BERLIN 2000 DIARY: Sick, Isolated and Facing German Attitude, a Look Back at Berlin
by Mark Rabinowitz/indieWIRE
(indieWIRE/2.24.2000) — Another month, another festival. After the back-to-back mega film fests ofRotterdam and Berlin,
the plan was to R&R in Paris, but my body had other plans, combined with a particularly stubborn
door lock to make me quite ill, indeed. So as I sit here with a stuffed head, hacking cough, aches
and pains, and what may very well be a fever, here are some final thoughts about the latter part of my trip abroad.
What did I think of my first foray into the world of the Berlinale? Well, to be perfectly honest,
it was rather a mixed bag. The only U.S.-based fest that is even close to Berlin in scope is Sundance,
and prior to this year I had been going for seven straight years. As a result, I pretty much had the
town wired, and knew what to expect as far as films, parties and door attitude.
Then, prior to Berlin I made my first journey to a European fest, gliding into the genial beer hall
that is the International Film Festival Rotterdam. Good beer, pleasant company, a (very) relaxed
atmosphere (wink, wink) and a wide variety of films, including what I am used to (for better or worse),
some American indies. Rotterdam was also a public fest, with the festival guests getting every chance
to see the films with a regular audience — 320,000 of them, in fact.
Berlin, on the other hand, had a dearth of American indies (save for an excellent group of docs) and
was anything but genial. From my rough beginning with the press office (no mail box, etc.) to getting
yelled at by the ticket office staff, once for requesting a ticket for a film that I had apparently
already seen (I hadn’t) and once for returning a ticket that a friend couldn’t use.
“Why are you always taking tickets and then not using them?”
I assume by “you” he meant press folks. I supposed that since so many press people are rather unpleasant
when dealing with the press office, the Berlin staff go on the offensive right off the bat, but it put me off.
While I have reported that much of the “physical plant” of the festival is well on its way to becoming first
class, some of the more community-oriented aspects are sorely lacking. In addition to the need for sensitivity
training for some of the staff, what the festival sorely lacks is a central meeting place for attendees.
The single most frequent complaint I heard from attendees was the lack of a hospitality area like in Sundance.
Even if you don’t have a specific meeting planned, at least you know that if you drop by the Sundance Hospitality
Suite, you’re more likely than not to run into people you know. I would estimate that there were at least 150
people I knew by name at Berlin, and I went the entire 12 days without seeing one of them.
There are no official Festival-sponsored afternoon or evening receptions, and the market became the place where
folks met. Unfortunately, one of the hot spots to meet required a Market badge, which filmmakers and others
not attending the Market specifically don’t have.
That said, most of the screenings started on time and the weather was nice. . . for Berlin in February.
As far as the programming goes, Berlin is far too vast a festival to be able to cover completely.
Even if one were to see 6 films per day, the number of films seen would scarcely reach 70 out of the
more than 200 programmed. Throw in the European Film Market, and you’re up well over 400. Still,
there were some gems to be found, some of which have been mentioned in these “pages” over the past
2 weeks, and a final one, “American Psycho,” which premiered at Sundance and was reviewed by indieWIRE
back then. While we have covered this film recently, I think it deserves mention here not only for being
the last film I saw at the 2000 Berlinale, but that it was also the only American indie screened in the
Official Selection (out of competition, however) at the Berlinale.
The film is an adaptation of what can arguably be described as the most reviled book to be published in
recent years, Brett Easton Ellis‘ “roman a stock market” about a yuppie serial killer with absolutely no
conscience and a horrific bloodlust. That said, the film, as adapted by Mary Harron (“I Shot Andy Warhol“)
and Guinevere Turner (“Go Fish“) and directed by Harron, is a sharp and incisive satire, powered by the
blackest of wit, that fully skewers the 80’s “money at all costs” mentality, presenting the lead character
as an empty vessel. Now, I haven’t read the book, so I can’t tell you how faithful it is, but the film made
me want to take a look at the book, and see if I can read it in the film’s darkly satirical vein.
It may be that I simply did not see the “right films.” I will leave it to the film industry word of mouth
as to whether the 50th Berlinale was a programming success, or not. If the physical glitches are fixed,
some official Festival-sponsored non-exclusionary events are thrown into the party mix, and a hospitality
area is set up, Berlin in Potsdamer Platz may indeed turn out to be an enjoyable annual event. For now,
this jury’s out.