BERLIN 2000 DIARY: The Venues Rock As Does A New Doc; Nossiter Confounds and Scandinavians Celebrate
by Mark Rabinowitz/indieWIRE
After a few days negotiating the fest, I have seen a few films and
familiarized myself with the facilities in Potsdammer Platz, which when
they are finished, will win architectural and design awards by the
bucketful. The place really is quite spectacular, full of glass,
skylights and other touches that really cannot be described -- phrases
like "the indoor/outdoor atrium/circular square with the window down
into the theater lobby and the ceiling/roof that looks like a horizontal
windmill" come to mind.
While I can now find my way around, reading a menu is still quite
difficult. One hint, Schinken is most definitely NOT chicken. It's ham.
Some things, however, are easy, and I'm not just talking about
McChickens, either -- "Ein Bier, bitte," for example; not only is it
easy to say, but it's frequently heard coming from fest attendees. Being
in Germany seems to make people feel like they have the right, nay duty,
to drink lots and lots of beer, wine and champagne.
One day, a booth in the German Boulevard at the European Film Market has
a keg, the next moment, the Scandinavian Films folks are turning a
one-time only cocktail party into a Happy Hour that extends the length
of the fest. As in Rotterdam, beer is the main drink of choice in
Berlin, with each restaurant or bar seeming to specialize in a different
brew. There's Jever, Bitburger, Berliner Kindl Jubilaums Pilsener, etc.,
etc. The thing is, it's really good beer. In addition to beer, on the
Market's second floor stands the Market Club, in which there is a
moderately priced wine/oyster/cheese bar that also has sushi and a free
Jameson's Irish Whiskey bar.
My first daily meal is at the cafe set up by the PalaceHotel in the
Market. I don't know if it's just the exchange rate, but prices are very
reasonable, and it's a nice place for an informal meeting for Market
attendees. Frequent sightings of folks like USA Films' Peter Kalambach,
Blow Up Pictures' Sharan Sklar, RESFest/RES Magazine's Jonathan Wells,
Newport fest co-topper Nancy Donahoe and director Rolf Gibbs -- whose
short film "G" is screening in the Panorama section of the fest -- not
to mention countless European buyers and sellers, make the café an
excellent place to people watch while enjoying a tea, coffee or my
choice, prosecco (an Italian sparkling white wine akin to champagne).
Gibbs related his tale of getting into the opening night party without
an invite. Apparently, having a film in the fest and taking the picture
of the mayor that adorns an official Festival publication isn't enough
to get invited. Apparently, being the co-director of the Sundance Film
Festival doesn't get you an invite either, as Geoff Gilmore and Rolf
Gibbs managed to talk their way into the event together. I guess the
story that "no one gets invited to opening night" is true!
First Fest Film
Upon entering the Berlinale-Palast (up the nearly invisible stairs of
which several people have been injured, including one broken leg,
according to Moving Pictures' Berlinale 2000 daily mag), my first
impression was that I was attending a film at some grand opera house. I
had to hike up about 5 flights of stairs, entering the theater on the
top level, where I was higher than the screen, and much like the opera,
the stairs were treacherously steep. After settling into my high-backed
oversized plush seat, however, I was in heaven, with the projection and
sound among the best I have experienced.
Too bad the film wasn't better.
That was "Signs and Wonders," Jonathan Nossiter's much-anticipated
follow-up to his Sundance winner "Sunday." indieWIRE will be presenting
a full review of the film today, so I will refrain from commenting in
full, but let's just say that it supports much of the grumbling that has
been going on regarding the quality of the selection at this year's
event. I left the film convinced that it was either a work of genius or
a piece of crap. After much thought and discussion with other viewers, I
have decided that while it's not the latter, it is most certainly not
the former, either.
One day over the weekend, I stopped at the café in the Market and had my
usual $7 lunch of smoked salmon baguette and glass of prosecco, and then
took my first excursion into the multiplex of theaters known as the
CinemaxX. With 19 theaters, it's hopping with festival-goers from
morning till night. Some of the theaters are huge, and some are the
quaintest, most comfortable (45 and 52 seat) screening rooms I've ever
seen: wide space between aisles, and large seats with great padding.
Walking into the theater I hit the concession stand and headed
downstairs to the screening room for a showing of Barbara Kopple's
engrossing 1999 doc, "A Conversation with Gregory Peck."
An Afternoon With a Legend
The film is arranged around the movie star's one-man show that he has
been performing periodically for the past couple of years, looking at
the performances as well as private time spent with Peck and his family.
On stage, Peck presents a man much like some of his most popular screen
roles: genial, intelligent, quick-witted and tender. Several times
during the Q&A sessions that are part of his stage shows, an audience
member will relate a story involving a child named Atticus (the name of
the famous lawyer Peck played in "To Kill a Mockingbird" for which he
won an Oscar), a man who became an attorney after seeing that film.
After each performance, Peck invites his admirers backstage where he
greets them and signs a piece of memorabilia. There is even a woman who
traveled all the way from England, spending her savings, to attend his
show. Peck also reveals his great affection for Audrey Hepburn as a
person and co-star, "Mockingbird" is indeed his favorite film role, and
tells a delightful story about how he courted his now-wife when he was
in Paris after shooting "Roman Holiday." You come away from the film
feeling like you've spent some time with one of America's true screen
legends. Unfortunately, it was recently reported that
Peck would soon be ending his one-man shows, but I haven't been able to
After the Oscar nominations were announced on Tuesday, there was an
impromptu party thrown by the Scandinavian delegation in Berlin. As the Swedes
picked up a nomination for best foreign language film (Colin
Nutley's "Under the Sun") and three short films: the animated "My
Grandmother Ironed the King's Shirts" by Torill Kove, and live action
shorts "Bror, Min Bror" (Teis and Nico) by Henrik Ruben Genz and Michael
W. Horsten, and "Major and Minor Miracles" by Marcus Olsson, the
Scandinavians were ready for more continuous champagne receptions.
The evening parties, of which there are many, however, are not exactly
easy to find out about, and as a result, bars are often the ending point
of the day. As this is my first time in Berlin, some of the regular
attendees (journos, fest programmers, etc.) have taken me under their
collective wing, and have shown me their favorite drinking spots in
Berlin. Many of my newfound compatriots and I are gathering at a few
bars in the area near the Zoo called Charlottenburg at which they are
treated like regulars. After a day of seeing sometimes as many as 6
films, talk usually moves to a topic other than film, but I'll see what
kind of fest observations I can get from these vets.
That's it for me, time to hit the road and pass on by the
wonderful-smelling Curry Wurst (I don't eat red meat, so I may only
smell it), and venture out into the chilly Berlin night. Upcoming
reports will include a chat with Norsk Film's Managing Director Tom
Remlov about some of their films in the Berlinale and their upcoming
projects, the annual IFP American Films at the Market dinner, the new
Kenneth Branagh Film, naked people in public, and what in the hell was
that zebra doing in the Press Center?