Going to a film festival is not the most common reason in taking a trip to Berlin. The vast history of Berlin, divided by two political ideologies for the majority of the 20th century, seems to be the perfect place to introduce the public to cinemas vast and expansive culture. The events ranged from specialist press only to public allowed to the setting for these films which ranged from normal multiplexes to the lavish darling of one screen cinema’s that are alike to the theatre.
Only getting to watch 6 films for the week was disappointing but I found myself too romanticized by the city. The rich history and awe-inspiring sights were too much to take in for someone who was staying for 6 days. However the experience of being at the Berlin Film Festival was one not to forget. Watching Elixir (2016) on my first day, on one of the biggest screens and most comfortable seats that finally for someone who is 6’2, lots of leg room, was a welcoming start.
As the week progressed I tried to fit my spare time in trying out Berlin’s varying delicacies, mainly curried sausage and beer, and experience the culture of Berlin; with trips to the Brandenburg Gate and the Berlin Wall. However I was there for film and I had the pleasure of watching the Chinese female directed, What’s In The Darkness (2016), which focused on the corruption of police and sexual repression in 90’s China. It was the quiet darling of the festival for me, the cheapest ticket and most empty screen I had been to in the week. However it was the most enjoyable, with a mixture of comedy and dramatic elements. What’s in the Darkness, gives a truthful and interesting image of China in the frame of the director who had first account experience relaying the social issues of modern China.
Next I went to watch Shelley (2016), a Danish horror that we all decided to watch the 10pm showing. This was our own fault, the film was full of subtle horror that was fresh to see a horror film that relies on atmosphere than cheap jump scares. The underlying tone of pure terror all stemming from an unborn child, gave to me an overwhelming sense of dread towards babies for the rest of the week. Some scenes are graphic and shocking but the overall experience is one that will impact you and maybe a declining hunger to ever have children.
After that film our next three films were in the Friedrichstadt-Palast, this cinema was a one screen cinema that was as lavish and grand as the theatre. This was the cinema that had press events, TV crews and a red carpet laid out all day.It also had the best Wi-Fi in Berlin. On a side note though, the seats weren’t that comfortable and my biggest complaint; no leg room. Our first film we watched was Soy Nero (2016), a film about an immigrant trying to get his US citizenship by joining the army. This film has become more relevant in the recent months with the election debate over a giant Mexican wall and talks of banning Muslims. The film gave you a raw account of someone trying to get the basic human right; an identity. The struggle of the lead protagonist doesn’t seem that fictionalised and this is why this is more of a horror. A journey of discovery that holds no solutions but merely make aware of the crumbling problems of this infrastructure.
Moving on with the final two films, Michael Moore’s new film, Where To Invade Next? (2016) and Alex Gibney directed Zero Days (2016). Michael Moore was absent for the festival because of a recent bout of pneumonia. However this was the most communal experience of the festival. The film was about how America should take ideas from the majority of Europe and parts of Africa. Every time Moore made a valid and interesting point, the crowd of people erupted with a thunderous applause and this was repeated more then 50 times. When Moore focused on Germany, the reception was more involved. However it was interesting to watch this film with an audience that had came from different countries, backgrounds, races and creeds. It was a sense of agreement that Europe, even though with it’s flaws, with the current news of Britain considering to leave the EU, that Europe is doing something right. It was probably the best audience to watch this film with, because it was like Europe was watching this film with me.
This experience of watching Where to Invade Next is probably the best description of how to feel at a festival. A feeling that is a rare moment in cinema. The communal experience. While sat there watching a film that was in a totally different language then my native tongue, people that had come from all over the world, but was there for one reason and one reason only; to enjoy film, to wonder in the magic of cinema. Every film was met with an applause, whether you wasn’t a fan of the film, it still was applauded. A cinema viewing is more enhanced by a full audience as you can feel the atmosphere of the whole crowd. Whether it’s a horror or a documentary that experience brings cinema to its simplicity. It is not for the wealthy, middle or working class. It is not for French, German, African or English. It is not for Christians or Atheists. Cinema is for everyone, Cinema is a universal medium and attending the Berlin Film Festival recaptured for me that purpose of cinema. For me that was the most important thing I have learnt, the communal appreciation of this wonderful medium.