlinale Camera is a tribute to personalities who have contributed to the film industry and has been awarded since 1986 to actors the likes of Clint Eastwood and Sir Alec Guinness.
The festival also includes a special section on short films, which are judged by a dedicated International Short Film Jury.
A special mention must be made of the Panorama section of the festival, which features Auteur films in different categories (Feature Flms, Documentaries, Panorama Special – independent productions). The Panorama Audience Award, the Teddy Award – for films with LGBT themes – and the Best First Feature Award are all bestowed by Independent Juries in this section.
My favourite part of the Berlinale is undoubtedly the Retrospective, which from 1977 has been made in collaboration with Deutsche Kinemathek – Museum für Film und Fernsehen. Since then, the aim of the Retrospective has been to organize restrospectives on key themes in the history of cinema. This year the Retrospective section of the Berlinale will focus on West/East German cinema differences during the Sixties. Among the films chosen are: Der sanfte Lauf (West Germany 1966/67) by Haro Senft, Schonzeit für Füchse (No Shooting Time for Foxes, West Germany 1966) by Peter Schamoni, Karla (Carla, East Germany, 1965/1990) by Hermann Zschoche, and Fräulein Schmetterling (Miss Butterfly, East Germany, 1965/Germany, 2005) by Kurt Barthel. The films will be shown both in their censored 1960s version and in their restored 1990s versions. During the Sixties the New German Cinema in the West sought to establish a new trend for German Cinema based on artistic excellence and not on profits like the majority of its competitors. The directors of the New German Cinema declared in their Manifesto “ The old cinema is dead. We believe in the new cinema” (“Der alte Film ist tot. Wir glauben an den neuen”).
Films from the West of Germany were screened despite being critical of the economic miracle of the Sixties – and some made it to the Festival of Cannes, Venice and the Berlinale – whilst the DEFA (Deutsche Film- Aktiengesellschaft) in East Germany banned a significant amount of films which were politically controversial according to the socialist regime. The significance of the Restrospective this year lies in showing both sides and underlining their similarities as well as their differences. Screening both the Sixties and the Nineties versions of the films makes the audience aware of how censorship worked in East Germany and the differences in philosophies that each side of the divide had.
Among the most notable directors of the new German Cinema at the Berlinale are the likes of Wim Wenders, Rainer Werner Fassbinder and Margarethe Von Trotta.
But… the Berlinale does not want to look only at the past. It also has an eye for the future…
Across the festival young people are represented both as jurors and as emerging directors. Teens and children make up the jury for the section Generation, which includes films that touch themes close to young people’s experiences and with a young target audience. Perspektive Deutsches Kino is about young German filmmakers and promotes their work. The director of the festival Dieter Kosslick, who has been in charge since 2001, created this section to foster young German talents and to integrate more German films into the Berlinale.
This year the festival will open with the screening of the Coen brothers’ film Hail Caesar! (2016) and it will be held from 11th February to 21st February.
Meryl Streep has been appointed president of the International Jury, so if you have the chance to be in Berlin in February you could get a glimpse of the stars on the Red Carpet during the premiere at the Berlinale Palast and perhaps even sneak an autograph.
I'm particularly passionate about British and German cinema, and I'm a sucker for a good old war film.