This is a newly updated version of our guide.
It’s Berlinale again! The time when we stock up on movie snacks and fill our thermoses with extra strong green tea so we can survive entire days spent watching artsy 3-hour epics, gut-wrenching documentaries, and delightfully baffling shorts. Though this year is rather short on star power (we do get jury president Juliette Binoche and honorary Golden Bear recipient Charlotte Rampling) or buzzy titles, this just means we get to dive a little deeper. Looking at the very long program, the obvious highlights are Amazing Grace, a very-long-awaited document of Aretha Franklin’s legendary live gospel album from 1972, new films by French masters François Ozon and Agnès Varda, plus beautifully restored versions of Marlene Dietrich’s nazi-bashing western comedy Destry Rides Again and Gregory Nava’s painfully topical migration epic El Norte from 1984.
As for less starry movies I’m excited about, there’s Lou Ye’s Guangzhou-set gentrification noir The Shadow Play, the Italian documentary Selfie, filmed by two teens stuck in the Neapolitan mafia stronghold of Traiano, a Mica Levi-scored survival thriller called Monos (which is tantalizingly said to feature a dairy cow called Shakira), and a documentary about workers in the denim capital of the world, Brazil’s Toritama, which annually produces 20 millions pairs of jeans. There’s also two films from the festival’s exciting NATIVe program, which explores indigenous cinema from around the world: Merata: How Mum Decolonised the Screen tells the story of the first female Maori filmmaker, Merata Mita, and Vai, a film about female kinship in the South Pacific Islands. FFC fans, meanwhile, can check out the awkwardly named TeaTime: How to Become a Female Chef?, a panel talk with filmmaker Maya Gallus, Parabere Forum president Maria Canabal, and starred chef Angela Hartnett.
What follows is a quick and dirty guide to how the festival works, and how you can score tickets with the least amount of frustration. Before studying the program, all you need to know is that — and I’m simplifying here — Competition films are the ones in, erm, competition; Panorama films are by semi-established international filmmakers; Forum and Forum Expanded are younger, riskier, and artier; Generation ones are (not just!) for kids, and only €5; Perspektive features homegrown German titles (with English subtitles, of course, like all non-English films in the festival); and the other, smaller sections are fairly self-explanatory. All of them (aside from those blatant red-carpet ‘Specials’ that are there so that Gala and L’Oreal will still show up) are guaranteed to be special or great or crazy or stunning ortcetera.
You can download the program brochure at the Berlinale website, or pick up a paper copy for handy marking up at the Arkaden or in other cinephile locations around town. And if the sheer number of options seems paralyzing, there’s always seats left over somewhere; simply try the box office at any participating theater on the day of and let the fates of film be your guide (remember, they don’t take cards!). Students and other disadvantaged folks pay half price for same-day tickets, and starting half an hour before every Berlinale Palast screening starts, all left-over tickets for screenings there are 50% off!
If you do have a wish list, use the Berlinale’s handy programming tool and apps, and figure out what goes on sale when. Though the festival only releases a limited number through their website every morning, you will be able to get tickets at home. (You’ll need an Eventim account, though, best set that up beforehand.) When you’re successful (coordinate with your friends every morning over coffee and Skype!), you can either print them out, get a special ‘mobile’ ticket, or — if you love lines — pick them up with your printed confirmation at the Arkaden.
If the online contingent is sold out, or you just don’t trust the speed of your internet connection, you can bring snacks and line up early at the Potsdamer Platz Arkaden, at Kino International, at the Haus der Berliner Festspiele, or Audi City Berlin out west. What’s more, and this is might be the best tip I’m giving you here today: for a €2 surcharge you can get tickets for ANY screening that is for sale (see below) at ANY Berlin ticket office (Koka36 on Oranienstrasse, for instance). Just be sure to note down the ticket code for your chosen screening beforehand (find it in the printed program or on the website), so those poor devils won’t have to wade through all the Berlinale events to find the one you mean.
Now, as for when you should buy your tickets, that’s where shit gets crazy German (and I mean that in the nicest way, sort of): starting Monday, February 4th, 10:00am, you will be able to get tickets for ALL screenings at the Friedrichstadt-Palast, HAU, and those in Culinary Cinema and Berlinale Goes Kiez (which just might take the Berlinale to the cinema around the corner from you in Friedrichshain, Mitte (ACUDkino!), heck, even in Weißensee or Friedrichshagen, check the entire list here).
That same day, you’ll also be able to buy tickets for ALL screenings on the Berlinale Publikumstag (February 17th), when the awards have been awarded, the filmmakers have mostly left, and us regular folk can take over the festival grounds (hence the friendlier pricing: €10 per screening, €5 for films in the Generation kids program).
Though this already seems like being spoiled for choices, many more tickets actually won’t be on sale yet on February 4th, as they only go on sale three days in advance (again, a smaller number of tickets online and the rest at the four main ticket offices). I bet just showing up and catching whatever’s playing is sounding pretty sweet right now, but it really isn’t that complicated when you use Berlinale’s ‘Programme Planner’, which clearly shows when exactly the screenings you’ve selected will go on sale. As for snacks, remember that there’s a street food fair set up on Joseph-von-Eichendorff-Gasse right near the main venues at Potsdamer Platz, starring all your favorites from Bite Club (Bunsmobile, Heisser Hobel, Eddielicious, Fräulein Kimchi, and newcomer Zero Stress Pizza), so no need to resort to bland mall food from the Arkaden.