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MARY COLBERT braves Berlin's wintry conditions to report on the 50TH Berlinale - it's moved from No Man's Land to a shopping complex, but "in Berlin’s defence, its selection of European films is to a large extent hampered by the fact that many countries – Australia for one, France another - target production schedules towards Cannes."

This has been the festival’s 50th anniversary – and tenth since re-unification; while retaining its numerous West Berlin locations/venues and major cinema centre in the city’s East, it celebrated with a new, high profile headquarters complex at Potsdamer Platz in the recently completed Marlene Dietrich Square, on the former No Man’s Land, once the death strip separating East and West.

"in the heart of the reformed capital"

Futuristic, angular, red brick and granite, glass and techno-steel symbolically poise the festival into the new millennium in the heart of the reformed capital, reclaiming its former 1930’s position as a city hub.

Clustered in narrow streets around the new minimalist-style Hyatt Hotel, Sony office tower and Daimler-Chrysler and Mercedes Benz buildings, the festival has now acquired a new base designed by an international team of mostly European architects who have transformed the area into an ultra-modern commercial complex.

"jewel in the crown"

Running perpendicular to the multipexes is the thriving shopping centre, the Arkaden, a Westfield style complex of 120 cafes, restaurants, shops, supermarket. You could be anywhere in the world – Sydney, Asia, UK or US. The only distinctive sign of its European origins is the pervasive indoor cigarette smoke – in cafes, restaurants and particularly press conferences – starkly contrasting with the almost clinical exteriors.

The ‘jewel in the crown’ is the Berlinale Palast, a 1700 seat musical theatre converted for the event as a state-of-the-art cinema and adjoining multi-function press centre. Its round spacious forecourt, symbolically opposite MacDonald’s, doubles as a red-carpet parade ground ideal for celebrity premieres this time the hub of teen fan hysteria, so uncharacteristic of Berlin, for festival guest Leonardo di Caprio. It’s ultra-lit, ultra-modern, but rather soul-less, unlike the city’s true art nerve centre, around the restored Jewish quarter and East Berlin’s Mitte.

The same large scale commercialism was reflected on screen in competition this year with a domination by studio films – not only in presence but also in awards accolades.

"top honour"

The festival's top honour, the Golden Bear, was awarded to Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia, Best Director Silver Bear to Milos Forman for Man on the Moon and Best Actor to Hurricane's Denzel Washington.

Whilst a Hollywood star presence has always been a priority as a magnet for local audiences, sponsors and international press, the shift this year has been in moving many of these Hollywood studio films from Out of Competition slots into the main showcase.

For both parties it’s become a very effective symbiosis: the festival is assured of star vehicles and increased profile, while Hollywood has access to a European window transmitted globally, revving up Academy Awards momentum.

Appropriately, or diplomatically, the only Europeans honoured by the main jury in lesser categories were German - Wim Wenders’ American film (popular win of the Jury Prize) - The Million Dollar Hotel; and Volker Schlondorff’s Die Stille Nach Dem Schuss (The Legends of Rita) with an in-built guarantee of European acclaim, the Blue Angel award for Best European film and Best Actress honours for Bibiana Beglau and Nadja Uhl.

"personal politics"

Press response to most of the above awards was – at best – lukewarm. In this year’s very mediocre selection arthouse darling Zhang Yimou’s Road Home was the clear critics’ favourite. But its fate hung in the balance, complicated by personal politics of his former long term relationship with actress Gong Li, this year’s President of the Jury which awarded it the runner-up gong, the Jury Grand Prix.

Undoubtedly, it would have been sweet revenge had the Chinese film-maker won back to back grand-slam awards, following his Venice Golden Lion win for Not One Less with a Golden Bear for the duet of films that caused major controversy at Cannes last year when Gilles Jacob‘s selection committee side-lined them out of competition causing the film-maker to withdraw both from a festival that had previously honoured his work.

As if compensating the obvious pro-American trend, the FIPRESCI (International Film Critics Jury) shifted the balance towards one of the two French competition films, Claude Miller’s intimate La Chambre des Magiciennes (Of Women and Magic).

In Berlin’s defence, it must be said that its competition selection of European films is to a large extent hampered by the fact that many countries – Australia for one, France another - target production (and completion) schedules towards Cannes, which by the time February has come around (post Venice, San Sebastian etc) – particularly in a less inspiring year – leave programmers a limited repertoire.

"a multi-faceted festival"

In its defence also, it must be stressed that – like Cannes - the Berlinale is a multi-faceted festival in recent years offering up its best, most exciting discoveries in the Panorama and Forum side-bars. And in 2000, both sections, especially an outstanding Documentary program, showcased a considerable number of inspiring discoveries particularly from Asia and Europe as well as independent US fare.


Among the grand slam film festivals, Berlin does at first glance appear to have less going for it than its famous resort counterparts. A winter public city festival in a country not known for its flamboyance, it lacks the summer hedonism and extroverted sensuality of its European beach-side rivals, Riviera’s Cannes and the Venice Lido. And while it shares a wintry setting with Sundance, lacking here is the ski playground ambience and till recently, strong Hollywood presence. Deprived of resort style hype and hooplah, Berlin has always played a different trump card.

This is a public, urban venue, tied inextricably to the roots, location and socio-politics of this often troubled and constantly changing metropolis. Unlike the above trio, the Berlinale (as it is called) is a much more sombre event. In a city that’s still the world’s largest construction site, apart from café talk, there are few distractions from serious film viewing.

And the Berlinale has always had a hand-in-glove relationship with its host city. In fact, no other festival reflects more closely cinema’s synergy and symbiotic relationship with history. The event was first set up in June 1951 in an isolated and ravaged post war Germany, as a confidence and culture boost to the former arts capital & film-making centre. Despite the presence of the Wall, through the Cold War years as a bridge between east and west, it became a rare showcase of films from Eastern Europe. Socio-political in focus, in the troubled years of a divided city, this was no place for making whoopee.

"Euro-centric core"

An international festival with a Euro-centric core, it began a re-definition in 1979, when festival organisers realised that competing with Cannes and Venice for star glamour presented insurmountable challenge. The Berlinale moved its slot to mid February. Without other summer distractions, captive local audiences increased. But not till after re-unification did the festival, in correlation with more targeted Hollywood studio marketing machines, fully exploit its timing, sandwiched between the Golden Globes and Academy Awards, an ideal launchpad for the American blitzkrieg on European Oscar box office based in one of its most lucrative territories.

February, 2000

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  • Magnolia - Golden Bear
  • Cast at the Berlin press conference

  • Man on the Moon - Silver Bear
  • Jim Carrey and director Milos Forman;

  • Denzel Washington - Best Actor
  • Deborah Kara Unger with director Norman Jewison and Washington in Berlin



In Berlin's Teddy (gay and lesbian) awards, Australian film-maker Jacqui North’s Chrissy, a TV ratings hit when screened in Australia in December, won the Jury prize for "its achievement as the first cinematic portrayal of a lesbian with AIDS". The festival has been an enormous success for North who has been offered representation from leading UK-based distributor, Jane Balfour Films and inundated with international film festival invitations.


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