Berlinale: Berlinale Topics


Panorama 2010:
Life in the rear-view mirror of art

Interconnections between the present and the past, violence and autism in society and the private sphere are the dominant themes of this year’s Panorama selection. Section director Wieland Speck reveals how the programme still knows how to charm with some relatively light fare and that a new daringness can be seen in this year’s movies.

Kawasakiho ruze by Jan Hrebejk

To kick off the main programme you’re showing Veselchaki (Jolly Fellows), a Russian film that addresses the widespread homophobia in Russian society, while the Special opens with the Czech production Kawasakiho ruze (Kawasaki`s Rose) about the discovery of a secret from the socialist era that was hidden for 30 years. How did these two Eastern European films earn such a prominent spot in the programme?

Through their interesting view of history. Jan Hrebejk’s film is typical of a perspective that many of our films assume this year: looking back at the past from the present day point of view. In hindsight we discover something kept silent, which makes us see the present with different eyes. Kawasakiho ruze doesn’t just unravel the story of one family, rather the story of a certain time and a whole culture.

Veselchaki, on the other hand, has the impact of a leap in time due to topography. The protagonists of a drag queen stage in modern-day Moscow look like the first generation of transvestites which in America is already being referenced today by the fourth generation. In the eastern world, the theme of sexism and homophobia is only now being addressed properly. Although we already had the first Russian film with a similar topic in the programme three years ago. Compared to that, the story of Veselchaki is almost old-school. It shows how the protagonists come from a normal background, tells the stories of individuals and makes them confront the rural places they come from – reminiscent of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, in which Australian gays and transsexuals are depicted as characters with a right to live their lives. The modernity of Mikhailov’s film lies rather in its attitude.

Here the visibility of subcultures is a theme… The documentary on Rock Hudson is about secrecy (Rock Hudson - Dark And Handsome Stranger). Hudson was well established in a certain context and had to deal with his sexuality within these surroundings. What is the lasting significance of his life story?

Rock Hudson - Dark and Handsome Stranger by A. Davies / A. Schäfer

Rock Hudson was more a total lady-charmer than an actor for men, because he looked amazingly good and, by the standards of the time, didn’t act in a discriminating manner towards women – which can be read from the film characters he embodied. From a historical perspective he was a non-threatening man, especially in his role as an international star. Revealing his sexuality would have exploded this concept. He broke out of this situation because he recognised that he was not alone and possessed the potential of being able to speak out as the voice of like-minded people. After a breakdown, he publicised his sexuality and the fact he had AIDS through his PR agent from a hospital in Paris. That was a great act: to throw off the straight jacket you had learned to live with shortly before the end of your life. Still today, that’s the greatest revolution a person can go through.

Looking back at the past

What does Rosa von Praunheim, for example, do when he returns to New York? Is that the hindsight of a man looking back at his Sturm und Drang period?

Rosa is the type who would, astonishingly, also provoke his own kind from the very beginning and so he was also a kind of traitor. He has maintained this position to the current day, just in a somewhat milder form. With New York Memories he revisits the women of his most successful film – the 1989 documentary Überleben in New York (Survival in New York) – and paints a picture of New York from the 1970s till today. Interestingly, Lothar Lambert does the same thing in Berlin. Alle meine Stehaufmädchen – Von Frauen, die sich was trauen (All My Tumbler Girls - Or All About Women Who Dare To) shows Berlin life stores and a great potpourri of images and memories. Here, typically, we see that it’s mostly gay filmmakers who are interested in the lives of older women, when it’s not themselves.

In the programme one notices diverse ways of dealing with music and all other art forms, including film. Such as the documentary Blank City, about the cinematic avant-garde or underground. Besouro explores the Brasilian martial art Capoeira which has its roots in Africa. Waste Land looks at visual art with the well-know artist Vik Muniz, who is trying to improve the lives of the rubbish collectors of Rio de Janeiro…Does film function especially well as the unifying medium of the arts?

Compared to all of the other arts, film has an advantage: it’s not univocal, but it’s far more definite than all others together. In terms of space and time, a filmmaker has a totally different framework in which to say what he wants to say, while a visual artist has no influence over who sees his pictures and at which point in time and for how long and what they get out of them. I believe that many artists use the medium of moving images, film, when they really want to express something.

Besouro by João Daniel Tikhomiroff

Does the desired transformation of art into something tangible work in Waste Land?

For me this film was interesting, because it has nothing to do with our zeitgeist’s understanding of “celebrities save the world” – and we since know how short-lived the success of these campaigns is. A headline today and tomorrow it’s old news. In Waste Land, however, the urge to change comes out of the same culture it is referring to – Viktor Muniz belongs to the Brazilian lower middle class. His motivation was to crack open the psychic dead-end people who are suffering from poverty often end up in. They are no longer able to imagine another existence. Muniz didn’t just want to attract money and provide important infrastructure, he also wanted the people in question to develop different dreams in their lives. That sounds pretty fluffy, but it’s crucial to try to open up new horizons in people’s lives.

And what about The Owls?

…by Cheryl Dunye – a very interesting American filmmaker. Dunye works to some extent with a Brechtian V-Effekt (distancing effect) and, using a split screen, thereby repeatedly intervening in the dramatic process. The story is interrupted, the actresses reflect upon the characters and their life situations, but also on the current situation of lesbians in the US. In this story about an all-women band, they’ve survived everything imaginable, the glamour has faded, and relationships are disintegrating. Something new has to happen. And so a tragic story from the past related to the band resurfaces – here too you see the movement towards the past. These and other paths back into history are perhaps due to a certain zeitgeist, which is a little scared of the future, but which doesn’t want to remain passive.

The Owls by Cheryl Dunye

Actually this is also a good structure for comedies in which one forgets oneself. We have comedies in which you don’t have to switch off your brain like Father of Invention starring Kevin Spacey, which in a very bitchy, yet witty and charming way tells the story of a time in which we’re drowning in products. An inventor gets rich with ever crazier products, one of which leads to his downfall…

I am happy to be able to present Yeobaewoodle (The Actresses), another case of the light-spirited muse. This film by E, J-Yong depicts a night with the most important, prettiest and most popular Korean actresses. Initiated by Vogue, these actresses end up in a hotel together for the first time for a photo-shoot. The jewels ordered for the photos are stuck on a plane in Tokyo. In the meantime, the actresses set at a table, drink champagne, tell stories from their lives – and as we watch, they change from figures in the media to real people.

A present built upon taboos

You have described, referring to several films, what you mean by “the present in the mirror of the past”. Yet, isn’t the past always filtered through the perspective of today? What’s special about the approaches taken in the programme?

Red, White and the Green by Nader Davoodi

All-in-all it’s less about the hindsight with which one would like to understand what one has become. The programme shows far more that today is built upon lies. The present rests on a foundation of taboos and these films shake these lies and taboos – meaning the present changes while looking at the past through the demystification of taboos.

In Red, White & The Green it happens quite differently, because the film, which was made during the Iranian elections of 2009 was, in hindsight – during its completion – able to include something that wasn’t possible at the moment of its production: a reflection upon the kind of potential that was in the air, but which then disappeared from the public. Does this connection encourage necessary thinking processes? How does the film work?

In Nader Davoodi’s film we experience the modern energy that is propelling Iran – and its destruction through the way the election ended. Before the vote, people expressed their expectations and hopes regarding the elections. This optimistic conviction is already a huge democratic step. It shows the will to confront those who have the contrary opinion. February 1 was the anniversary of the 1979 Islamic Revolution and with this film I wanted to remember first hand which people specifically are those sitting in prison who no longer have passports – such as several Panorama filmmakers. Jafar Panaji, who was in the Competition with Offside, will be here and hopefully will be attending the screening.

For me the theme of violence was noticeable in many films. Two documentaries can be seen side-by-side: Budrus from the US, which is about a Palestinian non-violent movement, makes the case against violence. In contrast, the state attorney in Ilona Ziok’s entry Fritz Bauer - Tod auf Raten (Fritz Bauer - Death by Instalments) says unrest is the primary duty of citizen. How are questions about violence as a legitimate means of revolt presented here?

Budrus shows in a sensational way, how the Israeli state is taking something away from the property of the “other” with its “protection wall”. The wall – often referred to as a harmless “Fence” – was supposed to be built through the olive groves of the village Budrus threatening the livelihood of the locals. But the villagers defended themselves under the leadership of a man who organises non-violent resistance and are successful with exactly that. Finally, “The Fence” is built on the Israeli side and the olive groves are made fertile again. The world should look exactly where nobody is normally interested because nobody died. It’s important that we do it.

Fritz Bauer - Death by Instalments by Ilona Ziok

The case of Fritz Bauer shows a clear position: injustice must be exposed using all means possible, otherwise there is no present and no future. Light is shed upon the darkest years of the Federal Republic of Germany, making it possible for the country to unify and understand itself.

To what extent is Due vite per caso (One Life Maybe Two) based on the violent events in Genua?

The excessive violence at the Genua 2001 G8 summit triggered a trauma within the Italy’s intellectual leftwing. They saw their own police act like the security forces of a dictatorship. The innocent protagonists in Alessandro Aronadio’s film ended up in a situation in which they are harassed with a brutality similar to that of Genua. In a very intelligent twist the film shows the story in three versions, allowing for various endings, thereby reflecting the trauma of excessive violence.

The film Friedensschlag - Das Jahr der Entscheidung (To Fight for) sounds a little like a movie on a German private TV channel…

The great quality of this film ensures this is not the case. It shows youth living in Germany – mostly from a migrant background – who can no longer even imagine alternatives. The spiral of violence is a burning social problem. Someone who grows up in the gangster scene from childhood has little chance of escaping. You see this in Friedensschlag and in the Taiwanese mafia which are the subject of Monga. In his documentary the director Milsztein presents possible steps to break out of this autistic cycle. This doesn’t alleviate the problems, but people have to be released from the spiral of violence that can have fatal consequences for themselves and others.

Between communal experience and the desire for isolation

Phobidila from Israel can be read as being symptomatic of social withdrawal or even total departure from life…

Here it’s about a problem that parents of adolescents and we programmers know well: How do you get these people i.e. our viewers away from screens so that they come into the cinema and engage in a communal experience? The boy in Phobidila is intensely afraid of real social contact. He lives at home for four years. The parents are absent, everything functions automatically. Contact to his girlfriend takes place over the internet, he orders food by telephone. This way his basic needs are covered. There is a human desire to be totally alone in the world. This can be lived out through the internet in bizarre, perverse ways – Phobidila shows this through stunning images and a strong storyline.

Phobidilia by Doron & Yoav Paz

Also noticeable in the programme is the theme of the shattered family – as in the case of Paha Perhe (Bad Family), Por tu culpa (It’s Your Fault) and the documentary Postcard to Daddy.

It’s interesting to observe the transformation of the eternal theme of the dysfunctional family. While earlier films would still wallow in dysfunction, it’s now more about the changing situation and ways forward. In the Finish entry Paha Perhe two siblings meet for the first time since their childhood and fall in love. The father fails to take a clear position. He is lost between family bliss and disaster. We viewers experience a similar dichotomy in Postcard to Daddy. In this film child abuse is handled more authentically than I’ve ever seen before. The honesty and openness of this film is sensational. The director was himself abused as a child. There is a wonderful confrontation with his mother in the film. Seeing how both people deal with the situation also makes Postcard to Daddy a very important film for self-help groups and youth workers.

Is the film Open the most unusual in terms of its form?

Yes, together with the Moroccan entry The Man who sold the World and The Owl. Here one finds unique forms for extraordinary stories. Unlike previous years when a lot of films felt the need to look like standardised products, regardless of how independent or how little money was being spent on the production. I would say that cinema has become more exciting again, because a number of terribly mediocre films that clogged all channels has now fallen by the wayside. Those made on small budgets really seem to take advantage of their freedom. The same goes for films that come across as pompous as an opera. Such as Amphetamine by the Hong Kong director Scud. Here, too, they didn’t have to be too careful, because the money didn’t come from the industry. Throughout the world one can observe a new daringness.