Berlinale 2013 or How I moved to Potsdamer Platz for a week

More than a year ago, I mentioned in my ECLA of Bard application letter that volunteering at the Berlinale Film Festival is one of the essential reasons for my moving to Berlin. Needless to say, that all too serious and far–reaching plan almost inevitably failed because of unforeseen reasons––even though I was supported by ECLA of Bard Film Studies Professor Matthias Hurst, I was turned down because I did not know German well enough. Having later discovered that the volunteering job I wanted often has to do with standing in the biting wind in an orange jacket and gently holding back the excited visitors, I thanked my ignorance, which in fact saved me from a sad fate, and turned into a dedicated viewer.

Because of the numerous scenarios that played in my mind, all of which involved my not being able to get a ticket for any of the screenings, three days before the first festival day I was fully armed with a credit card, a shabby Berlinale magazine, few fellow friends on the phone, and a notebook with an opened and continually refreshed festival webpage. The following week I almost lived in Alte Potsdamer Strasse––with its alluring mulled wine smell and cozy tables, served by complaisant waiters. I was spending most of the time in Potsdamer Platz Arkaden Trade Center, at the local Starbucks (with complimentary wi-fi connection), and, of course, in the dim light of the cinema halls.

As a ‘self-proclaimed’ expert on booking and buying tickets for the Berlinale, I created a short list of tips, which could be helpful for those who plan to attend the festival next year or just for the frequent cinemagoers in general:

  • Use the website service to select all the films you want to see. Then look at your personal schedule for all overlaps. You will be able to set your priorities straight and choose the best possible combination in advance.
  • To get a ticket for sure, it’s better to buy it on the website three days before the screening. Tickets go on sale at 10:00 in the morning and are sold in 5-10 minutes, so it’s necessary to open the page and click the button immediately after the sales open. You have about 15 minutes to make the payment after that.
  • In order to get a student ticket with 50% discount, be sure to arrive 1––1,5 hours in advance directly at the cinema, which screens your selected film, and try to stay next to the cashier desk when the final sales are open.
  • Use a free Berlinale magazine, which has the descriptions of all festival films, to freshen up your mind about the film plots, and check for screenings that you might spontaneously decide to attend.

What is worth seeing at the Berlinale?

The Berlinale program takes place in more than 10 cinemas, most of which are around Potsdamer Platz with couple in Charlottenburg and Alexanderplatz. The most important cinema venues of the festival are the Berlinale Palast and the Friedrichstadt Palast, where one can see a défilé of film stars on the red carpet and watch world premieres, followed by official presentations and Q&A sessions with the film crews. As it is with every festival, there are films, which are only shown within the ceremonial week. Those with popular actors and directors go widescreen soon after the festival premiere for a more modest price. This year the list of Berlinale top films included Promised Land by Gus Van Sent, Before Midnight by Richard Linklater and starring Ethan Hawke, Steven Soderbergh’s Side Effects with Jude Law, Rooney Mara, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Channing Tatum, and the third film from the scandalous trilogy by Austrian director Ulrich Seidl––PARADIES: Hoffnung.

The Berlinale is regarded as a politically and socially relevant film festival, which is not afraid to raise controversial topics within the film program. Thus one ought to pay special attention to films created in conflict areas or covering topical social issues. In 2013 the most prominent film trends included: the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, female midlife crisis, man’s solitude in a big world, and the problems of homosexuals in conservative societies. Those who are interested in indigenous cinema shouldn’t miss the annual NATIVe program, which presents documentaries and features from Australia, Oceania, North America, and the Arctic center. The films on culinary topics, which are followed by an elegant dinner, will fascinate the gourmets.

Berlinale Experience: World Premiere and Berliner Spezialität

Following my dream to see at least one film at the Berlinale Filmpalast, I booked tickets for the world premiere of The Necessary Death of Charlie Countryman­­––the director’s debut of Frederik Bond, who could boast of a surprising for a beginner star list. Two hours before the screening, red-nosed frozen girls with thermos flasks and huge portraits of their idols were waiting for the film’s main actors: Rupert Grint (mostly known for playing Ron Weasley in the Harry Potter series), Shia LaBeouf, and German cinema top star Til Schweiger. From time to time one could hear a heart-rending screech, which marked the arrival of another film star. Closer to the beginning of the screening, the red carpet filled with starts in dazzling suits and dresses––mixed with journalists, operators, and stage workers in simple winter coats. The strict security guards of the Filmpalast made me hide the camera and “all the recording devices” and kindly led me to the fifth floor, from which I could barely see the tiny figures downstairs. I could see the procedure of giving interviews and signing portraits, only after which the film started, take place in the hallway.

In the film, the character of Shia LaBeouf has the ability to have inspiring conversations with dead people. Following the advice of his mother, who has recently passed away, he buys a ticket to Bucharest and goes there to “relax”, and experience ‘true Eastern European spirit’. Romania meets the U. S. tourist with a complete cliché set of Eastern European marvels: street shootings, ambulance drivers smoking hash, blood rivers, and underground student hostels. Supported with moralizing narrative voiceover, along with an unexpected plot twist, and spiced with an inspiring selection of Balkan-style music––the film shows us familiar actors in unusual roles and presents a piquant criminal love story of a cellist, who leads a double life, and a frail-looking, yet dangerous guy.

Being a Berlin-addict, I couldn’t skip one of the most promising films about Berlin presented in the Panorama program – Lose Your Head by Stefan Westerwelle. Described as “an electrifying, feverish daydream-cum-trip” in the Berlinale catalogue, this film is a multilingual colorful sketch of the Berlin club scene in summer (Hello, Katerholzig!). The movie includes scenes of hot ‘polyamourousness’, chilling at the Spree River, taking mandatory pictures in a photo booth, and presents a story of a self-destructive homosexual relationship with a detective flavor. At some point of the film, it was already impossible to distinguish the ‘real events’ from the protagonist’s mirage in a drugged daze, so the only thing I could do was to breathlessly and intently follow the ups and downs on the screen. Having expected an unobtrusive love story with panoramas of Berlin in the background, I watched a tense drama with passion, suffering, and panic horror that pleasantly impressed by the powerful atmosphere, which the film director succeeded to create.

Regardless of the fact that the festival glamour and shine were a bit influenced by the freezing cold, the colorful garlands around the trees, the symbolic bears, the posters, the gossip about closed parties, the multilingual crowds around the city, and, most importantly, the carefully selected films from all corners of the world once again turned Potsdamer Platz and Berlin, as a whole, into a Film Metropolis, which tirelessly kindles new film stars and becomes, in a way, a mediator between the film art and the viewers.

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