Berlin kicks off in-person international film festival as virus surge peaks

Big-name filmmakers and stars are expected in Berlin for one of Europe’s biggest film festivals, as Germany records more than 150,000 new Covid-19 cases a day.

Last year, the Berlinale competition was held strictly online, just as the first vaccines were rolling out across Europe. (Reuters)

The Berlinale, Europe’s first major international film festival of the year, is back as a live event just as Germany grapples with record daily Covid-19 infections.

The Berlinale will open on Thursday with “Peter von Kant”, a gendered adaptation of Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s classic “The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant”.

The film by renowned French director François Ozon stars Denis Menochet, Isabelle Adjani and Hanna Schygulla, now 78, who played the cruel young seductress in the original.

He is one of 18 contenders for the festival’s Golden and Silver Bear grand prizes, which will be awarded on February 16.

Indian-American director M Night Shyamalan (“The Sixth Sense”) leads the jury, which includes Japan’s Ryusuke Hamaguchi, whose “Drive My Car” is now nominated for four Oscars.

Seven of the filmmakers in competition are women.

The festival will also award an Honorary Golden Bear for Lifetime Achievement to French screen legend Isabelle Huppert.

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“Social function” of cinema

Organizers of the event, which began in 1951 as a showcase of Cold War culture for the divided German capital, say a series of precautions will ensure audiences are safe when watching the world’s latest films whole.

Artistic director Carlo Chatrian defended the decision against accusations of irresponsibility at this stage of the pandemic, saying the community cinematic experience was crucial for the battered industry, as well as society as a whole.

“Seeing a film in a room, being able to hear breathing, laughter or whispering next to you – even with correct social distancing – contributes vitally not only to viewing pleasure, but also to strengthening the social function of the cinema,” he said.

Berlin ranks with Cannes and Venice among Europe’s biggest film festivals and prides itself on being the most welcoming to the general public, selling thousands of tickets for premieres and red carpet screenings across the city .

Last year, the Berlinale competition was held strictly online, just as the first vaccines were rolling out across Europe.

This time, the event will screen around 250 films, a quarter less than in previous years.

It will include limited cinema capacity as well as vaccine, testing and mask requirements and a shorter competition run as Germany sees more than 150,000 new coronavirus cases per day.

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Source: AFP

Darcy J. Skinner