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February 14, 2000 2:00 AM
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BERLIN 2000 DIARY: Checking In, Press Hazing, and McChicken, Berlinale Begins

BERLIN 2000 DIARY: Checking In, Press Hazing, and McChicken, Berlinale Begins


by Mark Rabinowitz/indieWIRE




indieWIRE's reports from the 2000 Berlin Film Festival begin today and continue for the next 10 days, including reviews of new films from Stanley Kwan, Francois Ozon, Jonathon Nossiter, Zhang Yimou, Kenneth Branagh, Volker Schloendorff and Bruno Barretto, as well as reports on American films, documentaries, the Forum and Panorama sections, and the biz of the Berlinale.

(indieWIRE/2.14.2000) -- Entering Berlin by train, I am immediately struck by its complete lack of resemblance to many other European cities. As does London, Berlin spreads out in a design that can only be described as urban sprawl. Coming from Amsterdam, a small, quaint city of canals, townhouses, and tiny winding streets, Berlin's broad boulevards and modern architecture is quite a shock. While I am looking forward to the festival, I must confess to a slight feeling of trepidation.

I'm always a bit nervous when entering a new country, especially one in which I don't speak the language. I also must confess to a slight uneasiness as to the history that Germany represents in my mind. How will my last name be reacted to? I know it's been 55 years, but it's impossible to forget the events of 1933-1945. Not that I want to forget them, per se, I was just worried that they would color my perception of the city and its people.

While I have noticed a few raised eyebrows at the mention of my last name, it was pointed out to me by a friend that the reaction may not be because my last name is Jewish, but more because I don't look much like your usual Rabinowitz. In fact, on the streets of New York (and Havana, for that matter) I am much more likely to be approached by someone assuming I speak Spanish, rather than Yiddish or Hebrew. To be honest, after a few days here, I do not really get the feelings that I was afraid I'd have, and am getting comfortable walking around the city, even alone at night, when "Ein McChicken, bitte" has occasionally been my rallying cry. (An aside: a useful, though slightly unsettling fact pointed out to me by producer's rep Paul Tobias: McDonald's corporate policy dictates that U.S. currency will be accepted at any "Micky D's" in the world. So if you're out of Deutsche Marks, Franks, Yen or Rupees, you can buy your burger in USD.)

Walking down Alte Potsdammer Strasse, I am struck by the unsettling resemblance of the new home for the Internationale Filmfestspiele Berlin, or Berlinale, has to Universal City Walk in L.A. While many of the buildings are half finished, and the area is ringed by several massive construction sites, it is clear that the area was designed for a family to be able to spend an entire day in a few block radius and be able to see films, watch live music, try their hands at games in the casino, and eat at any of a multitude of restaurants and shop at a huge mall. Much of the area looks as if the Georges Pompidou Centre in Paris exploded, creating dozens of oddly shaped buildings with bright colors, exterior plumbing and glass elevators.

Checking into the new press headquarters at the Berlinale-Palast at Marlene-Dietrich-Platz was an experience that I'm glad that I don't have to repeat. While I am skeptical about the press office's estimate of 3,000 journalists attending this 50th anniversary year of the Berlinale, there certainly was a zoo at the check-in desk, with a huge line of people lining up to speak to press chief Frauke Greiner and complain about their passes. The way the system is designed for press can only best be described as Byzantine. The list of which theaters I can attend and at which time for which section of the festival is extensive, and makes it quite difficult to make a schedule.

Apparently, I forgot to check the box on the application requesting a press box, and as a result, there is no way for other attendees to contact me. When I pointed out that the lack of a press box would make my job considerably more difficult, the "helpful" press office staff stated: "I'm sure that you think it will be more difficult, but you will be okay." (Now I feel better.) I have been informed that this is the experience of all first-time press attendees at the festival, and that next year will be better. I suppose that it is their less-than-subtle form of hazing.

While I didn't attend the opening night film "Million Dollar Hotel" (and was blatantly laughed at by the press office when I requested an opening night ticket), the universal impression of it was awful, so I don't feel as if I missed anything. To be honest, many of the more interesting films are screening at the European Film Market, running in conjunction with the Berlinale, and I am guessing that I will be spending much of my time in the Market screening rooms. Films I am looking forward to include "A Conversation with Gregory Peck," the new doc by Barbara Kopple; "Naked States," a doc by Arlene Donnely; "Best," a British film about soccer legend Georgie Best by Mary McGuckian starring John Lynch, Ian Hart, Ian Bannen and Patsy Kensit; and Rob Schmidt's Sundance entry, "Crime and Punishment in Suburbia."

Some of the festival films I'm looking to catch are Nisha Ganatra's "Chutney Popcorn," Ron Mann's "Grass,"; Kenneth Branagh's latest Shakespeare effort "Love's Labour's Lost" and what has become one of the early discovery films at the fest, Ella Lemhagen's "Tsatsiki, Mum and the Policeman," a Swedish, Norwegian, Danish co-production. Of course, there will also be the nightlife, and much more to come.

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