Everything Old is New Again
50th Berlin International Film Festival
feature by Eddie Cockrell, 11 February 2000

Berlin, Germany (08 February) With about sixteen hours to go until the doors open for registration, the sounds of hammering and drilling -- not to mention the sizzle and flash of a guy soldering something on an elevated staircase -- echo about the massive Berlinale-Palast, which houses the 1,600-seat competition theater and the new press center. The phones have yet to be hooked up in the retooled market hall, which occupies the entire ground floor of the DaimlerChrysler Building, but these last-minute adjustments and delays haven’t dampened the enthusiasm of the hard-working festival staff, not to mention everyone who will arrive over the next couple of days (the festival opens 09 February) to see for themselves just how one of the biggest film festivals in the world engineers a full-scale move across town.

Fest-goers know what to expect from the Berlin International Film Festival: precise administration and the seemingly effortless mounting of some 240 films (a total of 700 shows) on literally dozens of screens. And everyone who comes here either has, or soon develops, a social routine revolving around a favorite restaurant, sweet shop, coffeehouse and/or pub along the fading Ku-damm and in the area around the Zoo station. What’s a big mystery to all, however, are the locations, traffic patterns and meeting spots in the spanking new Potsdammer Platz complex, which now hosts the bulk of the festival. Formerly the commercial center of the city, the area peaked in the 1920s and was flattened during World War II. A veritable no-man’s land during the Cold War, the area is in the process of being rebuilt, and resembles from a distance nothing so much as an Oz for the new movie millennium, albeit one surrounded by muddy fields and cranes instead of poppies. So everyone starts over again from scratch, building time in already harried days for the relatively pleasant U-Bahn trip (the route of which would have been impossible just ten short years ago), a shuttle bus that makes the rounds of the hotels in the west, or a taxi. Those adventurous enough to book a hotel room in the former east will be quizzed on the quality of their lodgings as well as the available nightlife along the Unter den Linden and Friedrichstrasse, not to mention the up-and-coming new Mitte district.

09 February

Surfing the learning curve seems to be distracting nearly everyone in one way or the other from the real reason of the trip: the movies. Perhaps in part for this reason the inaugural afternoon press showing of Wim Wenders’ new film The Million Dollar Hotel is greeted with respectful but muted applause. Of course, this reaction could also have something to do with the nature of the movie, which is a visionary technical achievement but an emotionally abstract and challenging story set among a group of losers in a run-down Los Angeles flophouse. As anxious as the critics were to get into the new cinema, they were just as eager to get out again -- a situation providing some comic relief as everyone attempted to navigate the unusual dead-end aisles of the multi-level theater. The press conference is unusually chaotic, with photographers refusing to sit down, Wenders and co-writer Bono of the pop group U2 going on about the gestation of the movie and co-stars Peter Stormare and Gloria Stuart arriving late to the dais. Still, there was a palpable sense of something new -- if chaotic -- in the air.

And so it will go, through the remaining 11 days of Berlin. The organization of the films themselves is relatively unchanged. In addition to the aforementioned Wenders, the competition section features anticipated new works from Zhang Yimou, Francois Ozon, Andrzej Wajda, Bruno Barreto, and local heroes Volker Schlondorff and Rudolf Thome. The American presence here is particularly strong, with European premieres of David O. Russell’s Three Kings (complete with the presence of Ice Cube, Mark Wahlberg and George Clooney at the press conference), Danny Boyle’s The Beach (or, as one wag dubbed it, Lord of the Flaws), Jonathan Nossiter’s Signs and Wonders, The Talented Mr. Ripley, Magnolia, The Hurricane, Man on the Moon and, believe it or not, Any Given Sunday (American football is growing in popularity here). Berlin has developed a reputation recently for having a crystal ball when it comes to programming films that to on to receive Oscar nominations, so this lineup could be a sneak look at next week’s nominations.

On paper, the Panorama section looks particularly exciting, with lower-profile films that promise interesting stylistic and narrative twists. Now in its 30th year, the Forum of New Cinema offers a survey of the most cutting edge work from around the world. The New German Cinema sidebar brings accredited guests up to speed with film developments in the host country’s national industry. There are mini-tributes to French actress Jeanne Moreau and American icon Robert De Niro; an odd but frankly fascinating retrospective called “Artificial Beings and Manic Machines” featuring a historical survey of such films from Der Golem to The Terminator; and the Kinderfilmfest, the annual international gathering of children and kid-themed movies that this year has taken over the Zoo Palast, which for years was the flagship cinema of the festival as a whole.




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