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Posts from February 2007

Berlin 2007 - Thursday 15 February

Posted Thursday 15 February 2007 by Catharine Des Forges in Festival Reports

Up to see a Danish animation film The Ugly Duckling and Me, which is lots of CGI, has been dubbed into English but still not quite Shrek... Still, it keeps me interested enough until the end which is a good sign. Then I go to see Irina Palm, fairly intrigued. This is in the competition and so far, according to the trades today, is the front runner for the Golden Bear with Marianne Faithfull, a favourite to win best actress. It's divided audiences and critics here — some love it and are eulogistic in their praise for Faithfull, others hate it and have no idea how you could make it work in the marketplace. I have only a vague idea of its subject, hearing people mention Calendar Girls and Ladies in Lavender, it's a Belgian director and about a grandmother who becomes a sex worker, I think. But that doesn't sound very much like Ladies in Lavender to me...

It's shot like a Ken Loach film or at least like the director has been watching a lot of British naturalism from the last three decades. Marianne Faithfull plays a woman who starts working in a sex club in Soho, when her grandson is dangerously ill and requires expensive treatment abroad which his family cannot afford. She works behind a screen and services the men who come in the club, they never see her but her hands have ‘excellent quality’ and so she's very successful and acquires the soubriquet ‘Irina Palm’, such is the quality of her work...

Some of my colleagues hated this with a passion — for me, it's actually quite engaging and it's strange seeing a European director make a film in such a British environment, shot in English, there's always something slightly strange about it. Faithfull is like she always is in films, not so much naturalistic as absolutely deadpan, those who embrace her iconic status won't be disappointed, but her performance is as an icon rather than an actress.

Go to lunch with Tony, Mark and Monika Treut, the German film director (gendernauts). Monika is going to the opera tonight for the live performance of Guy Maddin's Brand on the Brain at the Deutsche Oper Haus where there will be full orchestra and live foley artist. Also meet Verena from the Curzon and Rebekah, the new Audience Development Manager at Film London. Everyone seems to be going home today, the market is nearly over and the ticket men (kartenmenn, so they tell me) are slightly giddy and looking forward to some rest.

I see most of a new Italian film Sleepers about a lesbian couple who inadvertently smuggle an illegal immigrant into the country when returning from Africa in their car and then leave to meet Mia, a friend who is a producer and has two films she's worked on in the festival Blindsight and Scott Walker: 30 Century Man which comes out in the UK in April. We are both going to see Night Moves here later which is part of the Arthur Penn retrospective — the print is not too good but the film is as fantastic as ever and the cinema is completely full with people sitting on the stairs and waiting outside to get in. Then out for a drink in a very traditional German bar where they even seem to have flagons of ale and back for a relatively early night.

Berlin 2007 - Wednesday 14 February

Posted Wednesday 14 February 2007 by Catharine Des Forges in Festival Reports

Today is the first day I go to the Zoo Palast which is where all the screenings for the Kinderfest are held. I'm seeing a South Korean film called Ice Bar which is for primary age children. The Zoo Palast is where all the major screenings for the main festival used to be held when it was based in Charlottenburg in what was West Berlin. I think it seats more than a 1000 people and today it's full of children. If you work on a children's festival anywhere else in the world the Kinderfest is inspirational and also seems unsurpassable in terms of getting that many small children to see world cinema with such enthusiasm. The director is here and all the children cheer and stamp their feet — they love the slapstick humour in the film and although the dialogue is read out to them, the film also has English subtitles and there are quite a few English speaking children in the audience. Some are with mums and dads and relatives and some are with their teachers. It's actually very sweet and if you are a cynical old festival-goer; it's very good for you.

Today I see lots more children's films as that's what I am concentrating on for now, the rest back in Potsdamer Platz. So far, there's nothing great but you are always hopeful that the best one is just in the next screening.

Go for a drink at the Hyatt with Mark, Tony Jones (Cambridge Film Festival) and Billy McKinnon, screenwriter (Hideous Kinky, Small Faces) and currently writer in residence at the National Theatre. Billy's had a great association with Encounters Bristol's short film festival and we last met at a dinner for Ken Russell there, before he made an appearance on the infamous Celebrity Big Brother. The Hyatt is full of players from the industry and deals are being done all over the place, or at least this is how it seems. Then dinner time and catch up with Kathy and Gez from Showcomotion and Philip from the Halloween Society. He is here to be on a short film panel at the festival. One of the other panelists is a lady called Ralitza Petrova who has made a film called Rotten Apple, showing here in the festival, which has just won an award. By a very strange coincidence, even though we have never met, Ralitza sits next to me in my next film and gives me a copy of the film to watch — she also knows George from the ICO. I knew that George knows everyone but this is very spooky indeed...

We are here to see one of the programmes in the City Girls silent film retrospective, made up of two films, Fleur de Lys from 1916 and the other, The Nickelhopper from 1926. There are some great introductions particularly from the archivist from the Munich Film Museum who used to work on the Hal Roach collection and had specialised in researching some of the less well known comedians who used to work with Roach. The Nickelhopper is a late comedy from Mabel Normand, 4 years before she died at the tragically early age of 37 and after her standing in the industry and reputation had been tarnished by association with a number of Hollywood scandals. Stan Laurel wrote the script and Oliver Hardy makes an early appearance as the over enthusiastic drummer in a dancehall band. Boris Karloff also appears as a punter at the dance hall where Mabel's character works. Seeing films like this from so long ago, in tinted prints still so very funny and accomplished, is absolutely fantastic and there's excellent music accompaniment.

Afterwards in the cinemax bar we see the director of Shotgun Stories, Jeff Nichols, being interviewed for German TV. I resist a temptation to be an over enthusiastic fan and tell him I love his film but it's good to hear what he says and not need to rely on my very poor translation skills.

Berlin 2007 - Tuesday 13 February

Posted Tuesday 13 February 2007 by Catharine Des Forges in Festival Reports

Start today with a big budget children's film in the market that I will watch for the LCFF. Our Danish colleagues mentioned this one at dinner on Sunday, it's called Island of Lost Souls which makes it sound like a 60's schlock horror film. It turns out to be a big budget very well made children's fantasy, very Harry Potteresque, enjoyable and well written. It's even quite spooky with an evil necromancer looking like nothing so much as Death in The Seventh Seal. I wonder if Ingmar Bergman knew that his creation would be the inspiration for so many cinematic characters...

Then onto the UK Film Council's brunch, an annual institution in Berlin and the place where you can catch up with quite a lot of people if you haven't seen them yet. Last year I met my friend from Slovenia, Igor here — it's designed as a meeting place for European and world industry producers and sales agents and those from the UK. I meet Pip Eldridge from First Light and tell her that we had just heard one of the First Light films that the ICO distribute has been selected for the Miami Children's Film Festival which is really good news.

Next it's off to The Counterfeiters, for a packed market screening of a film that's appeared in the Competition here about an operation that the Nazi's set up in a concentration camp during the war designed to flood the allied economies with counterfeit notes in order to de-stabilise their currencies and hence their countries. There's been a series of bids by distributors for this film and I can see why — despite some people being slightly under whelmed, I think it's really very good, engaging, well shot and thoughtful. It's another testament to the resurgence of German cinema. I'm not sure it will do Downfall business but then no-one thought Downfall would do Downfall business — it certainly deserves to find an audience and I am sure it will.

Then onto another market screening of a Competition film The Year My Parents Went on Vacation which is set in Brazil during the world cup of 1970. A small Jewish boy is left by his parents at his grandfather's flat whilst they go away. These are politically troubled times and so they don't return when he expects. Meanwhile, his grandfather has suffered a heart attack and died so it's left to the community, in particularly an elderly neighbour, to look after him. This is very likeable and heart-warming and a favourite here. It could also play well in the LCFF, but is the kind of film that finds it difficult these days to get distribution at home.

On to one more children's film, an animation from France but with quite adult conversation so perhaps not for us. Then onto my friend Selina's house. Selina used to programme the LLGFF in London but she and her girlfriend Alex have moved to Berlin so we visit their flat for a pre-party drink. Tonight is the British Council party in a club by the river. Alex tells me that the bridge by the club which goes from west to east Berlin is the place where spies used to be exchanged during the cold war. It's amazing to be in a city with such a recent turbulent past, yet which today seems quite far away. This is made all the more immediate for me as I have just recently seen The Lives of Others at home. Again, it's a good place to catch up with people, everyone seems to be here and there is even dancing (!) but I eventually feel an urge to catch a taxi home to bed.

Berlin 2007 - Monday 12 February

Posted Monday 12 February 2007 by Catharine Des Forges in Festival Reports

Get up early but obviously still very dozy as I make it to the Kore-eda film Hana and realise after 30 seconds of credits that I saw it in London 3 months ago. Oh dear! This is what happens when you watch too many films....Still manage to move on and see an Australian film Noise which is well made and interesting but a bit sub-Lantana and so not nearly as good. After attempting to use wi-fi in the Cinemaxx bar I give in to my luddite tendencies and go to the Easy cafe. I think I may have to resort to a typewriter and a pigeon.

Next is a Swedish film When Darkness Falls. Seeing Scandinavian films here is always a guilty pleasure for me as I very much admire their ability to produce so many excellent emotional dramas. They frequently star the same actors, there seeming to exist an almost repertory company of actors from the region, their presence a sign of quality and distinction. This film is not quite up to scratch but has some interesting ideas and themes, focusing on the hidden worlds of Sweden's immigrant communities and on domestic violence.

Then it's time for the competition film, When A Man Falls In The Forest, which is by a 26 year old American director, Ryan Eslinger and stars Sharon Stone, Dylan Baker (Happiness) and Timothy Hutton. The director and Sharon Stone and Timothy Hutton are at the screening, Sharon Stone looks very glamorous on the red carpet in her ball gown even though it is 4.30pm in the afternoon and snowing. The film is disappointing although the performances are good. I always loved Timothy Hutton as an actor and think it's a shame he hasn't made more films recently. I haven't seen him in anything of note since Ted Demme's Beautiful Girls and here he's more jowly, but nevertheless interesting. I can't really understand why this is in the competition and not Shotgun Stories, one of the strange mysteries of festival programming. I run into Jonathan Romney, film critic for The Independent later and we are both mystified by its inclusion — I ask him what I should be seeing and suggest he catches Shotgun Stories, a suggestion made by other people too. It would be potentially possible to have a festival strategy of reading nothing and doing no planning because the good films will find you in the end.

Then it's a Spanish animation film for children - I'm rescued from this by Corinna, the majority of the adult audience has lost interest in 10 minutes so am not sure it's a film we should be programming for children...

Today is some peoples last night so we go to the Paris Bar for dinner, a Berlin institution. It's been the restaurant of choice for the festival for several decades and the walls are covered with cinematic luminaries both past and present as well as old posters and programmes. Thierry Frémaux, the artistic director of the Cannes Film Festival sits at the next table to us. We resist temptation to ask him what he's opening the festival with....

Then it's onto a Greek bar in Charlottenberg which used to be where the festival was held with this bar as one of its main meeting places. Stuck in the ceiling are pages of old festival brochures, it's got a fair smattering of old socialists and a resident entertainer. I'm not sure if he's singing ancient songs of protest or trying out new songs for Eurovision, but it's a great place and a nice end to the evening.


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