Life In Berlin: A Preview Of The Berlinale 2017 Film Festival

Posted by Larry Gleeson

By Lily Kelting


“Don’t let yourself harden in these hard times.” The lyrics by East-German protest singer Wolf Biermann have been running through Berlinale director Dieter Kosslick’s head lately. He recited them for the assembled press at Tuesday’s program preview.

Officially, there is no theme for the Berlinale Film Festival’s competition program. But Kosslick wants to stress that there’s a certain bravery, even levity, that runs through the whole festival.

When asked directly whether the Berlinale will respond to recent events in US or world politics, Kosslick demurs. Not being reactive, he says, it is its own form of protest—and the diversity and range of the program is enough of a statement.

While the festival as a whole isn’t designed to respond to contemporary politics, some films certainly do.

Panorama director Wieland Speck explains:

screen-shot-2017-02-02-at-4-20-01-pm“One film, of course, is like an anchor film, which is the Oscar-nominated film I Am Not Your Negro from Raoul Peck. I Am Not Your Negro is a find that makes my heart swell, because it’s James Baldwin, [who is] not only an icon, as a brilliant writer, but an activist, a gay person at a time when that was basically not possible.”

Also in the Panorama section is the documentary Strong Island, which brings the same questions about sexuality and race into the present tense.

Strong Island is an incredible find of today’s America. It’s about a killing of a young man twenty years ago, but the family is of course not over this. The sister, who is now a man, is the filmmaker,” Speck explains. “This is a very deep, philosophical, almost poetic—if it wouldn’t be such a gruesome reality, you would call it that way—film to explore that kind of situation from the personal to the very political.”

The NATIVe Program, which highlights indigenous filmmakers, also serves as a kind of litmus to our rapidly changing world. The issue of climate change runs throughout this year’s selections.

Here’s section director, Maryanne Redpath:

“This year it’s on indigenous film from the Arctic region all the way around the Polar Circle. Of course we all know there are a lot of issues around climate. Many people from the Western worlds project a utopic vision of what it’s like up there, with the eternal eyes and the Aurora Borealis. We have this idea that it’s still very pristine, and of course the indigenous people have been telling us for a long time that it’s not so rosy.”

These films respond to issues like colonization and industrialization, showing both directly and indirectly the immediate impact of climate change above the Arctic Circle.

Still, as Wolf Biermann sings, “the world needs your cheerfulness.” There are plenty of comedies across the program as well.

Berlinale Film Festival starts next week February 9th, 2017 and runs until Feb 19th, 2017.




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