Berlin Film Festival Slow And Steady
by Sandy Mandelberger, International Media Resources
Into the 5th day of the Berlin Film Festival, the mood has been upbeat
but films have been slow in making their mark and in attracting press
and buzzer attention.
Kicking off on Thursday evening, 13 February with the German
megaproduction of Peter Hoegs bestseller "Smilla's Sense Of Snow," the
Festival has over 300 films in its various sections, as well as over 200
films in the European Film Market, making it Europe's largest event
after the Cannes Film Festival.
Response to "Smilla" is decidedly mixed, despite big budget and the hand
of auteur director Bille August ("Pelle The Conqueror"). The film opened
wide in Germany over the weekend, doing very good business, despite
tepid reviews from German critics.
American films do not dominate the Festival as in the past 2 years, but
several high profile entries are making a stir. Spike Lee's "Get On The
Bus" and John Singleton's "Rosewood" represent the only studio based
Miramax, as usual, has several films in high profile slots. "The English
Patient" widely touted as the film to beat for the Academy Award next
month, sold out all of its screenings, requiring the German distributor
Kinowelt to add more screenings. Miramax is also represented in the
Panorama section with the Sundance hit "Chasing Amy" from "Clerks" director Kevin Smith.
Good Machine, the high profile independent production entity, is also
represented in the Panorama with another Sundance favorite, "Arresting
Gena." The firm's "Love God"; the first film screened at Sundance produced
on videotape, has had sold out screenings. Good Machine's James Schamus
and new co-president David Linde (formerly head of sales at Miramax)
were on hand for the enthusiastic screenings.
As usual at Berlin, films about sex and sexuality are a big hit at the
Festival. Beth B's "Visiting Desire," a documentary about strangers
fantasies with each other in a bedroom, recalls the early films of Andy
Warhol, and has had two sold out screenings in the Panorama section.
Jeff Harmon's outrageous Technicolor musical comedy "Isle Of Lesbos,"
about a universe where lesbians rule, had a sold out midnight screening
in the International Forum section amidst the presence of groovy
Berliners, enthusiastic film professionals and the odd assortment of
drag queens, dominatrixes and others from Berlin's famed dark side.
The Film Market which runs parallel to the Festival continues to be a
hotbed of activity, with screenings held in the Cinecenter building
amidst promotion stands, filled-to-capacity cafe and 40 seat screening
venues. Films capturing attention in the Market include two new titles
from veteran indie director Steven Soderbergh ("Gray's Anatomy," starring
performance artist Spalding Gray, and "Schizopolis," a scathing satire of
the Church of Scientology). No definite deals have yet to be announced,
but the combination of interesting films and Berlin's notorious shitty
weather has kept the attendance up in the Market screenings.
A big topic of discussion in Berlin is the proposed move of the Festival
and its theaters to the newly constructed Potsdamer Platz, in the former
Eastern sector of the city. With the city and the German government
pouring in hundreds of millions of dollars in literally constructing a
new city in the former East, the pressure is on to move the Festival to
the new site before the Festival's 50th anniversary in the year 2000.
However, as a monolithic, modern cityscape without the benefit of the
restaurants, bars and moderately priced hotels that now populate the
current site near the Kufurstendamme (Berlin's Broadway), the fear is
that the Festival site will be a sterile. While many might oppose the
move from the atmosphere of the Ku'damm, it seems a fait accomplit as
far as the city and federal government are concerned, who contribute the
lion's share of the Festival's funding. So within the next two years, an
era will end for the Berlinale, but its high profile and its reputation
as an event celebrating the challenging and intellectual in world cinema
will continue into the next century.