46th Berlin International 
Film Festival (1996)
feature by Eddie Cockrell

The Bounty of Berlin

After all the film screenings, after all the deal-making, after all the parties, after all the hoopla, and from the relative comfort of one's own Macintosh (yes, back home with my loved ones), how to analyse the success or failure of the 46th Berlin International Film Festival? Keep in mind that the cardinal rule of these events, large or small, is that a film festival is only as good as the movies that have been made in the last 12 to 18 months. Of secondary importance is the number and quality of films from that pool that programmers can snag (even the big three of Berlin, Cannes and Venice have difficulty getting everything they want), as well as the ability of festival organisers to ensure that industry types, press and the general public have reasonable access to the cinemas.

The first issue is, of course, the most subjective. Generally speaking, global productions seem to be more plentiful and focused of late, an indication that good stories are finding newly-stimulated production funds. And while one had to look closely to find new films from Latin America and Eastern Europe in Berlin (they were there, but mostly in the International Market section - perhaps the titles weren't up to programming standards), the Asian boom continues apace and high-profile German films, particularly Matthias Glasner's Sexy Sadie (in the Panorama), Rainer Kaufmann's Talk of the Town (New German Films) and Detley Buck's Jail Bait (International Market), prove thal big, box office comedies are not beyond that industry's grasp.

In terms of the unusually large number and quality of Hollywood movies attracted to the main competition section, Berlin Festival director Moritz de Hadeln (he of the "Let's wait, we'll see" school on the festival's potential success way back on February 15th - see first report) seemed satisfied with the reception of the twelve US films in competition. And well he should be.

For Hollywood gloss, little in this day and age can beat a stogied John Travolta and Emma Thompson sharing a table in the V.I.P. lounge of the opening night reception, Bruce Willis entertaining the A-list crowd (including wife Demi Moore) at an R&B concert following the German première of 12 Monkeys, or director Robert Rodriguez' presiding over a dead-of-night post-première blow out for From Dusk Till Dawn in a ballroom rigged to evoke the ambience of the film's sleazy south-of-the-border saloon. Add such high-profile personages as Jodie Foster, Danny De Vito, Holly Hunter, Robert Downey Jr, Jack Lemmon, Terry Gilliam and Oliver Stone to the mix, and that says something to the world about this festival's ability to attract, promote and entertain Hollywood stars.

On the 10th anniversary of their organised presence in Berlin, American independent films continue to generate strong interest. Todd Solondz' Welcome to the Dollhouse, the grand prize winner at this year's Sundance Film Festival, sold to four major territories - including Artificial Eye in the United Kingdom - after an enthusiastic reception in the International Forum of Young Films. In the documentary category, Forum audiences gave good marks to The Battle Over Citizen Kane, The Celluloid Closet and The Gate of Heavenly Peace.

In a particularly inspiring success story from the International Market, Eve Annenberg's hip American comedy Dogs: The Rise and Fall of an All-Girl Bookie Joint - which was rejected by Sundance but shown in competition at the Rotterdam Festival shortly before its Berlin bow - apparently has attracted the interest of buyers (traditionally, deals for American distribution are initiated in Berlin, but not formalised and announced until the American Film Market - from February 29th in Santa Monica, California - which most buyers and sellers left Berlin early to make a beeline for).

The British industry also fared well: although Restoration and Mary Reilly came away empty-handed in the competition section (no surprise on the latter), the critical success of Richard III (Maggie Smith pictured) resulted in a Golden Bear for director Richard Loncraine - the jury usually sits on the press show. Brothers in Trouble, Udayan Prasad's feature debut about the adventures of a newly-arrived Pakistani immigrant, generated a buzz, as did Hettie Macdonald's first film, the gay themed Beautiful Thing, which proved so popular in the International Market (after reportedly being turned down by both the Panorama and Forum) that extra screenings were hastily arranged to accomodate buyer demand. Offers, apparently, are now flooding in.

And finally, festival organisation. After five or six years of geographic and administrative changes resulting from 'the wall's' demise and subsequent, seismic budgetary shockwaves, the event is once again perhaps the smoothest-running and healthiest of the international lot. On a personal note, all or part of 50 films in 12 days (including 35 features in their entirety) is about par for the Berlin course, as their are those who see less (buyer/seller types, mostly) and those who view significantly more (those never seen at parties or pubs and must be waylaid at breakfast, of all things, for significant face time).

The logistics of such a schedule require precision and this is entirely made possible by a programming staff that, baring acts of God, shows what's on the schedule where it is supposed to be shown and at exactly the right time. Not even a major 36-hour snowfall in the middle of the festival had a significant impact, as each and every show went on as scheduled (OK, one film in the market had to be postponed, but that was before the snow and due to a shipping snafu).

So while for obvious reasons Berlin 1996 will be remembered as a pivotal year in the festival's history for attracting Hollywood movies and stars, it continues to be a cinema lover's paradise as well, providing ample opportunity for the appreciation of film art and the conducting of movie business. That these two often strange bedfellows meet and co-exist with such success is what makes for the continuing world class status of the Berlin International Film Festival.




www.nitrateonline.com  Copyright © 1996-2005 by Nitrate Productions, Inc. All Rights Reserved.