Berlin Diary Part I

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by Sydney Levine
March 10, 2013 5:07 AM
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Berlinale 2012
This Berlin flew by!  A good overview is that of Screen Daily and if we're lucky, you can read it here without subscribing.  My own activities flowed from two sources:  

1) Education: I taught and led tours of the market for Berlinale's Talent Campus Meet the Experts, for Deutsche Welle Akademie Film Festival Workshop, and for INA Sup, a TV, film and new media school based in France and linked to the French National Audiovisual Institute (INA).  This is the most rewarding work, seeing what talent is coming up in our world, seeing ideas take hold as the students learn about the market.

2) Our Consulting:  Another pillar of our company, aside from blogging and professional education, is strategic planning with filmmakers.  This Berlinale was very intense and very energizing for my partner Peter Belsito and me, with Beyond the Moonwalk having found a berth for international sales representation with Steve Arroyave's Arrow Entertainment and a U.S. distribution commitment, and more actively involving, with Donna Deitch's The Catcher, where a series of meetings with top German and Canadian producers and sales agents gave the project the momentum of a race horse bound for first place!  

What follows are my impressions of various other Berlin events as they passed by --  ever so quickly -- but still with enough eye-catching power to capture my attention in the first place.

Sister aka L'enfant d'en haut by Ursula Maier

I was happy to see Jeff Lipsky and Adopt Films' co-managing executive Tim Grady cleaning up with 3 acquisitions; no time to waste anymore as the third Bingham Ray memorial pointed out to those who have the mind to realize the message.  Sister (L'enfant d'en haut) by Ursula Maier (ISA: Memento, Swiss rights with FilmCoopi), I hear is A+, Paolo and Vittorio Taviani's Caesar Must Die (Cesare deve morire) (ISA: Rai Trade) won the Golden Bear, and Chris Petzold's Barbara, all in Competition.  

American indie works-in-progress have been granted a second chance to screen for European indie distributors (EuropaDistribution) at the upcoming Paris Film Festival in June.  I have been invited to be on the jury of "U.S. in Progress" and am thrilled at the prospect.  I was honored to have been invited to be on the jury in Wroclaw at the American Film Festival in November as well, for the first edition of this chance for U.S. filmmakers to win post-production and cash prizes.  This is where the film Now, Forager was picked up by fledgling international sales agent, the only international sales agent in Poland, New Europe Sales founded by Jan Naszewski [jnaszewski AT gmail.com] and Anja Sosic [anja AT NewEuropeFilmSales.com].  The film went on to screen at Rotterdam Film Festival.  Even hotter news will be forthcoming from MOMA and The New York Film Society's New Directors/ New Films about one of the films at the AFF's "U.S. in Progress".  If you missed it in Poland you will be able to see it in New York this April!  

I was lucky to see two films during the market and after the market closed, this last Saturday and Sunday, when I caught some more films I was unable to see earlier due to my "real" work.  Of the films I saw here in Berlin, here are my unique :) comments for what they're worth.

Children of Srikandi (Panorama) is a very personal account by a female filmmaker collective in Indonesia on what it means to be a lesbian in their society.  The sweet intimacy of the film overrides its non-professional veneer (the "filmmakers" were all non-professionals).  In fact, this could serve as a template for other non-professionals who want to tell their stories.  Schools come to mind as possible candidates for this sort of filmmaking, as does my own pet project, The Literacy Project.  The Indonesian contingent here in Berlin was interesting and sociable as they met their audience and fans. They were hosted by Berlin based producers Laura Coppens who is a doctorate student in ethnological studies in Zurich and Angelika Levi, doc filmmaker (My Life, Part 2 about growing up Jewish in Berlin). 

Bergman & Magnani: The War of the Volcanos.  This invitation-only work in progress with Wide House uses a unique way to show the emotion filled and the biggest jet-set love scandal of all times, the story of Roberto Rossellini, Anna Magnani and Ingrid Bergman as Rosellini and the volcanic Anna Magnani ended their relationship after making Volcano (1950) and the married Ingrid Bergman and Rossellini began theirs with the filming of Stromboli (1950), the name of the second volcano on this Aeolian Island which has been in almost continuous eruption for 2,000 years. The visuals of their stories are illustrated entirely with the scenes from movies starring them as they enact the real life emotions and the commentary of the doc.  I am most interested to see how well this technique succeeds.

Paolo and Vittorio Taviani's Caesar Must Die (ISA: Rai Trade) is a moving illustration of the transformative power of art as hardened criminals in an Italian prison rehearse and perform Shakespeare's Julius Caesar.  The the 80 + year old Brothers Taviani deserve recognition for their artistic excellence.  I can't argue with Mike Leigh and the jury's judgement except that on my emotional meter, Rebelle (War Witch) was the real winner.

Rebelle (War Witch) by Kim Nguyen (ISA: Films Distribution)  should have won the Golden Bear.  The Silver Bear for Best Actress was awarded to Rachel Mwanza, but this film is so deeply moving on the most primal levels, maintaining its African roots while touching our most sensitive emotions of parents, love, rape, pregnancy and infants as they are experienced by a female child soldier from ages 12 to 14.  It should also win Best Foreign Language Film in next year's Academy Awards.  Produced by the industry vets Marie-Claude Poulin and Pierre Even, it is yet another feather in the cap of the the Canadian film industry.

Dieter Kosslick observed that with 15 Competition titles confirmed at the time Screen International interviewed him, “both thematically and geographically, we have many films coming this year from Asia, and particularly China and Indonesia. There is also an interesting focus on France this year, beginning with the opening film Farewell My Queen (Les adieux a la reine) (ISA: Elle Driver) and going through all of the festival’s sections. Moreover, we have two French jury members [Francois Ozon and Charlotte Gainsbourg] in the International Jury.“  Eight titles selected to date have German majority or minority participation, so German filmmakers and (co-)producers will again enjoy a record presence in the Competition on a par with 2011’s tally of eight films involving German directors or German production partners."  He also notes Competition films' trending toward "times of upheaval and new departures... with many films coming from Africa and Arab countries".  My observation of the 23 Competition films finally selected is that the nostalgic look back at European aristocracy and top social tiers (A Royal Affair, Bel Ami, Farewell My Queen) and its mores stands in stark contrast to today's upheavals of families and children (Childish Games, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, Postcards from the Zoo, Just the Wind, Mercy, Shadow Dancer, Sister, Rebelle, Home for the Weekend, Jayne Mansfield's Car, Coming Home).  Seven other films continue the theme of social upheavals: Tey - which deal with childhood memories of Senegal experienced by an American, Captive about Phillipine hostages, Barbara an Eastern German looking to move to the West, Caesar Must Die about prisoners finding art in their sequestered lives, Flying Swords of Dragon Gate about upheavel during the Ming Dynasty, White Deer Plain about upheavel towards the end of Imperial China, The Flowers of War about the upheavel of China by the Japanese in World War II.  The exceptions, Tabu and Meteora, deal with love, the Saving Grace.   

Two major disappointments were Steven Soderberg's Haywire (ISA: Mandate) and Stephen Elliott's Cherry.  Both about women, they left me puzzled with what the plot was about.  Pretty, well done and negligible.

This Berlin Diary Part 2 will continue after I work on my new and soon-to-be launched website!  I have spent an entire day on this blog and I still have much more to write!  

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