"They're a very well-behaved jury, if I may so," Berlinale jury president Mike Leigh said at a press conference yesterday that kicked off the 62nd edition of the film festival.
Leigh is presiding over a impressive group of fellow jury members including filmmakers Francois Ozon, Anton Corbijn and Asghar Farhadi (whose "A Separation" won Berlin's top prize last year), writer Boualem Sansai, and actors Charlotte Gainsbourg, Jake Gyllenhaal and Barbara Sukowa.
"We anticipate nothing here," Leigh said when asked about what he's expecting from the festival. "Because we have a completely open mind about what we're going to experience and enjoy and savour in the films we are going to consider… It's great to just to spend time thinking about films, and not one's own films."
"I came along having no idea what it might be like," Gainsbourg added. "I didn't even look at the file with all the information on the films. So I'm delighted to discover each film as it comes."
When asked what sets it apart from the rest of the film festival world, Leigh spoke very warmly of the Berlinale, which has screened many of his films ("Happy-Go-Lucky" had its world premiere here a few years back, for example).
"My experience of this festival goes back a long way," he said. "Every festival is different. And this is one of those festivals — and there are many but this is the main one — which I really enjoy for its spirit, its atmosphere, its general joie de vivre… I think it's helped by the fact that it takes place in the middle of winter and that it's always very cold here. I think that informs the spirit hugely. Though I have no doubt that if it happened in the middle of summer it would be equally good."
Leigh reminisced about the festival's past, noting what it was like when the Berlin Wall was still up.
"It was wonderful before the wall came down because there was this intense atmosphere that benefited from what West Berlin was like," he said. "But I have to say that the festival in the years since the wall came down hasn't lost any of that atomosphere at all. I think it's just a great celebration of film. For me, to be asked to be president of the jury at this festival is more than a great honor. I think it's really fantastic."
The only American on the jury, Gyllenhaal was asked whether he felt like the "odd man out."
"I think I'm just going to let the president of the jury speak for me," Gyllenhaal responded after Leigh piped in noting there was absolutely no reason why he should feel any different than the other jurors. "I would say that I was incredibly excited because I've been a huge fan of everyone here and the movies they've made, but particularly Mike Leigh since I was a young boy. I just love his films and when I knew that he was the president it was very exciting to think about being in a room with a number of artists and being able to talk about film and listening to their opinion. I consider it a great privilege and honor to be part of something like that.
One journalist asked whether a film's political and social merit was important to the jury members in terms of whether or not they were reward it.
"I would suggest that it would be impossible for any of us on this jury to make serious consideration of any of the films without looking at them each their appropriate way as much in a political, social and environmental context as much as in their artistic, cinematic or other merits," Leigh noted. "We are — if I may so — too sophisticated and intelligent to fail to do that. That is all I would say."
"I lack real sophistication, so… In that case I would disagree," Gyllenhaal joked in response. "I agree with you in all other cases."