Berlin’s Other Film Festival

Little Red BIFF
Little Red

For the cinephile living in Berlin, February means attending as many Berlinale screenings as possible. The still-intact Friedrichstrasse Christmas decorations add a sense of cheer to the festival, and with the arrival of movie stars – be it yesteryear’s goddess Catherine Deneuve or sex-appeal induced James Franco – comes the hope of a glimpse of those made famous by our approval. Yet, with the commercialism and the large audience – consisting of both Berliners and international tourists – a sense of intimacy is lost in the glaring lights and on the red carpet of the Berlinale Palast. So, while booking tickets for three Berlinale screenings, I was pleased to come across a brochure for the Berlin Independent Film Festival. Considering the sad state of my Berlinale-cinephile wallet, I was hesitant at first. However, realizing that this was my last chance to attend a 7 euro Berlin film festival marathon (packed with two feature lengths and a block of 7 shorts), I couldn’t resist. Considering the relatively short distance of the Babylon Kino from ECLA’s campus, a screening room that would fit only 25 people and a chance for more exposure to the independent scene (packed with struggling, sometimes amateur, directors), this festival was worth more than its price value. When the tickets were booked, there was no room for regret.

The screening marathon proved to be more educational than expected. The first feature was an 83 minute contemporary retelling of ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ directed by Tate Bunker. It was entitled “Little Red.” As a wolfish pedophile named Lou, played by Mark Metcalf (Animal House, Seinfeld, Buffy the Vampire Slayer), stalks preteen ‘Red’ on her runaway trip to Florida, the fairy tale turns into a precautionary tale. Despite the cinematographer’s use of “Windows screensaver sampled” high-definition wide shots (i.e. an exaggerated level of kitschiness) and a sub-par script, the 10-minute Q&A session with the director proved the film to be a brave (though B-graded) gesture. A struggling director, Bunker was a few years down the line before he began production. Even so, he pulled it through and made a movie that tells the tale he passionately wanted to tell. Referring to the film as his brainchild, he stresses the importance of a “precautionary” society; a societal family that protects one another in trying and grievous times.

Berlin Independent Film Festival BIFFDespite the somber tone of the first feature, most of the marathon was relatively light-hearted, specifically the short films. These included Kai Sitter’s Clash, an 11-minute romantic comedy about finding love in the midst of the Turkish-German cultural dispute, Adolfo Martinez Perez’s Pain Staking, a Tarantino-esque black comedy about a cancer-ridden man trying to make his best friend kill him and, Lee Roger’s Op Shop, a film about 3 old women discovering the joys of work in a thrift shop (full of discarded sex toys, etc.). Good old-fashioned British humor.

Other shorts were less thrilling, with the easily forgettable dark comedy Certified by Luke Guidici, Keys Wallet Phone by Juliet Lashinsky-Revene and Bert Schmidt’s Motorbike (a documentary about the rise in Vietnamese motorcycle usage, with 7 minutes of wide shots displaying the jam-packed and polluted streets of Hanoi). Towards the end of the night – maintaining the comedic flow – was Michele Fiascaris’ comedy Fat Cat.

Fat Cat BIFF
Fat Cat

A gangster comedy set in Italy and London, the movie follows the story of two goofy criminals working for a schizophrenic and flamboyant crime lord named Mosca, who, despite his violent inclinations, displays a soft side with women and a fetish for carved stone fat cats (including one he affectionately calls “Renato”). All is well until the two idiots, Burro and Zeus, cross the wrathful Mosca, an error which  leads to a blood bath, a trip to London, and the appearance of a fictional “ultimate” hit-man nicknamed “The Worm”( for eating gummy worms after every murder). During the post-film discussion, Fiascaris acknowledged the influence of other crime syndicate movies, citing Guy Ritchie as a major influence.

The change in mood – from the opening precautionary thriller to the closing comedy – added to the realization that film viewing, despite the torture that sometimes accompanies a B-grade movie, is more about the experience. These small independent film festivals more or less allow, with hilarity, those 10-minute sessions that evoke a stronger understanding of how relatable the directors are. As artists, it is humbling to notice their desire to tell the stories they most desperately want to share. Despite the Berlinale parading a slew of top-notch movies every year, the viewer’s ability to recognize the art itself is lost in the spectacle. At some point, a shared intimacy seems to have been lost, as the multitudes that storm into the film theatre somehow obscure the line between learning and entertainment. Extracting meaning from independent and studio films depends on the viewer. Personally, viewing B-grade/novice cinema reflects better on a person’s cinephilic character. Certainly the intimacy with the art and the artist is a bonus. The important part is the chance to appreciate film in its basic, sincere and most raw (albeit low-funded) state. For a night long movie-marathon, this was definitely 7 euro well spent.

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