Rushing back and forth between screening rooms, anxiously calculating the time needed to get across town to the Zoo Palast (where seats are comfiest) and whether or not there’s time to grab the sandwich with the best value for money, Berlinale becomes a way of life that’s hard to shake in the days afterwards. Suddenly I get sleepy after watching just one movie, feel the urge to check my phone. Not so at the festival, where I feel fully immersed for 90 to 180 minutes at a time, and in the end feel confident enough about my notes and memories that I can recommend at least ten great films which I hope make it to Berlin’s screens (whether small or silver) very soon.
I’ll be honest and admit that, to me, Glühwein and snow are way overrated. Winter as a whole I could do without, tbh. But there’s one reason I don’t skip Berlin for all of its winter months and that’s Berlinale. For ten glorious days, at any time of day, we have our pick of dozens of different films. Most are from corners of the world I’ve not yet explored (Burma! Paraguay! the Democratic Republic of the Congo!), though there’s also Perspektive, an entire program of homegrown German titles (with English subtitles, of course, like all non-English films in the festival).
It was almost seven years ago that the work of a Berlin-based filmmaker changed the way I watched films entirely. There was a big retrospective at the Arsenal and I was extremely curious to discover someone whose films had labels like “women’s film” “art film” “queer cinema” and “independent director” attached to them. I had seen images of wild costumes, extravagant make-up, outlandish performers and fantastic imagery before I had actually seen the films they were taken from. Of all the magical hours I had spent getting sucked into this mad universe, one film had stayed with me the most. It is called Freak Orlando and its director is a true artist and can be best described as an untamed magician: Ulrike Ottinger.
Phew! Now, that the overall excitement of the Berlinale has settled and there is finally some time, I want to take a personal and selective look back at some of the islands in the festival stream. Here are the first three filmmakers (of four films) that impressed me endlessly and –what a coincidence- all three are female first-time directors who made great and unusual art and hopefully have a long and exciting career ahead of them.
In a past life, I wrote log lines. What that means is that I used to read movie scripts and then distill them into one or two-line synopses. “After a young librarian finds a mysterious scroll, she embarks on an arduous quest that will reunite her with both her long-lost father and her missing poodle.” Things like that. It’s instilled in me a great admiration for the movie pitch and a great, if ambivalent, reader of film festival programs.