The Berlinale 2002 - Celebrating Diversity

Some personal observations on the Berlinale itself and the work of the jury.

An emotional experience
The Berlinale 2002 was a busy and festive occasion.  Cinema’s filled to capacity by a largely young public, an overwhelming harvest of competiting films, documentaries, docudramas, seasonsed products and first attempts (400 !), made us run from theater to theater, miss meals and fill our dreams. The medium of Film is very much alive and kicking. Even after seeing new productions every day one experiences how potent this medium is, how it shapes one’s emotions, guides one’s judgements and creates the extraordinary feeling of relief when tragedy and comedy are fused, when the injustices in society and personal life are told in the context of love and respect (even if it is only in the reaction of the public), when one is allowed to be involved in a film and yet allowed to keep some 40 feet distance. In the beloved terms of postmodernism: when deconstruction and reconstruction go hand in hand.
Even the most hardened film critic will feel his eyes grow moist when his own emotions are caught on film and even the calmest natures will start to boil when a picture is deemed to be false and inauthentic. Being on an ecumnical jury is an emotional experience of a special kind!  
A festival with its bombardment of images and emotions is also a bit like a fashionshow: in the midst of extravagance the trends of the future are being shown and seen. And in Berlin one could certainly feel trends as well as experience simple filmic accidents; the latter producing films one has forgotten before the week is over.
I find it very important that the ecumenical movement is present in these events, especially since this presence happens in an atmosphere of protestant-roman catholic collaboration, which - like a festival itself -  points to the future more than it documents the present.

The films on the screen
The catalogue lists 29 films for the competition,  39 productions in the Panorama section (‘looking for trends’) plus 19 Panorama Specials and 71 films in Forum ('mirror of the world’s cinema’). Then: a section about ‘The New German Movie’, a children’s filmfestival and a number of ‘Retrospections’: famous films of all times, being shown as an iconography of the growing film tradition. All together 400 films from all corners of the earth  to be seen in 700 screenings..! One needs a calculating mind,  an electronic organiser and an indestructable love for the medium in order to survive these 10 days of February.
Of course, it is all too much. Especially if one wanted to participate in screenings in cinema’s  not located around the Potsdamer Platz, one had often to leave a screening a bit early to take one of the special busses ( an A+ for the organiser of the Bus service) for the next place.
It is too much if one wants to really carefully consider the price candidates from among all that is offered, it is not too much however for the general visitor: she/he has a tremendous possibility to chose and pick according to taste. For the ecumenical jury it was a problem. I’ll come back to that.

The Jury’s – officials and independent
There were more jury’s then one. I counted the International Jury, the Premiere Jury, the Jury for the Press prize (Fipresci), the Ecumenical Prize and a variety of smaller prizes for special films.
It might not hurt to have a bit more publicity for the Ecumenical Prize and its recievers. That would require a different sort of jury report than the one we handed in, just before the final ceremony. A more substantial report could be drafted in the days after the Festival and be given wider publicity.
In my own country no editors for religious copy or among the film critics seemed to know of the existence of an ecumenical prize at the Berlinale but when they heard about it,  they showed interest in being alerted before the Festival to that event. Time for coming out, some of my friends would say!
None of the jurys, with the possible exception of the Children’s Prize jury could see all ‘their’ films offered to the Festival. The Ecumenical Jury saw all the films in the section ‘competition’ and as many films in the categories Panorama and Forum as we could. We had no time for the categories: German Film, Children’s films, Special events, let alone some of the classics. I found that unfortunate and would plead with the organisation that next year – or for other festivals in the future a slightly different organisation of the jury would be contemplated.

Back to the festival and its harvest
In the literature of the festival the organisers keep saying that there are no real trends in the films they picked up. It is true that there was wide variety in what was shown, both in format and in content. There was drama and comedy,  there were entertainment films and statement films, descriptive and prescriptive films, slick ones and rough cuts.
Yet in many of them similar elements were to be seen.
In the Panorama and Forum sections many films were – predictably - about the search for authentic relationships. It is an inexhaustable subject, old as the world and never dull. Marriage trouble in >Die Halbe Treppe< (by Andreas Dresen) is all about that, in >The Shipping News< (by Lasse Hallström), Julianne Moore and Kevin Spacey begin by lying about their real past, but move towards honesty; >in Monster’s Ball< (by Marc Forster) an executioner finds love with the wife of his victim, suggesting that forgiveness follows the choice of a common future, in >Burning in the Wind< (by Silvio Soldini) shows the depth of alienation which comes with migration for people trying to find a new life and being honest at the same time.  Many other films document that same search. Several films treated homosexuality, both to show that gayism is no longer tabu and that homosexuality is finally about honesty in relationships. Especially the various contributions from Asia (China!) wrestled with gayism as new freedom and  the search for trust and acceptance.
Some films were fascinating because they treated the difficulty our generation has with communication. Communication as gift against all odds. The two runaways in >Beneath the Clouds< (by Ivan Sen) hardly had any language to serve as instrument for their relationship, the characters in the shocking film >Bad Guy< had none; Kevin Spacey in >The Shipping News< has to learn how to write. In >Iris< (by Richard Eyre), Judy Dench plays a word-artist who loses her controle of mind, etc.
Another element was the amazing number of films concerned with a reality behind the visible, showing the filmmakers protest against the hardnosed economic world in which we live. In >The Shipping News< the past is a true reality, a >One Day in August< (by Constantinos Giannaris) is concerned with a true miracle, in >Temptations< (by Zoltán Kamondi),a gipsy girl provides supernatural powers and in a >Beautiful Mind< (by Ron Howard), illusions are more real than reality. The suspense in Robert Altman’s >Gosford Park<, in >Safe Conduct< (by Bertrand Tavernier) and even in the >8 Women< (by François Ozon) add an accent of unreality and truth-behind-the-truth to the events. Not much fear that the filmic medium falls prey to the flat world of commerce and market domination!
The ‘history films’ were a mixed bunch. >Bloody Sunday< (by Paul Greengass), who got the ecumenical prize for its honesty and moving portrait of a peace movement in disarray, was a docudrama of great power; >Baader< (by Christopher Roth) and the film >Amen< (by Costa-Gavra) about Hochhuts Pius the 12th and the Jewis question were historically questionable but perhaps intentionally so.
What was impressive in these historical productions was the pluriformity of interpretation of history. One could not say who in the end bears the responsibility for the catastrophe in >Bloody Sunday<, and one could not say that Baader or Pius XII were cowards, macho’s or hero’s.

Final: All films were too long!
I do not quite understand why that was. Perhaps it has to do with marketing as so many things today; perhaps there is a deeper reason for it. If so I have not found it yet. It is clear that most films we saw would have won if given back to the cutter for a little more time!

Our Prizes
The Ecumenical Jury did not have great trouble in finding its laureats. >Bloody Sunday< for the prize (although some of us had nominated >Die Halbe Treppe< with even higher praise) for its honesty and the moving portrayal how violence has its own laws: once unleashed it is like a pocket being fired, following its own logic and searching its own destruction. It makes us more sober in our judgement and more merciful towards perpetrators.In the Panorama section we decided for >The Angel of Led< (by Denis Chouinard), a beautiful journey , in more than one sense, of an immigrant father who seeks – and loses - his son among activists for environmental rights. The father has to give up all easy answers with which he tried to conquer modern life, but he gains respect for others (specially his wife and the hippylike girl friend of his son. Well filmed, well acted, well done.
In the Forum section we prized >E Minha Cara< (by Thomas Allen Harris), a ‘young’ film about a black american who has to travel three continents to find his soul, North America, Africa and Latin America. An honest film with great sensitivity for different cultures and our own multicultural identity.

It was a good, ecumenical experience.
WACC should stay close to this type of work.