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February 15, 2002 2:00 AM
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DAILY NEWS: Report from the Berlinale; Film Society Showcase

DAILY NEWS: Report from the Berlinale; Film Society Showcase



by Eugene Hernandez and Matthew Ross/indieWIRE



>> BERLINALE 2002: Gay Days in Berlin -- Festival Summit, Teddy Awards, and "All About My Father"


(indieWIRE: 02.15.02) -- Under bright, blue skies festival-goers celebrated
Valentine's Day here in Berlin. While industry attendance is waning slightly
in the second half of the fest, screenings remain crowded as the event enters
its second and final weekend.


We'll Have a Gay Ole Time


Gay, lesbian and transgender film festival programmers and organizers from
around the world converge on Berlin each year to screen the dozens of
queer-themed movies that populate the various sections of the Berlinale.


Nearly 80 Queer attendees gathered Wednesday evening for the annual informal
gay, lesbian and transgender festival summit at the popular club, SO36.
Some familiar themes were addressed, while a debate emerged about how
festivals should address the emerging impact of transgender films and issues.
One attendee advocated presenting films that appeal to wider interests,
including films by gay and lesbian filmmakers who make movies that may lack
specific queer content, but contain "an homage to gay sensitivity."


Across the board, most agreed on the need for queer film festivals. One
participant said, "The sexual politics unite the different aspects of the
community." Another added that in more conservative societys, such events
are essential. Another attendee, from a country where the society has advanced
in its embracing of gay, lesbian and transgender citizens, advocated that those
from such countries have an obligation to reach out to those from more
repressive regions.


The Gay Oscars?


Berlin, a city with an estimated queer population of 300,000 and a recently
elected openly gay mayor, is not surprisingly the site of an event that could
be considered the Gay Oscars. The Berlinale is unique as the only major
international film festival to recognize its queer content with a special
prize, "The Teddy Award." The annual Teddy ceremony and after-party has become a major event on the social calendar here, with 3,000 expected to attend
tomorrow night's festivities at the Tempodrom. The event will be televised
for the first time this year. Cash prizes -- selected by the nine-person
jury -- will be presented from monies collected via donations throughout
the year.


A Family Story


Among the many films competing for the Teddy Award this year is the moving
Panorama section documentary from Norway, "Alt Om Min Far" (All About My
Father).


Directed by first-time feature filmmaker Even Benestad, the film takes
viewers inside Benestad's own family to explore the story of his father,
Dr. Esben Benestad (aka Esther Pirelli). At age 10, Even Benestad discovered that his dad was living his life as an occasional transvestite. Over the next
18 years, Esther Pirelli has had an increasing role in the life of Benestad,
his sister, their mother and their stepmother (Esben Benestad's second wife).


The powerful conversation in which father and son tackle the painful
differences and tensions that have grown between them for years, anchors the
well-executed doc, which was shot in the director's small hometown of
Grimstad, Norway.


At yesterday evening's screening at the CineStar multiplex, the film was
embraced by the full-house crowd. Filmmaker Benestad and his father Esther
Pirelli joined attendees for a Q & A following an extended ovation. "I believe
this movie has made me a better man and a better woman," Pirelli told the
crowd, when asked about her reactions to the film. The understated Even
Benestad is less certain of the impact of the movie on his life, "I will
figure out in time what this film has done for me and my family."


For Dr. Benestad/Esther Pirelli, the movie underscores a personal goal of
speaking out on behalf of those who are on the margins of society because
they are different. It is a point of debate in the film's tense exchange
between the elder and younger Benestad, because Dad's political agenda, and
subsequent divorce, has clearly scarred the accepting family.


Still, the film's subject, dressed to the nines for the film's premiere here
in Berlin, remains committed to the cause. "The uncommon will always be
uncommon," Pirelli told the audience, garnering applause. "My project is to
make the uncommon alright." [Eugene Hernandez in Berlin, Brian Brooks
contributed to this report.]


[indieWIRE will publish an alert this weekend after the announcement of
the winners of the 52nd Berlinale.


For more on the Berlinale


>> Film Society Touts Unrecognized Features


(indieWIRE: 02.15.02) -- As Hollywood embarks on the annual onslaught of Oscar
lobbying from the majors and the mini-majors, another collection of films is
being celebrated at New York's Walter Reade Theater. The distinction: these
titles, unlike those being honored at the Kodak Theatre on March 24, have a
cumulative U.S. box office total of $0.


Starting today and running through Feb. 28, the Film Society of Lincoln Center
will begin screening the best unseen films of 2001, as determined by the
editors of sister publication Film Comment. Dubbed "Film Comment Selects" the
two week series will feature 14 overlooked titles that, for one reason or
another, have yet to be screened commercially in the U.S. (though several will
see release later this year).


"We're trying to make the magazine extend its reach," said Film Comment editor-
in-chief Gavin Smith. "One of the best ways to do that is to extend into
programming. We often write about films that many of our readers don't get a
chance to see -- now, we can show everyone what we

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