If you are at Potsdamer Platz, right by its Kinematek and Berlinale’s many cinemas, sulfuric water vapor seeps up from the ground. Is this stink of rotten eggs signifying this year’s film festival? Some believe that the majority of the festival’s competition films are B-films. A total of 400 films were screened, half a million cinema visits were expected, and it all cost 25 million euros.
However, it is not stars and red carpet that interest us here at Modern Times Review. This year’s Berlinale featured 101 documentaries. As IDFA‘s Orwa Nyrabia said during a packed seminar on fiction and/or reality, a pretty girl always has an ugly girlfriend. Next to doll-like too perfumed stars, next to the «beauty» of fiction, we also need some of the sometimes perspiring-smelling or ugly reality.
For example, we see this ugly reality in Welcome to Chechnya, where President Ramzan Kadyrov systematically pursues LGBTQ+ individuals. Where gays and lesbians are regularly chased or killed. «We have no gays,» Kadyrov said, recommending families to «clean up» as this is a «shame so strong that it needs to be washed away with blood.» But this «stench» to be washed away is his fiction – Kadyrov has an inhuman morality.
Or, what about the clip of the woman being pulled out of a car, then having the skull crushed by a family member?
Director David France also stood behind important issues with How to Survive a Plague (2012), on HIV / AIDS. But in his new film, the reality shown is more brutal. Via inserted cellphone recordings, we get to see a real rape, where a screaming man is held down while being raped. Or, what about the clip of the woman being pulled out of a car, then having the skull crushed by a family member? Mostly real.
Bigotry or tears?
Hectic Berlin is winter cold but with some soothing elements.
The Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, who fled to Berlin, but gradually moved to London, rather chose Copenhagen for the premiere of his new film Vivos. According to Der Tagesspiegel, he believes that «Germany is intolerant, narrow-minded and authoritarian». Really? well, in any case, Vivos is about very real disappearances in Mexico, where a number of students were probably killed by organized criminals.
Saudi Runaway shows Saudi Arabia’s strange «fictions», where the man decides on the woman’s life. This imprinted «narrative», or the «form» of marriage, causes about 1000 women to flee the country annually. The reality, as the film’s protagonist Muna shows us with a hidden mobile camera, will not endure. And even though all other faces are digitally blurred in the film, there are highly real powers behind them.
Also, reviewed in Modern Times Review, the oppressive men from Caught in the Net. Here, too, the faces are blurred. It stinks.
Salt Of Tears
If something doesn’t stink, it’s probably the tears at this year’s Berlinale. In the fiction film The Salt of Tears, the young seducer Frenchman – in black-and-white à la French new wave – leaves several sad young women. But he ends up in tears in Paris himself – when his beloved father suddenly dies. The Turkish festival manager by my side in the hall was crying after the film – even though I didn’t feel affected as much.
Coronavirus and media
The film industry is now characterized by the coronavirus (COVID-19), as it occurs by touch or airborne channels. China has closed its cinemas and has also instructed the entire film industry to stop all production – as a measure against people gathering and infecting each other. China, which was about to pass US movie production levels, now has to wait longer as a result.
Well, for the time being, film festivals in Europe continue. But as a festival manager from Bologna told me, Italy’s cinemas are now closed as the coronavirus is spreading in the northern part of the country. Norway and other countries are following suit.
Every year, 900 people in Norway (1%) die from complications after the flu. In fact, almost the same number as the «dangerous» coronavirus victims worldwide so far.
But, how much fiction and how much reality is there in the viral dangers described by mass media? In reality, the new coronavirus causes mild cold symptoms for most. For some, it can cause pneumonia and difficulty breathing. It is often elderly and sick with a weakened immune system who die from COVID-19, about 2% of those infected. Fo9r example, every year, 900 people in Norway (1%) die from complications after the flu. In fact, almost the same number as the «dangerous» coronavirus victims worldwide so far. The mass media’s warnings about proliferation create enormous fears, travel bans, confinement, and hatred towards the Chinese. In reality, many times this amount die of colds. The danger of «terrorists» has now been taken over by the danger of «coronavirus». But does the virus not represent a very small risk in relation to man-made dangers such as stress, traffic, alcohol, drugs or pollution?
Pollution and fantasy
The fiction film Minamata refers to reality despite the somewhat clichéd structure of «white man rescues» the poor in Japan – starring Johnny Depp. The film deals with the war photographer W. Eugene Smith, who starred in Life magazine before becoming an alcoholic and war-traumatized. In the film, he is reluctantly persuaded by a young Japanese woman to join and photograph the consequences of the emissions from the Japanese chemical plant Chisso in 1971. He meets people infected by the chemicals, photographing their crippled bodies, like Tomoko in Her Bath. The pictures reveal the effect of Mercury in the idyllic bay with quiet water – which is, in fact, as badly polluted by the factory behind.
The people preferred a president who lied, despite how ridiculous, or hateful, he was in reality.
The documentary Hillary – four hour-long episodes with Hillary Clinton – shows, for example, how she relates to reality in the 2016 U.S. election. She disappoints a voter’s desire for limited oil extraction («fracking») by saying it is impossible in reality. It turned out that the world of fantasy was more desirable during the 2016 election. The people preferred a president who lied, despite how ridiculous, or hateful, he was in reality.
As festival director Ketil Magnussen of HUMAN International Documentary Film Festival in Oslo wrote last week, «we need to know what is real […] and protect reality». We must prevent us from being manipulated by propaganda. «Watching a movie about something is really an act in itself,» Magnussen writes. Listen to our podcast with him for more of our conversation.
HUMAN showed almost half as many documentaries as Berlinale, and also focused on Palestine – for example with the Israel-censored The Prisoners of the Occupation. HUMAN also organized far-reaching discussions and panel debates.
Berlinale’s new artistic director, Carlo Chatrian, replaced the festival’s culinary film program with the program «Encounters» – for films with «independent innovative filmmakers who dare something aesthetic and structural».
He also chose Pinocchio as the first gala performance. Do you remember the doll with the long nose that grows with every lie he tells? The puppeteer’s adventure with a dreamlike quality ends with him swimming in the clear water, where he also rescues the fish.
With everything raining down on Berlin, below it the sewer smell washed away from the underground.
The festival’s jury president, the famous Palestinian filmmaker Annemarie Jacir (among others, she made Salt of This Sea), says that she emphasizes ethics and fights for artists in today’s difficult political sphere. When asked how to find peace («unwind» – possibly from the hectic Berlin or the conflict-filled Middle East), the answer was the following: «The sea. It is an impossible dream for Palestinians. We are locked away from the sea. That I [a Palestinian resident of Israel] can go to Haifa and just being by the sea has a big impact on me. There I feel like the happiest in the world.»
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