Since I’ve visited a few festivals within the last past months, I have some elements to compare programs as well as the organization and the treatment the audience or bloggers get, when they attend.
I’ve always been a huge film fan. When I was three or four years old, my mother would already take me with her in the theatres to watch films, which weren’t for children. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. I didn’t become traumatized by it.
What I did came traumatized from was the program at the Berlinale this year. But first, let me tell you my story until the end and talk a little about the world of independent cinema.
As I was a teenager I continued in the familial tradition to go to arthouse theatres and watched religiously whatever was put in front of me. I was told basically to think independent cinema is a quality guaranty, a challenge for the average brain and a mockery of blockbusters, no matter how good it was objectively. Because it was anti-mainstream and not financed by the big studios, in the imaginary of the arthouse collective, it was automatically better. I’ve always had problems with that kind of logic because I think that there are no better films within the scope of independent productions than there are within the scope of big productions: The quality of a film doesn’t depend on in which circumstances it has been made, by whom and where. It just doesn’t matter. What does matter is the result.
I’ve spent hours watching arthouse cinema, that just earned its reputation because the director was already known or the film was chosen for political reasons and was thriving on the independent wave since it was found once good by an influential critic or worst, since it was financed or selected by official institutions, regardless of its true quality.
Institutions finance often the same kind of films: it must whether shake society, taboos, commonplace, come from an oppressed country or a ghetto or/and have an intellectual claim. Which is per se, a good thing! The problem that I see is that too many films that are indeed financed at the end, only serve those criteria, without serving the others, namely: great storytelling, cinematography, acting, etc. Instead of being challenging, bold and breathlessly thrilling, it often ends up being boring, mediocre, self-absorbed and pretentious.
Botched dialogues are not uncommon, as if the authors never had a conversation in their life before. And I’m not even sure, that’s a deliberate reference when you come across this kind of screenplay. I’m thinking about movements like the French New Wave. Also, the world of cinema didn’t stop fifty years ago, no matter how revolutionary it was at that time.
If you’re asking yourself why I’m talking about the French New Wave, here is an explanation: This movement was new in the 1960s because it raised – among other new criteria like natural setting – the director above the writer, produced a generation of writer-director filmmakers, and made it a point to improvise or to go deliberately beyond the scope of “normal” dialogues.
In addition, the length of a film won’t change its credibility if it’s mediocre acted, mediocre filmed and boringly edited. I could rarely find a film at festivals lately which was under two hours, why? I insist on the fact that one must not mixe up an intellectual claim with confusion and a lack of appreciation for the rhythm of a film.
The epidemy of “something-long-equal-something-sophisticated” seems to have swept from the world of books – trilogies of stories which are composed of novels of at least 600 pages. Writing a long novel or making a long film is a possibility, but not a necessity. If a story or a contemplative movie demands three hours, so be it, but why making a film of more than two hours if there is nothing more to say?
Me, being a Storytelling-Nazi, I’d like to add so much: It’s not enough to tell the story of an unhappily in love marginal protagonist, who has lost his whole family in a car accident due to the consumption of hallucinogenic mushrooms in the plains of Africa: Films should have something to communicate and transports or be entertaining. Whether in words or in pretty and innovative pictures. Ideally in both.
There are enough talented filmmakers out there, who are rarely financed by film institutions and would deserve it ten times more but aren’t because they haven’t attended the right film schools and don’t fit into the marketing and sell agenda of independent financiers. They don’t guaranty to feed the arthouse marketing machine. Because, you don’t need to have any illusions about that: Not only blockbuster studios have a marketing strategy, there is also a marketing strategy behind arthouse and their audience belongs to a certain target group. This isn’t a bad thing at all, at least, a film is also a product that has to be sold. But you should know, that independent cinema isn’t as independent and free as it claims to be.
The Berlinale is no exception to this semi-independent machinery. I’d say this is one of its most splendid specimens. A specimen that costs no less than 25 million € per year – out of this amount 7,7 million are funded by institutions – and delivers, considering the huge budget they have, a mediocre program. Of course, I haven’t watched the 400 films that were presented, but I concentred my attention on what should be the crème de la crème of this festival: The official competition.
Out of seven films, I’ve walked out of three. I don’t enjoy tearing films apart, but I also don’t like to feel like I’m in a cultural loop that shows the same thing years after years. It’s really painful to watch and write about afterward.
It’s not like film festivals like the Berlinale wouldn’t have enough films to choose from for their selection. It’s a world-renowned-festival. They must have plenty of choices when it comes to film submissions. So why choosing mediocrity?
A mediocre program isn’t the only problem of the Berlinale. Its organization is also the opposite of customer orientation. I’m just going to give a quick insight to people who haven’t attend this big festival until now. If you aren’t in Berlin you have the possibility whether to come earlier and stand hours in queues for getting tickets – tickets for the official competition are gone very fast – or you can buy online three days before the beginning of the festival.
Online, you have approximately 15 minutes to study the program, select the right movie at the right hour, and actually do the transaction to buy them. It means, if you’re writing your credit card number and finishing the transaction and the time is up, you’ll have the privilege to start everything from the beginning again. In the meantime, the server is overloaded and the films you wanted to watch and have previously selected are already sold.
On-site, if you come just in time they won’t let you in and you don’t get any refund – I learned from last year. If you’re lucky, you may wait ten to 15 minutes, so that when you go in, you can really disturb the rest of the audience. They did it with a big group this year, which sounded like a herd entering a barn.
In the theatres it’s cold and you have absolutely no space – and I’m 5,05 feet tall. Eating and drinking – even water – isn’t allowed.
Four of the seven films I’ve watched were just O.K. For 12 € per film, it’s quite a luxury. I paid to attend this festival with my money and my attention. So, does the audience. In my case, I also pay with my work when I report about festivals afterward. Nobody asked me for anything you’d say. Yes, that’s true, but nobody asked for supporting overrated cinema and expansive festivals through taxes and pricey tickets – probably the most expansive tickets among the big festivals – as well.
If I’ve always been certain to love films. And by films, I also mean the difficult ones, that aren’t mainstream, but after having attended the Berlinale this year, I seriously doubted my passion.