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Yours, Mine and Everyone's Berlinale
by Karen Pecota

The Berlinale belongs to film lovers from Berlin, from Hamburg, from Germany, from Europe, from around the world. Sure, it is also for film critics, artists in the business such as camera men or script writers, film students making connections and collecting ideas and business people who buy and distribute films. But the heart of the festival is made up of fans who love and appreciate the art of film. Imagine taking a week’s vacation to sit in the dark in 15 hours a day. It happens every year in February in Berlin and you can be part of it; it’s fun and addictive.

Getting started:

These days everything happens online. Go to – your important reference. It will take patience to figure out the system. Determine the festival dates; the next festival is February 8-18, 2007. Shortly after February 1, a synopsis of all the films will be online. Click “English” for the English version and then click “Programme” All 300 films and their dates pop up. This is a huge amount of reading and easily confusing. Perhaps, in order to narrow the choices, decide on your dates to visit Berlin, and then concentrate on those days. This year, I decided to go to the last two days of the festival and had no trouble getting tickets for nine films. Residents in Berlin have a slight advantage since they can walk over to the festival any time and buy tickets. But if the two crazy American students from Seattle, whom I met in Berlin’s Josty Restaurant, can breeze into Berlin from their studies in London to attend the festival on a whim, so can you.

Choosing films:

Even if you have narrowed the time frame to, let’s say, five days, it is still confusing. How will you know which films are special, potential winners, or insider tips? You don’t. Take a chance. Take a risk. If you are worried, then pick films which are almost sold out or which you’ve never heard of or go by categories, e.g., children’s films, or documentaries, or films from Asia or the U.S. or films with actors or directors which you recognize. You will get some winners and some losers. Even the most savvy film critic finds herself in the film from hell. She leaves and so can you.

Choosing the Category:

Films are divided into categories as follows:
Competition or films in competition for the main prizes. This year 26 films competed for best film.
Panorama features independent art house cinema, often films which didn’t make it to the competition. This year the successful German film Das Leben der Anderen was offered a spot in Panorama, but the director refused. For that team it was Competition or nothing. This year some of us thought that the Panorama films were even better than the ones in competition.
International Forum of New Cinema , called Forum for short, is the most experimental section showing highly original and often provocative and disturbing films.
Kinderfest features films for kids. There is also a section called 14-plus for teenagers.
Perspektives Deutsches Kino shows the latest development in German film.
Retrospektive is dedicated to classics, i.e., old films. This year it featured famous actresses from the 50s.
Sometimes if they don’t know how to classify a film, they call it Berlinale Special or Out of Competition.
Interwoven among all of these are 60 short films and also gay films.

After you’ve researched the films – something you will repeat at least 50 times – take the advice of film critic Kirsten G and make yourself a chart, one page for each day. Divide the chart for the day into three columns headed “first choice,” “second choice,” and “third choice.” On the left-hand-side divide the chart into 30 segments with a time written into each segment, e.g., 9:00, 9:30, 10:00, 10:30 – all the way down to 11 p.m.. Chose a film, notice the length it will show and put it onto your chart. If there are overlaps or conflicts, put it into the second- or third-choice column. For one day, you could have 15 films on this page. You will consult this list when ordering film tickets online.

Films are shown in ten major venues. Four of them are within short walking distance of each other at Potsdamer Platz: Berlinale Palast, CineStar, Cinemaxx, and Arsenal. If any of your films are in distant locations, e.g, Babylon Berlin, Filmtheater am Friedrichshain, Urania, Zoo Palast, Delphi Filmpalast, or Filmpalast you will need time to get there by taxi (about EUR 8) festival shuttle bus if one is available, subway or bus.

If you choose films playing within a 50-meter radius, you can fill up your daily chart/schedule/agenda at 9:00, 12:00, 15:00, 17:30, 20:00 if you can stomach five films in a row. Some people think three films a day are doable. Travelling to distant venues means fewer films a day, but it also means that you get out into the fresh air and see different parts of Berlin. Still you will have very little time to snack or shop, talk to people or even sit glassy-eyed on a park bench and mumble, “Where am I?”

Buying tickets

Go on-line, find the films on your chart, and click on “Buy ticket.” A box pops up on the left side asking for your name, address, credit card, etc. Fill it out. Do this for every film. This is your order. The sum of all your tickets will not be deducted from your account until you have personally picked up the tickets in Berlin. Tickets can be picked up at the Berlinale stand inside the Potsdamer Platz Arkaden mall (among other places) right across the street from the Berlinale Palast and the Hyatt Hotel. In the interim some slight scheduling changes might have been made, e.g., a film receives an additional showing. Be prepared to toss or give away a ticket or two. I gave away my ticket for the last night at 22:00 because I was too exhausted to go across town to the cinema. I ditched another ticket because an additional showing of a better film came up. You can buy extra tickets on the spot once you are there. Tickets cost EUR 6-7 which is no more expensive than the Hamburg Filmfest.

Boo Hoo, I’m not accredited

As a “normal” film goer, you have few disadvantages compared to an accredited film professional. You have to pay per ticket; she pays for her accreditation. You are barred from the second floor of the Hyatt Hotel to interview actors, directors, producers, etc. She gets free water. You sit with cheerful people who love being there –not a group of bored, hard-core, overly tired professionals, snoozing throughout. Your audience is enthusiastic. Also, most often in your films, the director, and often the actors, will be introduced before the film and will return to answer questions from the audience at the end. This is most often in English. The accredited attendee wears an ID around her neck. Sh is at work, doing a job and must report back to the office and write reviews. You are free to enjoy.

Perhaps this sounds like Berlinale for Dummies, but there are no dummies among film lovers. Next year, come with me. I will help until you can branch out on your own, introduce you to our favourite Intermezzo Hotel für Frauen (if you are female). It takes two years to become a festival pro so start now.