D.he Berlinale did it: It’s a summer festival again. Since yesterday, the films in the competition and the side series have been shown in sixteen open-air cinemas spread across the city. The Museum Island is a venue for the festival, but also the Kulturforum, the House of World Cultures, the airfield in Tempelhof, Charlottenburg Palace, the Volkspark Friedrichshain and even remote places like the Parkbühne in the eastern part of the city of Biesdorf and the student village on the Bundesstrasse Potsdam. The capital is literally covered with cinema.
The downside of this “Summer Special”, as the Berlinale directors call the open-air film series, which will run until June 20, is a certain regionalization. The Berlinale becomes the Berlin Film Festival. At the official opening on Wednesday evening in the Kolonnadenhof between the Neues Museum and the Alte Nationalgalerie, Ulrich Matthes, President of the German Film Academy, and his predecessor Iris Berben were the most prominent guests. In addition, there were the Ministers for Agriculture and Education, the Deputy President of the Bundestag Claudia Roth, the Governing Mayor Michael Müller (who, because he was touched, gave a moving speech) and, of course, Minister of State for Culture Monika Grütters, whose authority largely finances the festival. Jodie Foster, the leading actress in the opening film “The Mauritanian”, had not come, instead she had sent a video message. Berlin, she said on the screen, is one of her favorite cities in the world. As a Hollywood professional, she knew what to do.
The Berlinale has to stick to its winter date
The Berlinale did not voluntarily adjourn to June. The corona pandemic and the lockdown it triggered forced the relocation. In order not to endanger its market position, the festival had to split in two and show its program digitally at the beginning of March for industry representatives, critics and the six-member jury, which has already awarded the Golden and Silver Bears. Nevertheless, the summer date is a temptation. From its founding seventy years ago until 1977, the film festival took place every year from the end of June to the beginning of July. Only then did Wolf Donner, who had succeeded the first director Alfred Bauer, move the festival to February. There the Berlinale has found its permanent place among the marketplaces of world cinema.
The reputation it enjoys today as a globally oriented and politically alert public festival is largely due to Donner’s aegis. Until a few years ago, she was also able to benefit from her position in the run-up to the Oscar awards, whose nominees used the Berlinale as a catwalk. That was done by bringing the Oscars forward. Hollywood no longer plays a role in Berlin. The competition for the big names in auteur cinema is all the more important. As far as glamor is concerned, the Berlinale will always draw the short straw compared to Cannes (which this year has been postponed from May to July due to the pandemic). Therefore, she has to stick to her winter date in order to maintain at least one time advantage. The “Summer Special” is an exception, not a real alternative.
Often at the most attractive times
But it’s also a gift. The atmosphere at the opening evening on Museum Island was captivating. If there is a place in Germany that is suitable as a festival backdrop, then this is it. A year ago, the Berlinale was the last major cultural event in Germany that slipped through the closing time window before the start of the first lockdown. Now it is the first film festival to be held as a presenter event again. This is one of the reasons why it makes history.
For ten days, the 126 entries in this year’s selection will now be on view in the open air. When looking at the screening dates in the sixteen festival cinemas, it is noticeable that the German feature films in the official program, i.e. Dominik Graf’s Kästner adaptation “Fabian”, Maria Schrader’s “Ich bin Dein Mensch” – for which the leading actress Maren Eggert received the actor’s award -, Daniel Brühl’s directorial debut “Nebenan” and Christian Schwochow’s “Je suis Karl”, often run at the most attractive times. This is also a consequence of the pandemic. Because these films will soon have their national release, months later than originally thought. The Berlinale is no longer promoting Hollywood. She promotes German cinema. It could go on like this.