BERLIN – On Thursday evening, the atmosphere at the Hasenheide open-air cinema was at the rendezvous. An audience of around 200 had gathered for a screening of “The Seed”, a German drama about a construction worker struggling to care for his daughter in a rural part of the country. Despite the grim subject matter, members of the audience chatted and drank beer, and a faint smell of cannabis smoke hung in the air.
The screening was part of the Berlinale Summer Special, a unique outdoor edition of the Berlin International Film Festival, one of the largest in Europe and the world in terms of audience. Unlike the continent’s other major film events – Cannes and Venice – the Berlinale, as it’s called here, prides itself on serving the locals and is a valuable entry into Berlin’s cultural calendar.
After the cancellation of its regular edition in February due to the pandemic, and an online version in March for industry professionals, the festival now broadcasts much of its selection to the public in 16 outdoor venues across the city. Approximately 60,000 tickets are available for the event, which runs until June 20.
It also doubles as a sort of outing party for the city at the end of months of lockdown – a larger revival the euphoria of which was impossible to ignore. During a tense fight scene in “The Seed” on Thursday, the audience’s focus was altered a bit by the pulsating house music coming from the nearby woods, which has become a popular site for illicit raves.
This year’s two-part Berlinale is also a daring experiment on how to structure a film festival. By organizing his industry-focused events – press screenings, jury awards, film market for distributors – online and separately from those aimed at the general public, he raised the question of whether such a two-pronged strategy could enable film festivals not only to preserve but extend their global impact, even beyond the pandemic.
Tobias Goltz, 34, who was attending the screening with friends, said the summer festival was an improvement over the regular edition. “It smells more of Berlin, less commercial. There are not 150 camera teams. He added that, for better or worse, the lack of international visitors had made it more of a local affair. “We have the impression of being among Berliners.
The two directors of the Berlinale, Carlo Chatrian and Mariette Rissenbeek, opted for the two-part structure last November in order to avoid the total cancellation of the festival. By this point, Rissenbeek recalled recently by phone, it had become clear that the rapidly spreading coronavirus would ban a regular Berlinale. They decided to delay all in-person events until the summer in the hopes that vaccinations and other measures would reduce infections and allow the event to unfold.
Rissenbeek said there had been some benefits to hosting a digital edition for the film industry in March. She said the online version of the European Film Market, typically one of the biggest shows for film and TV shows, had more attendees this year and that online screenings for critics had enabled “the festival to be covered by media that it is not. t generally covered by.
But she stressed that the experience had not been ideal and that she had reinforced her belief that no major festival can function without simultaneous events for the industry and moviegoers in general.
“The film market thrives on the simultaneous showing of films to the public,” she said. “Buyers notice how films resonate with audiences and think, ‘This might work in my home country.’ And reporters notice if audiences love a movie more than they do, and that can affect their viewing.
The outdoor edition, she explained, was particularly important as it fulfilled the festival’s long-standing mandate of attracting regular Berliners. “It’s a very diverse city, and at the Berlinale we raise social issues that people can engage in,” she said. “This festival is kind of a milestone.
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Organizing the outdoor edition has been made difficult by the changing dynamics of the pandemic in Germany. After a lull, the number of infections started to rise again in March, raising fears of a severe third wave of the virus. In recent weeks, however, the numbers have fallen again and city officials have allowed the festival to move forward. Nonetheless, participants are required to present a negative coronavirus test on the same day to gain access to the events – a requirement made possible by Germany’s broad free testing strategy – and to wear masks when not at home. their place.
The task has also been made easier by the fact that due to the glut of open spaces and parks in Berlin, many parts of the city have at least one large open-air cinema. “Berliners are very experienced in the outdoors,” said Rissenbeek. “They know they should bring a rain jacket.”
The outdoor setting of the festival has transformed the Berlinale into a more relaxed and freer affair. Instead of the usual official gala, this year’s opening event – a screening of ‘Le mauritanien’, a drama about a prisoner from Guantánamo starring Jodie Foster – involved prominent German actors and politicians, some in in sandals and shorts, eating complementary hummus in picnic boxes balanced on their knees.
About 30 minutes into another screening on Thursday – of “Introduction,” a serene film by Korean filmmaker Hong Sang-soo – loud music (buskers?) Started playing from a nearby bridge. The music came as the protagonist of the film, a young man in love, engaged in awkward conversation with his girlfriend, and it caused laughter from the audience. But the experience was oddly thrilling: as with the clicking sound of a nearby subway, it was often difficult to distinguish whether the soundtrack was from the movie or from the city.
The open-air edition also offered a sort of catharsis to filmmakers who had been accepted to the festival but were unable to show their film on the big screen in March. Barbara Kronenberg, 40, said the shooting of her first feature film, a children’s film called “Mission Ulja Funk”, had been cut short for months by the pandemic, and she was saddened not to be able to show it to the cinema when finished. .
On Wednesday afternoon, she stood behind the projection booth of an outdoor screen in the Neukölln district, nervously listening to the reactions of an audience of mostly children. The film, a clever comedy about a girl chasing a meteorite across Eastern Europe while fleeing her religious family, made children and their parents laugh.
“It was nice to see where people were laughing,” she said, looking relieved behind a black mask. “You don’t make movies, so you can watch them yourself. “