The best part of being in Berlin for the Berlinale is not the films, as one might assume. In fact, I only saw two films on this trip (one of which was shot by friend and DP extraordinaire, Lisa Wiegand). Instead, it’s the people you meet that make this the best festival I know of. If you look at my pictures, you can hardly tell that I’m at a film festival. All the pictures look the same, i.e. me and a bunch of people smiling heartily for the camera, drunk at some party no doubt. Actually, that’s exactly what being at a festival looks like so perhaps my pictures are an accurate portrayal after all.
Being back in Berlin afforded me an opportunity to reconnect with the people I met last year (including the wonderful folks in the Generation section who welcomed me back into their fold), and meet a whole new crop. I have said before that being at the Berlinale with accreditation is sort of like having a golden ticket, which in turn gives you license to talk to anyone and everyone, a perfect networking opportunity.
In terms of the classes and seminars, these were mostly entertaining rather than educational. Highlights included panel discussions with people such as David Hare (overly protective of his writing), Wim Wenders (extremely articulate and totally strange), Janusz Kaminski (defiantly opposed to everything digital), Willem Dafoe (charming and good humored), and Sharon Lockheart (simple, humble, and most revealing in terms of her process.) If anything, the seminars served simply to reinforce my own process, confirming that I am not completely crazy.
My favorite panel, however, was not part of the Talent Campus, but rather one sponsored by the World Cinema Fund and focusing on Palestinian cinema. I attended it with another Israeli and a couple of Egyptian friends, and found it fascinating to listen in an intimate setting to the challenges of Palestinians filmmakers trying to produce quality work. The moderator didn’t do such a wonderful job of keeping the discussion on point, though, and things soon degenerated into a venting session for many of the audience members. There were calls to boycott Israel, and a lot of “us” versus “them” statements, which were ultimately disheartening and anything but constructive. Nonetheless, it was a pleasure to sit and listen, and then talk face to face with “neighbors” who I wouldn’t otherwise get to speak to.
This is the beauty of the Berlinale and art in general, and I hope in some small way that I helped cultivate a dialogue that leaves politics at the door. (I am also delighted to have picked up a bunch of short films from the Middle East, something sorely lacking in my collection.)