The Berlin International Film Festival (Berlinale for short) is an operation of superlatives. No other festival in the world receives as many visitors: In 2012, nearly 300,000 tickets were sold, more than 3,800 journalists covered the event and some 16,000 accredited industry specialists were in attendance. This year's festival, taking place Feb. 7 to 17, is screening 404 films, 19 of which are competing for the coveted top prize, the Golden Bear.
Festival director Dieter Kosslick said in his presentation of the festival line-up that the year's selections were a balance between establishment and independent works. "We've accepted big Hollywood films as well as new people," he said last week at a press conference in Berlin. Independent films were "on the rise," he said, and many of the year's selections come from Eastern Europe, including Russia, Romania, Poland and, for the first time ever, Kazakhstan.
Kosslick said gender is also a central theme of this year's festival. "Women are front and center in many films, and many were made by women as well," he said. That stands in stark contrast to last year's Cannes festival, which was criticized for not having a single female director among the nominees for the Palme d'Or prize. "On My Way" ("Elle s'en va") is a prime example of women's centrality at the Berlinale -- director Emmanuelle Bercot tells the story of a mature woman, played by Catherine Deneuve, who spontaneously decides to leave her entire life behind.
Iranian Dissident Back Behind the Camera
True to the Berlinale's penchant for political films, "Closed Curtain" ("Pardé") by Iranian directors Jafar Panahi and Kambuzia Partovi challenges the country's brutally restrictive government by following two people hiding out in a secluded villa to evade the police -- for two very different reasons. The film puts Panahi at risk of further persecution in Iran, where the government has banned him from filmmaking. "Despite that, he still made a feature film," festival director Kosslick said. "We know that's almost impossible."
Panahi won the Berlinale's Silver Bear award in 2006 for his film "Offside" and premiered the defiant and sardonically titled "This is Not a Film" in Cannes in 2011, after having a friend smuggle it out of Iran on a USB stick hidden inside a cake. He was selected for the Berlinale jury two years ago but was forbidden from traveling to Berlin for the festival.
The Berlinale's lifetime achievement award, the Honorary Golden Bear, is going this year to French documentary filmmaker and producer Claude Lanzmann, many of whose works explore the Holocaust. The Berlinale Camera, an award for people and institutions that have made special contributions to the festival through the years, is going to Italian actress Isabella Rossellini and German filmmaker Rosa von Praunheim.
The festival's Retrospective line-up is called "The Weimar Touch," examining the influence of Germany's 1918-1933 Weimar Republic on international cinema. Among the films presented in the program are the 1935 American film "A Midsummer Night's Dream" and the 1942 classic "Casablanca."
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