Running from 16th to the 26th of February, The Berlin International Film Festival (Berlinale for short) is jumping back to its rightful place as one of the big five (or six, as some insist) on the festival circuit. Kicking off this Thursday in the German capital, it follows hot on the heels of a successful Sundance this year and promises a range of films, many of which have their world premiere.
Last year’s Berlinale was a waking bear, recovering from the virtual festival during COVID times. This year, the bear is back, fully present and ready to roar as a dynamic and forward-thinking film festival known for pushing the boundaries of traditional cinema and championing bold and innovative new voices in the film industry. The only place the bear is not to be seen is its traditional spot on this year’s festival poster, by local graphic designer, Claudia Schramke, which instead highlights the ‘”invisible centre” of the festival – its audience.
Since its founding in 1951, the Berlinale is known for showcasing a diverse range of films from all over the world, including independent films, arthouse cinema, and typically a handful of mainstream movies. The festival is also known for its commitment to promoting cultural exchange and dialogue through cinema, and has a long history of supporting films that deal with important social and political issues.
The timbre and reputation of the Berlinale is known for its focus on new and innovative cinema, mostly showcasing films not screened elsewhere before. With a consistently diverse and exciting film lineup, serious industry filmmakers, audiences, critics and fans descend upon the city to see things which might be released later that year, the next or in some cases not at all.
While it lacks the glitz of Cannes and the splendor of Venice, Berlin does just fine as its own entity, showcasing films that have a lasting impact on the box office as well as film history. Past examples of films that have premiered at the Berlinale are “Call Me by Your Name,” “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” “The Shape of Water,” “The King’s Speech,” and “Black Swan.”
Its ursine trophy, the Golden Bear, awarded to the best film in competition, is still a highly valued awards in the film industry, and winning can be the launchpad for critical as well as box office success. Recently, the Berlinale has also focussed on digital and new media – new technologies and platforms for distribution – staying relevant to the changing nature of film consumption.
The opening gala is the world premiere of “She Came To Me,” director Rebecca Miller’s romantic comedy, headlined by Peter Dinklage and Anne Hathaway. Jury President Kristen Stewart will be in attendance when Steven Spielberg is awarded an honorary Golden Bear for his career achievements as the Oscar-nominated autobiopic “The Fabelmans” screens out the festival.
For the all important competition, the 73rd International Berlin Film Festival has 18 titles with new films from Margarethe Von Trotte and Christian Petzold.
Six titles are by women directors, three are debut features and 11 of the directors have previously had their films screen at the Berlinale, with eight showing in competition. The 50/50 split of female and male directors mooted in previous years has not happened, but Berlinale, under new Co-Chiefs Carlo Chatrian and Mariëtte Rissenbeek, takes the matter of sexism more seriously than other top European festivals.
Among the Competition titles are the Sundance-shown “Past Lives” by Celine Strong, “Manodrome” by South African director John Trengove as well as animation from Makoto Shinkai’s “Suzume.” There’s also excitement surrounding “Ingeborg Bachmann – Journey Into the Desert,” Margarethe Von Trotte’s new film starring “Corsage’s” Vicky Krieps as the Austrian author who died in 1972. It is the first film by the renowned German filmmaker to be in Competition since 1983.
Well known for strong political emphases, the festival this year spotlights works from Ukrainian directors and dissident Iranian filmmakers. Free exhibition space will be given this year to the Ukrainian film industry representatives and emphasise co-productions. The festival colors this year are Ukrainian flag blue and yellow rather than the festival’s signature red.
Special Titles and Sidebars
Among the special titles selection are German premiere of Todd Field’s “Tár,” John Malkovich-headliner “Seneca – On the Creation of Earthquakes,” Brandon Cronenberg’s Sundance-premiering “Infinity Pool,” and Guy Nattiv’s “Golda,” with Helen Mirren as Golda Meir, the Prime Minister of Israel. Sean Penn’s documentary about Volodymr Zelenskyy “Superpower” will also play as a special title.
A relatively new competitive section established in 2020, the Encounters sidebar will have films from Dustin Guy Defa, Bas Devos, Tatiana Huezo, Wu Lang, and Hong Sangsoo, a Berlin favorite in a section that promotes innovative and experimental works.
The Panorama selection this year sees films as being “Tools of Resistance” while the 37th Teddy Awards, the festival world’s oldest queer film award, will award the Special Teddy for Ukraine’s Sunny Bunny Award, the queer film prize of the Molodist Film Festival in Kyiv established in 2001.
Berlinale 2023 Official Competition Selection
“20,000 Species of Bees” by Estibaliz Urresola Solaguren (Spain)
“The Shadowless Tower” by Zhang Lu (China)
“Till the End of the Night” by Christoph Hochhausler (Germany)
“BlackBerry” by Matt Johnson (Canada)
“Disco Boy” by Giacomo Abbruzzese (France / Italy / Poland / Belgium)
“The Plough” by Philippe Garrel (France / Switzerland)
“Ingeborg Bachmann – Journey into the Desert” by Margarethe von Trotta (Germany / Switzerland / Austria / Luxembourg)
“Someday We’ll Tell Each Other Everything” by Emily Atef (Germany)
“Limbo” by Ivan Sen (Australia)
“Bad Living” by Joao Canijo (Portugal / France)
“Manodrome” by John Trengove (UK / US)
“Music” by Angela Schanelec (Germany / France / Serbia)
“Past Lives” by Celine Song (US)
“Afire” by Christian Petzold (Germany)
“On the Adamant” by Nicolas Philibert (France / Japan)
“The Survival of Kindness” by Rolf de Heer (Australia)
“Suzume” by Makoto Shinkai (Japan)
“Totem” by Lila Ayles (Mexico / Denmark / France)
BERLINALE SPECIAL GALA
“Superpower” by Sean Penn, Aaron Kaufman (US)
Berlinale Encounters Selection
“The Klezmer Project” by Leandro Koch, Paloma Schahmann (Argentina / Austria)
“The Adults” by Dustin Guy Defa (US)
“The Echo” by Tatiana Huezo (Mexico / Germany)
“Here” by Bas Devos (Belgium)
“In the Blind Spot” by Ayse Polat (Germany)
“The Cage is Looking for a Bird” by Malika Musaeva (France / Russia)
“My Worst Enemy” by Mehran Tamadon (France / Switzerland)
“White Plastic Sky” by Tibor Banoczki, Sarolta Szabo (Hungary / Slovakia)
“In Water” by Hong Sangsoo (South Korea)
“Family Time” by Tia Kuovo (Finland / Sweden)
“The Walls of Bergamo” by Stefano Savona (Italy)
“Orlando, My Political Biography” by Paul B. Preciado (France)
“Samsara” by Lois Patino (Spain)
“Eastern Front” by Vitaly Mansky, Yevhen Titarenko (Latvia / Czechia / Ukraine / US)
“Living Bad” by Joao Canijo (Portugal / France)
“Absence” by Wu Lang (China)
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