One of the most eagerly awaited high points was of course the announcement of the awards on the last Saturday of the festival. The fact that the International Jury headed by director Cost-Gavras was reduced from eight to six members (Susanne Bier and Sandrine Bonnaire had to cancel at short notices just before the festival), did nothing to diminish the passionate discussion within the group. With their decision to award the Golden Bear to the Brazilian film Tropa De Elite by José Padilha, the jurors made a surprising yet affirmative choice. It was surprising because few had placed the film on their short-list of potential winners, due to its extraordinary, true-to-life aesthetic. Affirmative, because the film’s topic of corruption and power mechanisms within a Brazilian police unit fulfilled expectations (especially of Costa Gavras) that the winner would be a strong socio-critical content. In this sense, the Grand Prix of the Jury went to a decidedly political film, the first documentary to ever have competed for the bears in the Berlinale Competition: Errol Morris’ Standard Operating Procedure on the scandalous occurrences and torture methods of the US military in the Abu-Ghraib prison in Iraq.
The mix of glamorous moments on the one side and explosive political issues on the other was reflected throughout the entire festival. And seldom did the individual sections present themselves in such unison as this year. For example, the issue of slums/favelas in the winning film was reflected in various ways in the programmes of the other sections, as in Los olvidados in the Retrospective, Cidade dos Homens in Generation or Sleep Dealer in Panorama.
Music for the heart and head
An even more powerful connective, pervasive force was the theme of music. Not just the fact that the film often successfully managed to bridge the gap between the artistic entertainment and the political motives of the musicians and filmmakers. After the Rolling Stones and director Martin Scorsese provided the festival with an exhilarating opening, the other sections followed with more stars from the world of pop and rock: besides Madonna, who presented her directing debut in the Panorama, Neil Young and Patti Smith were both present with films.
With the musical production love, peace & beatbox (shown as a Cross Section entry with the Perspektive Deutsches Kino) and War Child, the Generation section presented two documentaries for the first time in the new 14-plus Babylon cinema in Mitte, thereby expanding the cinematic range of its programme. The Crystal Bears went, in line with tradition, to feature films: The Black Baloon in 14plus and Buda Az Sharm Foru Rikht in Kplus.
Although German film was not as strong and well represented as at previous festivals, the Perspektive Deutsches Kino presented a convincing programme. The courage of young German filmmakers willing to look beyond their own reality was well received and was honoured with the Teddy for the best documentary in the case of Football Under Cover and with the Dialogue en perspective prize for Drifter. Another exciting development for German film was the admittance of actress Hannah Herzsprung into the elite circle of the Shooting Stars 2008.
Strong (southeast) Asian cinema in the Forum and Panorama
The Forum successfully fulfilled its role as platform for daring, unconventional filmmakers and, was optimally supplemented by the artistic and installative pieces shown in Forum Expanded. The Japanese Forum film Asyl - Park and Love Hotel was awarded with the high-value prize for the best first film. Otherwise, the large number of impressive productions from Southeast Asia stuck out among a broad spectrum of international productions.