The Berlin International Film Festival has revealed the first 11 titles in its Panorama section, including Raoul Peck’s “I Am Not Your Negro,” the James Schamus-produced “Casting JonBenet” and Daniela Thomas’ “Vazante.” John Trengrove’s “The Wound” will open the section.
The festival says two prominent themes have emerged among the films. The first involves “Reclaiming Black History” or “a fresh historically reflective approach to the history of black people in North America, South America and Africa”; and the second is “Europa Europa,” or “how progressive forces might best defend themselves in light of a zeitgeist that makes it seem as if yesterday never went away.”
The Panorama titles are listed below with synopses and divided by theme. The festival will run from February 9 through 17.
In Focus: Reclaiming Black History
“Vazante” (Daniela Thomas, Brazil/Portugal); with Adriano Carvalho, Luana Nastas, Juliana Carneiro da Cunha, Sandra Corveloni, Roberto Audio
Daniela Thomas, co-director of many joint productions with Walter Salles, presents her solo directorial debut. Brazil was the last country to officially abolish slavery in its historical form, in 1888. This film’s story (co-authored by Beto Amaral) is set in 1821, one year before the South American nation gained its independence from Portugal. The wealth that is extracted from the country comes in the form of gemstones from the mines of Minas Gerais. The precious jewels are excavated from the belly of the mountain by slaves; still absent today is any significant memorial to the suffering they endured. Although this era represents the foundation upon which today’s Brazil was built, its culture has yet to recover from the monstrosity of these events.
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“I Am Not Your Negro” (Raoul Peck, France/USA/Belgium/Switzerland); narrated by Samuel L. Jackson
Raoul Peck is also an esteemed guest at the Berlinale. With “I Am Not Your Negro,” he has embarked on a long overdue reflection on the life of the great African-American writer James Baldwin and his political struggle against racism, whose roots go back to slavery. The black point of view, a black historiography are not yet anchored in mainstream consciousness. History is always written by the victors, and black people were never among them, neither Africans nor African-Americans. In James Baldwin, a powerfully eloquent intellectual took to the stage and set marks that are as invigoratingly crucial to reckon with today as they were 50 years ago. With “I Am Not Your Negro” and “The Young Karl Marx” in Berlinale Special, Raoul Peck is represented twice in this year’s festival program.
“The Wound” (John Trengove, South Africa/Germany/Netherlands/France);with Nakhane Touré, Bongile Mantsai, Niza Jay Ncoyini
The opening film for this year’s Panorama main program comes from South Africa. The fabrication of masculinity has long been a consistent theme in Panorama. Here we are permitted to witness the initiation rites of an African tribe inhabiting the territory of the South African Republic. Tradition and modernity collide when an urbanized businessman from Johannesburg resolves to expose his 17-year-old son to the circumcision ceremony of his old tribe. Producer Elias Ribeiro previously delighted festival audiences in Panorama 2015 with “Necktie Youth.”
“Politics, Instructions Manual” (Fernando León de Aranoa/Spain)
Feature film director Fernando León de Aranoa, a repeat guest at Panorama, enables us to take an in-depth look at the situation on the ground in Spain. The media noise concerning Syria, Trump and other earth-shaking events clouds the recognition of the foundation of our future: European politics. We think back to those heady days in West Germany as the Green Party was founded: Podemos was born of similar circumstances and can no longer be contained on the fringe, even as the dark forces of old regroup for an attack thanks to an unprocessed fascist past. A situation of repressed history, one which ticks away like a time bomb in many countries around the globe. This frightening zeitgeist requires the brave intervention of those who don’t want to be forced back behind the goal lines of recent history.
“Fighting Through the Night” (Sylvain L’Espérance, Canada)
This nearly five-hour-long documentary essay takes us directly to the heart of Europe’s misery: to Athens. In the Greek parliament building, innumerable articles are adopted to an audience of empty seats. The harbor landscape rolls past us, with its endless rows of administrative buildings, which will soon fall into the hands of financiers from other continents. Then we find ourselves right in the middle of an occupation of the tax office by its cleaning personnel – a long-term observation that plays out over the course of 28 days and provides space for empathetic encounters with marginalized individuals caught up in the crisis. The vacuum left behind by technocratic policies is filled by new fascists, who feign gestures of care for the forgotten – a scenario repeated in all of the nations of Europe and beyond its borders.
“Casting JonBenet” (Kitty Green/USA)
Produced by James Schamus and Scott Macaulay, this film is a highly intelligent attempt to revisit the facts surrounding the unsolved violent death of six-year-old “beauty queen” JonBenet Ramsey. What was conceived as a celebration of the American dream family became a nightmare 20 years ago for the ever so omnipotent petty bourgeoisie.
“Honeygiver Among the Dogs” (Dechen Roder, Bhutan); with Jamyang Jamtsho Wangchuk, Sonam Tashi Choden
This debut feature from director Dechen Roder, who already presented a short film at the Berlinale in 2015, is a veritable Buddhist film noir. Atmospherically dense cinema, dynamically charged between tension and serenity, faith and morality.
“Centaur” (Aktan Arym Kubat, Kyrgyzstan/France/Germany/Netherlands); with Nuraly Tursunkojoev, Zarema Asanalieva, Aktan Arym Kubat
With a voice that speaks as if from another century and with the popular appeal of a fairy tale, this film tells the saga of the metaphysical bond between horse and humankind and how the former ended up becoming wings for the latter.
“Pendular” (Julia Murat, Brazil/Argentina/France); with Raquel Karro, Rodrigo Bolzan
Young director Julia Murat is a real discovery. Here she examines the relationship between a dance artist and a sculptor using the means of their particular art forms. A philosophical, original gender treatment of young bohemians poised on the verge of middle age.
“Small Talk” (Hui-chen Huang, Taiwan)
A family story of a very special kind, produced by Hou Hsiao-hsien. The mother earns a living as a spirit guide for the deceased at their funerals: she was never at home, always out and about with her girlfriends instead. The daughter now goes to great lengths to attempt to understand her mother. A cosmos opens before us, one which manages to be of universal cultural significance and extremely intimate at the same time.
“Untitled” (Michael Glawogger, Monika Willi; Austria/Germany)
“This film is intended to show an image of the world that can only be created when one does not pursue any subject, or make any value judgement or follow any objective. When one lets one’s self be carried along by nothing more than one’s own curiosity and intuition.” – Director Michael Glawogger passed away in 2014 during shooting for a movie. His editor Monika Willi has realised a fascinating film with material that was shot during a journey of four months and 19 days through the Balkan states, Italy, and Northwest and Western Africa – a journey undertaken in order to observe, to listen and to experience, with attentive eyes, bold and raw.