The Berlinale is one of the cultural highlights of Berlin, but with nearly 400 films to choose from and subzero degree weather, you might be tempted to hide like a Berlin bear and hibernate until it’s all over. But the sun seems to be out and Berlin Loves You, so here’s a handy guide on how to navigate the last weekend of the festival like a pro.
The first thing you should do is get your hands on the Berlinale Journal, the 146-page master guide of everything going on at the Berlinale. You can pick one up at any of the Berlinale cinemas or you can kill two birds with one stone by getting your guide at the Potsdamer Platz Arkaden and buying tickets while you’re at it. There’s also a smaller publication out called the Berlinale Programme, but it’s divided into festival sections and then cinemas so it’s not as easy to navigate.
The film programme is also on the Berlinale website but it’s only arranged alphabetically and massive. Unless you know exactly which film you want to see, I find it easier to thumb through something printed. If you do opt to go online, however, there’s a great scheduling feature called the Program Planner to help you organize your film binge.
Most of the films are making their European premiere and you won’t know what they’re like until you’ve seen them. But you can get an idea of the tone of the film by noting which section it’s part of. Competition films are the prestige films going for the Silver Bear; Panorama films are generally auteur films with a strong signature or social commentary by semi-established international filmmakers; Forum is the most avant-garde section of the festival, with films that straddle art and cinema; Generation features films for children and youth and are generally by younger filmmakers; while the films in Perspektive Deutsches Kino are by the next generation of German filmmakers. The other sections (Retrospective, Berlinale Shorts) are pretty self-explanatory.
One last tip: If you’re going to be hopping from one film to another, make a note of how long each film is and where the screenings are. Most of the screenings take place in Potsdamer Platz, but there are also a lot of films at the mega Zoo Palast, the Friedrichstadt-Palast in Mitte, and the GDR modernist gem Kino International. It’ll take you at least 30 minutes to get between the Zoo Palast and Cinemaxx so unless you’ve got taxi funds, you might want to give yourself an hour between films.
HOW TO GET TICKETS
Now that you’ve circled a dozen films in the Berlinale guide or made yourself a huge spreadsheet of films to see, how do you get tickets?
The Berlinale only releases a limited amount of tickets online on their website and they sell out quickly, but if you are online the minute the tickets go on sale or if you pick an early screening, you might get lucky. Advance ticket sales start three days before each screening at 10am. Ticket sales for repeat screenings of Competition films start four days in advance. At this point, most of the films are sold out online, but there are other options.
As mentioned above, you can buy your tickets in person. But first, you’ll need the screening number. If you’ve gotten hands on the Berlinale Journal, look in the back at the Program Timetable, find your film, and make a note of the little shaded number after the name of the cinema. You can also find that little number online if you use the handy Program Planner.
Then you can take that number to a number of places and buy yourself a ticket. The most obvious choice is the Potsdamer Platz Arkaden. It’s right in the center of Berlinale-land so it’s very convenient to get there early to purchase tickets, and hang out while you wait for your film to start. You can also buy tickets in person at the Kino International near Alexanderplatz, or way out west at the Haus der Berliner Festspiele and Audi Center Berlin on Kurfürstendamm. And finally, for a €2 surcharge, you can get advance tickets at any Berlin ticket office – Koka36 on Oranienstrasse, for instance. This actually might be one of your best options.
Lastly, if you can’t get tickets in advance, you can show up at the cinema an hour before the screening and hope for the best. Badge holders will be let in before the regular populace, but if you’re willing to wait around, spontaneous buyers are rewarded with discounts. Tickets are half price on the day of the screening if you’re a student or if there happen to be any leftover tickets to any film screening at the Berlinale Palast. Bring cash because the cinemas don’t take cards.
5 FILMS TO SEE AT THE BERLINALE
But what should you see? There are so many films at the Berlinale that in any given hour, you can choose between 4-10 films. This year, the festival seems to be really strong on female films, with new films by Sally Potter and Agnieszka Holland and femme-centric pictures like The Midwife and The Misandrists. There’s also a nice smattering of Black Lives Matter with Yance Ford‘s Strong Island, Raoul Peck‘s I am Not Your Negro, and Jeremy S. Levine‘s For Akheem. Of course, this is Berlin, so you can also find the requisite Nazi pics: Django, Es war einmal in Deutschland, 1945, and SS-GB. But to make things easy for you, below are five films that have been getting a lot of buzz. Reviews for most of these films (and others) will be coming next week.
Toivon tuolla puolen (The Other Side of Hope)
Aki Kaurasmaki’s highly anticipated latest film is about the unlikely relationship formed when the hapless owner of a Helsinki greasy spoon takes in a Syrian refugee. With Kaurasmaki’s deadpan sense of humor, this film promises to be an exquisitely adroit take on current sociopolitical events.
I Am Not Your Negro
The James Baldwin documentary is making huge waves in New York City and we’re finally getting a look at it in Berlin. Haitian filmmaker Raoul Peck takes a searing look at race relations in America from the Civil Rights movement to the current day, through the life and remarkable words of one of the most prescient writers of our time.
Una Mujer Fantástica
Marina is a transgender singer with an older boyfriend. When he suddenly dies of an aneurysm, she struggles to come to terms with her immense grief, while being subjected to mortifying police interrogations and vehement antagonism from his family members. Transgender actress Daniela Varga has been lauded for her fierce performance in this film, which is poised to win at least one of the awards at this year’s Berlinale.
Known in his native Spain for his pitch black humor and sense of the grotesque, Alex de la Iglésia has been compared to his mentor Pedro Almodovar, as well as to Roger Corman, Sam Fuller, and Alejandro Jodorowsky. His latest film is an erstwhile thriller about a group of barflies trapped in their usual watering hole after one of their friends is shot in the street.
It’s rare enough to see a film with two women who are the central characters, but in this film, they don’t compete over a man and they never go shopping. Instead, Catherine Frot is a midwife whose icy fastidiousness is thawed by the reappearance of her father’s ex, a chain-smoking, loose-living adventurer played by the marvelous Catherine Deneuve. The film is written and directed by Martin Provost, who seems to be making a career out of sensitive films about unusual women.
Other films that have caught our eye: Django about the famous gypsy jazz musician’s flight from Nazi France; Butterfly Kisses a debut film about a teenager in a South London housing estate who harbors a dark secret; El Pacto de Adriana, a documentary about a beloved aunt who is arrested for being one of Pinochet’s secret police; Hostages set in 1983 about a group of Georgians who party it up at a wedding before hijacking a plane to escape the Iron Curtain; and Barrage starring Isabelle Huppert as a woman hoping to reconcile with her daughter 10 years after leaving her with her mother.