Serious films with important messages seemed to dominate the festival. A trend also reflected in the winning films.
The top award, the Golden Bear, went to HONEY (Bal, 2010) by Turkish filmmaker Semih Kapalanoglu. HONEY completes Kapanaloglu’s Yusuf trilogy, that started with EGG (Yumurta, 2007) and MILK (Sut, 2008) and sensitively and slowly reveals and examines the close relationship between Yusuf, a 6 year old child, with his father, a bee keeper. HONEY is a poetic piece of work with a captivating child performer in Bora Altas.
The Romanian entry IF I WANT TO WHISTLE, I WHISTLE was recognized with two major awards by the jury: the Grand Jury Prize, a Silver Bear, as well as the Alfred Bauer Prize for innovative filmmaking. Romanian first time filmmaker Florin Åžerban’s feature went over well with the press and led Screen International’s Journalist Jury. WHISTLE is the moral tale of a young criminal offender in a youth prison, who sacrifices himself in order to save his brother. A clear script, strong performances by non-professional actors and a documentary style come together in this film to result in an immediacy and urgency that lasts up to the final image.
Roman Polanski’s latest feature GHOSTWRITER continued to lead the Berlin based daily TAGESSPIEGEL jury, made up of some of Germany’s top critics, from the start of the festival and eventually garnered a Silver Bear for Mr. Polanski (Best Director). A favorite with many in the industry, GHOSTWRITER is the fictitious story of a ghostwriter hired to compete the British Prime Ministers memoirs.
Mr. Polanski has been under house arrest in Switzerland for most of the post-production process, and was not allowed to travel to Berlin for the festival premiere. US based German producer Christian von Tippelskirch was the service producer for the US section of the film and offered some insights into the production process. Most of the films story takes place on Martha’s Vineyard, but was filmed in Sylt, Germany because Mr. Polanski is not allowed to enter the US. And so von Tippelskirch’s job was to film original exteriors that would seamlessly cut into the film. Most of this was accomplished by shooting green screen and various plates. As von Tippelskirch recalls he enjoyed the technical challenges that also required a lot of attention to detail. Filming took place parallel to the editing process from April until October. This way, production was able to determine what shots were really needed. Together with his team, von Tippelskirch worked very closely with the visual effects supervisors in Paris and Berlin and was in constant communication with the French editor to ensure they received the shots they needed to tell this intricate political thriller. Summit Entertainment picked up the US distribution rights to GHOST WRITER and just released the film in N.Y. and L.A.
Two of my personal favorites from this festival also received top awards from some of the major independent juries.
Lisa Cholodenko’s Sundance charmer THE KIDS ARE ALRIGHT received a TEDDY Award (for films that have a gay and/or lesbian context) for best feature film. THE KIDS charmingly examines alternative family models and concludes that, after all, these families deal with just the same issues as any traditional one. For a more thorough review, please refer to the third Berlinale report.
Danish filmmaker Pernille Fischer Christensen was honored by the International Critics Association with the FIPRESCI award for Best Film of the Competition with her film A FAMILY. Christensen’s emotionally loaded yet sensitively guided family drama with a stellar cast (especially Lene Maria Christensen as daughter, Ditte, and Jesper Christensen as father, Richard) rings painfully true and touches on universal themes like parenting, partnering, passing and parting.
One film that did not pick up any awards, but nonetheless should be mentioned in this final report, is Bob Epstein and Jeffery Friedman’s first feature, HOWL. HOWL tells the story of Alan Ginsberg’s controversial 1955 poem whose publication brought on the famous 1957 court case accusing HOWL’s publisher, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, of obscenity. After numerous award winning documentaries, HOWL is Epstein and Friedman’s first foray into fiction.
Weaving in and out of animations used to visualize the poem, HOWL fictionalized interviews with Alan Ginsberg about his artistic process and philosophy of life, re-enactments of the court scenes and flashbacks from Ginsbergs earlier life, private and public. This hybrid of a film creates a jazz-like atmosphere; Smoothly moving, the film offers a taste for an exciting time that is long-gone and, at the same time, offers a plea for civil liberties. MATCH FACTORY, the German based sales agent, has picked up international distribution rights.
Over and out—and back to New York. With the 60th Birthday Berlinale just over, the 61st is already on its way! Next year will be festival director Dieter Kosslick’s 10th Berlinale, so expect some more celebrations….