Standing its ground against Cannes and Venice, the “Berlinale” is among the crème de la crème of European film festivals. Since its founding back in Cold War West-Berlin in 1951, it has not only played an active role in establishing the formidable reputation of post-war German cinema, it has also regularly reflected European and international political and social movements, as well.
Part of this is due to the fact that the film jury is expected to place a special emphasis on representing films from all over the world. During the Cold War, films from the Eastern Block countries were shown along side those of the West, for instance. Films from developing countries or about politically controversial issues have always been welcomed with open arms here. And controversial social and political themes have never been a Mangelware (a good in short supply). In other words, the Berlinale makes no qualms about being a “political” film festival and has been, for this very reason, quite controversial in and of itself.
But the political nature of the Berlinale should really be of no surprise. Its very establishment back in 1951 was a political act itself; the Bonn government and allied forced were intent upon reestablishing Berlin’s reputation as being the political and cultural capital of Germany – West-Berlin, that is.
And the history of the German film industry goes well back into the last century, so it is no coincidence that the Berlinale should play the role it does in Germany and Europe. Berlin, home of Marlene Dietrich, with its nearby studios in Babelsberg, produced international masterpieces like “Metropolis”, “The Blue Angel” and “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” after the World War I era. Propaganda films under National Socialism were produced here during the Second World War as well, of course, and new technologies, like the use of color, soon became widespread. Post-war films were characterized by the massive reconstruction and Germany’s Wirtschaftswunder (economic miracle). These times seemed to demand lighter entertainment like comedies, romances and melodramas, all of which enjoyed great popularity. Films critical of the past or of the current society remained few and far between until the more prosperous and turbulent 1960’s.
A huge wave of modern German film “classics” then crashed down upon us with the works by the likes of Fassbinder, Herzog, Schlöndorf, Wenders, Petersen, Dörrie and on and on, continuing right up to this day with young talent like Tom Tykwer, Wolfgang Becker, Thomas Stellmach and countless more. We’re still soaking wet and the next wave’s approaching, it seems.
And the Berlinale has also gone through its fair share of organizational changes. Groups and alliances have formed over the years and have introduced new competitions and additional forums. One of the most popular of these has been the International Forum for Young Film. It was founded primarily due to the frustration felt by many a young filmmaker with the traditional system of film competition.
The International Forum of the New Film or Forum for short, also eventually became an established part of the Berlinale. Its goal is to establish an area where new developments in film from all around the world can be highlighted. The stated hope is that this will help explore new artistic possibilities as well as new social functions of film.
And as the German film per se continued to remain a topic of discussion, yet another section was integrated into the festival: Neue Deutsche Filme (New German Films). In an ever-changing industry like this, it retains its relevance from year to year.
Other new forums keep popping up all the time, some of the most recent being the Retrospektive (classic films) and The Children’s Film Festival.
If a film wins in a particular competition here at the Berlinale – and as you see there are very many, continually changing categories to choose from, it receives either a Silver Bear or a Golden Bear. The bear is the symbol of Berlin, by the way (hence the name) and a Golden Bear seen in the hands of one of the winning film elite here awakes, in the eyes of many a German film fan at least, a similar association to that which Hollywood’s Oscar produces for us.
And who will be receiving all of those Golden Bears this year? That’s a tough call. But if you can’t bear to wait any longer, have a closer look at the link below.