Cannes is more chic. Venice is warmer. Nevertheless, everyone loves the Berlinale in the German capital. About 400 films make up the festival's program this year - some even sold out well in advance.
This year the Berlinale is going to prison. On February 10, Georg Nonnenmacher's "Raumfahrer," or "Spacemen" will flicker across a mobile screen in Tegel prison in Berlin. It's a small token of thanks. Nonnenmacher conducted extensive research here for his film, where he brings to life the transport bus that shuttles inmates from one prison to another, or from prison to court and back.
Film from around the world
Although they're invited to view Nonnenmacher's film, the men behind bars aren't privy to the other 408 projects on this year's Berlinale program, which represents all continents around the world with moving, fascinating and up-to-date films. Nor will the prisoners see the stars crossing the red carpet against the flash of cameras and adoring screams of fans - George Clooney, Uma Thurman, Ralph Fiennes, Tilda Swinton and Charlotte Gainsbourg - to name a few.
Twenty films are vying for the Golden and Silver Bear awards. This year's candidates have a strong Chinese - and even stronger German accent. Three front-runners out of Asia are independent films that stray from the glitz and glamour to tell the story of ordinary people. The strong showing from China reflects the rapidly growing importance of film and cinema in the Far East, says festival director Dieter Kosslick.
The Berlinale is also a good thermometer for just how healthy the German film industry is. At the 64th annual festival this year, four German films are part of the competition. The German film presence hadn't been this strong since 1986. An additionally compelling component: The films differ not only in their aesthetics but also in their themes.
Some examples: Dominik Graf portrays the historical story of rebellious poet Friedrich Schiller. Edward Berger follows two homesick young boys in modern Berlin who are looking for their mother. In 14 stark images, Dietrich Brüggemann narrates the spirituality of a protagonist tortured by her religious beliefs. And Feo Aladag portrays an ISAF soldier in the Afghanistan war, asking the great questions of human dignity, humanity, trust and failure.
Even the opening film, "The Grand Budapest Hotel," from Wes Anderson has a German connection. It was filmed in Görlitz and is one of the many successful international co-productions to appear at the festival. And it tells a European story: The cryptic tragic comedy with a star-studded cast is set in the tumultuous time period between World Wars.
Whether the Golden or Silver Bears ultimately go to Brazil, Argentina, France, China, Austria, Japan, Norway, Great Britain, Germany or the US will be decided by an eight-member jury chaired by successful producer James Schamus ("Brokeback Mountain" and "Lost in Translation"). The decision will be interesting, as there are very different perspectives at play. Two-time Oscar winner Christoph Waltzm, James Bond producer Barbara Broccoli, Iranian director and artist Mitra Farahani, and top Asian actor Tony Leung are all part of the jury.
Of course the Berlinale is more than just a competition. Outside of the contest, George Clooney's "The Monuments Men," is a current film about the dangerous hunt for art stolen by the Nazis in World War II.
The Forum and Panorama sections of the festival offer the usual overview of the international Art House Cinema scene, which generally tackles politics. The films often follow people trying to cope with the world who, as a result, expend their entire energy to gain justice and fight abuse, oppression or unethical corporations robbing them of their livelihood.
And what else is on the docket? Films about the Holocaust appear in various sections. One of the notables is "Concentration Camp Factual Survey," about the concentration camp in Bergen-Belsen. Alfred Hitchcock worked on the film in 1945, and the London Imperial War Museum completed the final version.
The films of the Berlinale represent the risks and side-effects of growing up. As usual, big deals are made discreetly on the European Film Market. In the end, after 10 days, prizes will be granted by the 50-some juries in all the sections.
One winner has already been determined: British director, Ken Loach, a master of social-realist film, will be receiving an Honorary Golden Bear for his nearly 50-year film career.
Cannesmay be more chic. Venice may be warmer. Nevertheless, everyone loves the Berlinale.