65th Berlin International Film Festival
February 5 – 15, 2015
“Hats off to Dieter Kosslick, the curators have made an incredible selection. It’s been incredibly difficult to decide on the prizes (…) there were so many quality films that it was hard not to award many, many of the films.” – Jury President Darren Aronofsky during the Award Ceremony on February 14, 2015
A pink dress. A little girl. Beaming with joy, she raises the Golden Bear aloft. The auditorium rings with deafening applause, a wave of enthusiasm. The audience’s exuberant appreciation slowly brings the little girl to tears. She is overcome, wipes her face, almost in embarrassment. She goes up to the rostrum, gives a final broad grin and then, in the maelstrom of emotions, her voice fails her.
A screenwriter with all possible artistic licence at their disposal could not have better written the scene which played out on the stage of the Berlinale Palast on Saturday, February 14, 2015 at around 8.30 pm. The little girl’s name is Hanna Saedi and she is the niece of the man who, in spite of his continuing absence, has been one of the most present filmmakers at the Berlinale of recent years: Jafar Panahi. He is the Iranian director who won the Silver Bear for Best Script (Pardé | Closed Curtain) in 2013 and whose seat on the 2011 International Jury had to remain empty because his country’s government had placed him under house arrest and banned him from pursuing his profession. Both restrictions were still in force in 2015 but, in spite of these attempts to silence him, Panahi’s film Taxi made it to Berlin and created this image of the little girl raising a golden trophy into the air. Reality meets the dreams of the cinema – or, as President of the International Jury Darren Aronofsky put it when explaining the jury’s decision: “Panahi created a love letter to cinema. His film is filled with love for his art, his community, his country, and his audience.”
Amidst all the beauty of the moment one should not forget the situation in which this award ceremony took place. A situation which meant that giving the top prize to a filmmaker who, for years, has been suffering under the repressions of a regime which wants to see him silenced, was both very special and an “important signal against the constraining of art” (Andreas Borcholte, Spiegel Online, February 14, 2015): on January 7, 2015 Islamists virtually obliterated the editorial department of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in a bloodbath; on the very day that the Bears were being presented, a man shot at a Copenhagen cafe in which a panel discussion on the topic of "art, blasphemy and free speech" was being held. The separation between cinema and the real world was more fragile than ever. And so, during the presentation of the Prizes by the Independent Juries on the afternoon of February 14, Festival Director Dieter Kosslick urged the audience not to forget the outside world, the realities beyond the hubbub of the festival: “In his short speech, he finds brave, even angry words for the connection between planet Berlinale and the rest of the world; for the fact that the festival is only worth anything at all if the one is concerned with the other.” (Marie Rövekamp, Tilman Strasser, Der Tagesspiegel, February 14, 2015). Kosslick, who extended his commitment as Festival Director until 2019 only in November, appeared liberated and, already at the festival opening, made the cheeky promise that he will only show good films from now on because it is stipulated in his contract. He has been proven right.
An Uncompromising Eye for Quality
Because in 2015 everything came together. Art embraced cinema embraced politics. Strong subject matters were packed into even stronger films: “This year the Competition astonished with a remarkably multi-faceted, multi-voiced programme. It tackled the topics of freedom, abuse, sexual oppression, exploitation – all highly political. But regular viewers were not left heavy-hearted in their cinema seats after the screenings. The subtlety of approach, the artfulness and occasionally even the comic were remarkable” (Wenke Husmann, Die Zeit, February 15, 2015).
No wonder the International Jury found it difficult to select the winners from amongst so many high-quality films. This resulted in two ties: Radu Jude (Aferim!) and Małgorzata Szumowska (Body) were each awarded a Silver Bear for Best Director; Evgeniy Privin and Sergey Mikhalchuk (Pod electricheskimi oblakami | Under Electric Clouds) and Sturla Brandth Grøvlen all won Silver Bears for their outstanding cinematography. Brandth Grøvlen was responsible for Victoria, the German Competition entry by Sebastian Schipper, a 140 minute tour de force through night-time Berlin, all captured in a single take. South America took home the Silver Bear Grand Jury Prize (El Club | The Club by Pablo Larraín) and the Silver Bear Alfred Bauer Prize (Ixcanul | Ixcanul Volcano by Jayro Bustamante). The award for Best Script went to Patricio Guzmán for his documentary essay El botón de nácar (The Pearl Button). With an unabashed openness, these films brought repressed traumas and conflicts of their societies to the big screen or – like Andrew Haigh in 45 Years – the unspoken and unacknowledged in the microcosm of a marriage which is suddenly overwhelmed by the past. His main actors Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay shone so brightly in this drama that both had their thespian achievements recognised with a Silver Bear. The critics were captivated by this fantastic selection of films “which confirm the Berlinale’s age-old reputation as a politically relevant festival and which are, at the same time, not just topically well-intentioned but also consistently strong on an aesthetic level. Meanwhile, there was not a single wavering in the choice of the winning films, not one bad decision, but instead a totally uncompromising eye for quality.” (Jan Schulz-Ojala, Der Tagesspiegel, February 16, 2015).
The International Jury came in for special praise from all sides. President Darren Aronofsky was accompanied by Daniel Brühl, Bong Joon-ho, Martha De Laurentiis, Claudia Llosa, Audrey Tautou and Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner. During the closing evening they did not want to be called up to the stage individually because they had made all their decisions jointly. Likeable, competent, trustworthy. Rolling Stone spoke of “the first jury with whom you’d like to go for a beer” (Hannah Bahl, Rolling Stone, February 6, 2015).
Berlinale in Series
There were no Bears for US cinema which, in 2015, had rather a weak showing in all sections. The problems appear to be systemic, as Darren Aronofsky explained in an interview with Dieter Kosslick two weeks before the festival began: in an environment in which Hollywood produces more and more prequels, sequels and reboots of fancifully costumed superhero characters, filmmakers are turning to alternative possibilities of storytelling – and to one in particular: the serial formats which have been experiencing a huge boom in recent years, firstly in television and later on the internet. The Berlinale once again intensified its commitment to the serial and, as part of the newly established Berlinale Special Series section, screened seven new productions as cinema premieres. From ambitious German works like Blochin (Blochin - The Living and the Dead) and Deutschland 83 to ‘doyen’ Vince Gilligan who featured with Breaking Bad spin-off Better Call Saul. The European Film Market observed the Drama Series Day and the Berlinale Co-Production Market also devoted itself to the discipline. Generation screened the first five episodes of the Danish production Heartless. The immense success of the series is almost certainly connected to the new methods of distribution, namely, distribution over the internet. In response to this trend, in 2015 the World Cinema Fund initiated its own Video-on-Demand portal where selected projects it has supported are being made available to a, if possible, worldwide audience.
There was the Hollywood glamour of the stars, but that formed only a part of the festival’s true quality and was not essential to it. Dieter Kosslick clearly defined the 65th Berlinale and recalled producer Karl Baumgartner, who was honoured with the Berlinale Camera last year and who died shortly after the 2014 festival: “Speaking to Screen as the festival enters its final days, Kosslick recalled that “many of the films shown this year reflect his philosophy: ‘Baumi’ was the pioneer of those so-called ‘little’ films which make a really big impression, and he was a great inspiration for so many filmmakers through his co-productions”’ (Martin Blaney, Screen Daily, February 12, 2015). But naturally the amounts of data transmission surged dangerously when Natalie Portman and Christian Bale arrived for the premiere of Terence Malick’s Knight of Cups or Cate Blanchett and Lily James stepped onto the Red Carpet for Cinderella, remade by Kenneth Branagh. The ‘celebrity and me’ selfie has well and truly replaced the classic autograph as favourite medium of the fans. The Berlinale created a social media hub: a curated website which brought together the best posts not just from the audience – because the stars themselves also wildly snapped away on their way into the premiere cinemas. The image of the image of the image extended kaleidoscopically to the nth degree.
Stories from the Archive
The 65th Berlinale shone with individual films, with the breadth of its thematic and aesthetic range, but also with common threads woven through the works in the sections. The new, prominent significance of archive in the digital age was particularly striking. A plethora of films in Panorama, Forum and Forum Expanded worked with original material including Une Jeunesse Allemande (A German Youth) from French director Jean-Gabriel Périot which recounted the journey of the RAF leaders right up to Stammheim prison using exclusively archive footage. And here, too, the topic of historiography pushed itself to the foreground, the repressed was addressed and made visible. Historical footage was confronted with present-day images in a multiplicity of ways, whether in the context of History with a capital H as in Ce gigantesque retournement de la terre (This Gigantic Furrowing of the Ground) by Claire Angelini, which dealt with the Normandy battlefields in Forum, or as personal, individual history in Sag mir Mnemosyne (Tell me Mnemosyne) in Perspektive Deutsches Kino in which filmmaker Lisa Sperling undertook a journey to the locations where her uncle worked as a cinematographer decades before.
‘Place’ was the predominant subject matter in Perspektive Deutsche Kino, something already evidenced by the titles of the selected works: Der Bunker (The Bunker), Ein idealer Ort (A Perfect Place), Freiräume (Unoccupied)... Section head Linda Söffker saw a young generation at work which is slowly liberating itself from the inflexible and complicated German film funding system and bravely self-financing its films. "Beyond the system" could have been its motto, since the demonstrations by students of the German Film and Television Academy in Berlin – based in the Filmhaus at the festival’s centre – against the restaffing of the post of director by the government seemed like an echo of the films made by the 2015 Perspektive directors seeking their own way beyond the long march through the institutions.
In the run-up to the festival, Panorama curator Wieland Speck was in fighting form like never before, placing the topic of abuse right at the top of the agenda in his film selection. He, too, advocated cinema as a political instrument which must face up to the realities of the external world in all openness and not just get bogged down in itself. With Danielův Svět (Daniel’s World) by Veronika Lišková, he showed a documentary about a male paedophile which was, as he emphasised, the “ultimate taboo-breaker”. Taboos must urgently be broken, and his 2015 programme could make an important contribution to this. In saying this, he was also placing himself in the tradition of a particular concept of cinema, one out of which the winners of the Berlinale Camera in 2015 also come. Naum Kleiman, former director of the Moscow Eisenstein archive, explicitly understands cinematography as a weapon in the fight for a better, more open society. This was strikingly in evidence in Tatiana Brandrup’s film homage Cinema: A Public Affair which was screened after the award presentation. Marcel Ophüls was recognised as “one of the most significant filmmakers, chroniclers and enlighteners of the current age” and The Memory of Justice, his monumental work about the Nuremberg Trials and their consequences, was screened in tribute in Berlinale Special.
The Memory of Justice was shown in a restored version and was thus part of the Berlinale’s efforts to preserve cinema heritage in the digital age. The Berlinale Classics offered an expedition through film history via fresh copies, from E A Dupont’s 1925 Varieté to Ian Fleming’s 1964 Goldfinger. The Retrospective presented a colourful spectacle of a very special kind which can only unfold in all its glory in the darkness of the cinema, screening a selection of films made in Technicolor, the film colour process which bestowed the preternaturally glamourous glow upon Hollywood from the mid-1930s onwards which is still the stuff of legend to this day. Something which Wim Wenders, who was awarded the Honorary Golden Bear in 2015 and had the Homage devoted to him, has also tackled in his works. Small wonder then that the presentation of the honour was followed by a screening of Der amerikanische Freund (The American Friend).
Three Anniversaries: Forum Expanded, Berlinale Shorts and Culinary Cinema
Forum Expanded celebrated its tenth anniversary and section head Stefanie Schulte Strathaus cast an amazed look at the transformation of media during this decade – taking a certain degree of pride in what the section itself has achieved with its continuing work towards its curatorial goal: the dissolution of the borders between fine art, performance, installation and cinema. Along with Forum section head Christoph Terhechte, she was delighted to be returning to the Akademie der Künste on Hanseatenweg after a 14-year absence. This enabled them to gather the whole breadth of the twin sections’ components – screenings, exhibitions, panels – together under one roof, and to enhance the meshing of the diverse elements.
There were also two other anniversaries to celebrate: short films at the Berlinale turned 60. Berlinale Shorts curator Maike Mia Höhne provided a laconic overview of the last six decades: “Well, in the 60s there was a conspicuously large amount of documentaries, then the East Europeans arrived on the scene with an incredible number of animations, then there were the notorious 90s with its narrative jokes. And then came the 2000s where it’s really one fiction after another, and each one stronger than the last, I’d almost say, if you take each by itself.’ (Interview with Deutschlandradio Kultur, February 9, 2015). And Culinary Cinema has already reached its tenth year and recognised both Alice Waters and Carlo Petrini as two of the spiritual parents of the section with a Berlinale Camera.
There were two changes in personnel: Mattijs Wouter Knoul moved from Berlinale Talents to the European Film Market and took over the director’s post from Beki Probst who moved up to the post of EFM President. The vacant position of Berlinale Talents programme director was filled by Florian Weghorn who successfully continued his predecessor’s work under the motto of "2015: A Space Discovery".
As in previous years the cinemas were full right until the end of Berlinale Publikumstag. The most eye-catching and defining image of the 2015 Berlinale had, by then, already been in all the papers: it showed a little girl, overcome with the emotion of the moment, standing in for her uncle Jafar Panahi whose voice, in spite of the repressive measures of the Iranian regime, was loudly heard. And with this he demonstrated what cinema is capable of at its best. As Anke Sterneborg in Süddeutsche Zeitung wrote: “a vital and liberating act of resistance” (February 7, 2015). And that probably held true – considering the current political context – for the entire 2015 festival.
Facts & Figures of the Berlinale 2015
|Total amount of theater visits||505,771|
|Accredited guests (press excl.)||16,572|
|Countries of origin||128|
|Countries of origin||82|
|Number of films in the public programme||405|
|Total amount of screenings||1,060|
|European Film Market|
|Film industry participants||8,628|
|Number of films||748|
|Number of screenings||1,014|
(Martin-Gropius-Bau & Business Offices)
|Number of exhibitors||489|
|Berlinale Co-Production Market|
|Countries of origin||52|
|Berlinale Talent Campus|
|Countries of origin||75|
|Annual budget||€ 22 million|
|The Berlin International Film Festival receives € 6.5 million in institutional funding from the Federal Government Commissioner for Culture and the Media in accordance with a decision by the German Bundestag.|