The Berlinale, one of the world’s most open and public film festivals, begins on Monday in a decidedly low-key, private fashion, being streamed to a select audience of journalists and industry professionals rather than playing to packed cinemas.
The organizers of the Berlinale, or Berlin Film Festival, now in its 71st year, have always prided themselves on running screenings that are open to an enthusiastic public, unlike Venice and Cannes, its main rivals in the festival calendar.
This year, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, is different.
“It’s a huge blow,” said Scott Roxborough, Hollywood Reporter’s Europe bureau chief and a Berlinale veteran.
“Berlin is the biggest public festival in the world and it lives from its audience, the thousands of people in Berlin who go to watch the movies.”
Despite that, organizers hope they can stay true to the Berlinale’s roots as the home, especially, of independent art house cinema with a political bent, as befits an institution born in a divided city on the front lines of the Cold War.
“The disruption brought on by the events of 2020 has led filmmakers to make the most of this situation and create deeply personal films,” said Artistic Director Carlo Chatrian.
Last year’s festival ran as normal, coming just before the pandemic hit Europe, forcing cinemas along with most other public venues to shut.
Filming under lockdown
The public will be invited to screenings from this year’s festival in June, when authorities hope that vaccinations will have allowed cinemas to reopen.
Most of the 15 films competing for the Golden Bear were made either under lockdown or between lockdowns, by filmmakers who Roxborough said had shown “incredible ingenuity”.
But the pandemic meant there were no big-ticket US films this year since studios there had chosen to hold back films until the cinemas reopen.
Among the competitors is German actor Daniel Bruehl’s directorial debut “Next Door”, a comedy about travel, city life and fame.
Another is “I’m Your Man”, in which Downton Abbey’s Dan Stevens plays a robot built to be a perfect match for museum custodian Alma. It is directed by Maria Schrader, who was also behind hit Netflix series “Unorthodox”.
In keeping with Berlin’s political roots, the festival will also premier its first Belarussian movie, Aliaksei Paluyan’s documentary “Courage”, about the protests that have swept Belarus since August’s contested presidential election.