BERLINALE 2017: IMPACT, OR CINEMA-GOING (ENG)
By Tara Judah
3. Impact, or cinema-going
Amidst the festival buzz of the Berlinale, a new cinema has opened in Berlin: w o l f Kino. With two small screens (between 40-60 seats each), a stylish bar and a multi-purpose studio space that accommodates a screen and temporary projection set up, w o l f announced itself while the majority of its industry players were ferreting about Potsdamer Platz.
The perfect setting for a Berlinale Talents talk, w o l f hosted a panel of community cinema operators under the banner of Local Heroes: Community Cinema Reloaded. Chaired by Agnès Salson (Tour des cinema), the panel invited conversation from Verena von Stackelberg (w o l f Kino, Berlin), Youssef Shazli (Zawya Cinema and Distribution, Cairo) and Anthony Killick (Small Cinema and Radical Film Festival, Liverpool). Each representative staked a claim for the project they were part of before discussion turned to economics, an important topic in a climate where funding is scarce, scarcity is valuable, and value turns workers into volunteers and box office returns into the second cousin of a perceived quality of content.
The talks were provocative, but not for their anti-neo-liberalist politics. Instead, the stand out impact of the talks was on the effect those politics have on the assumption of ‘community’ and inclusion:
- There is truth in the claim that neoliberalism commercialises public space. But it is also true that the (alternate) occupation of public space will exclude. No space is inherently for everyone, even if it intends to be.
- While it is true that wellbeing cannot be solely measured by the stats of a country’s GDP, or other capitalist measures, it is also true that freedom from preoccupation with capital is the luxury of the privileged.
- Social spaces, even if designed for social cohesion, are complicated by the humans who create and populate them. They result in niches. There is nothing inherently wrong with the establishment of a niche but failing to acknowledge the exclusivity and limitation it brings is wilfully obtuse.
- Doing something ‘for the love of doing it’ may be well-meaning, but let’s not forget that a) those who earn a living doing a job they enjoy shouldn’t be penalised or have their work undermined by others who are able to volunteer (a position of privilege) and b) that just because you love something doesn’t mean that what you’re doing is inherently better or more noble than what others are doing, even when they adhere to capitalist modes of production.
My intent is not to have a go at community or DIY cinema spaces – they do important work and I regularly attend some of the many where I live (Bristol, UK) – but the discussion, as is often the case with panels from one industry perspective, highlighted a lack of awareness of these paradoxes.
Having raised more than 50,000 Euros in crowdfunding, w o l f Kino were happy to admit, however, that to realise their project they had to include a multi-purpose space – it would bring in significant finance needed to pay the bills. Private hire and events are an increasingly important revenue stream for cinemas that want to programme alternative content, as they are unable to cover overheads on niche programming with low returns.
But the creation of private hire spaces is also exclusive. Moreover, all cinema spaces are exclusive: no space can meet the needs of all audiences. Having social impact, then, must be about creating many and diverse spaces – which includes community cinema but does not exclude the multiplex, home entertainment, art houses, streaming platforms, torrents and any other viewing space you can conceive of, because audiences are more diverse than we can even imagine.
Returning, then, to the A-List film festival taking place alongside this conversation, it’s fascinating to re-contextualise the buzz and binary response culture that goes hand in hand with international film premieres.
This is precisely why I did not write straight-up film reviews. For me, situated among a mostly average line-up of films, the greater impact of this year’s festival was its inherent festival-ness (the unique and buzz-filled cinema-going experience), not its competition programming. The anticipation and experience of seeing the premiere of each of the following films at the Berlinale Palast or at Friedrichstadt Palast far surpassed the content and affect of the films:
THE DINNER (Oren Moverman)
The adaptation of Hermann Koch’s brilliant biting satire, The Dinner, was a huge disappointment to me. Its far too famous cast made the story’s otherwise hateful characters endearing enough to elide its intended savage social commentary. When the memory of this film fades away I suspect that all I will recall is the occasional glare from a penlight and the bawdy chortle of the critic sat next to me.
SPOOR (Agnieszka Holland)
Beautifully photographed and aurally matched by a magnificent score, Spoor is let down by its far-fetched premise of a woman who values animal welfare over the humanity of ‘evil’ men. One step too deep into deranged fantasy realism for my liking. At least listened to on the Palast’s suitably loud speakers, the rousing score will stay with me when the story fades to black in my cine-memory.
ON BODY AND SOUL (Ildikó Enyedi)
Even the award-winner failed to wow me as it ventured too far into irresponsible treatment of mental illness territory for my liking. I’m filing it under Amelie in my fantasy rolodex of overrated and ultimately empty films. I choose to remember the delicious cheese sandwich I ate immediately after, instead.
THE PARTY (Sally Potter)
Patricia Clarkson gives a killer performance as the sarcastic and acerbic best friend to a woman (Kristin Scott Thomas) whose career and marriage are about to erupt in emotional-political despair. The script is bursting with quick wit but would have been far better suited to a short film format. Its seventy-one-minute run time suggests a technical qualifier for feature film so it could reach a wider audience. Watched with the public instead of the press I was most affected by the laughter and applause this elicited from others (to my utter bemusement).
BRIGHT NIGHTS (Thomas Arslan)
A man and his son go hiking in jeans. The boy rips his jeans. Ende.
Dramatic tension doesn’t build in this utterly boring father-son drama. Shot in Northern Norway, but failing to capture even the scope and (I suspect) beauty of the landscape, this film is concerned with affluent male problems. Cue tumbleweed.
This last film was the one that stopped me from continuing to attend competition screenings. Seeking solace in the programming for Panorama and Forum Expanded, Bright Nights will forever be the boring cog that set me free from the content machine at the Berlinale in 2017. Thankfully it opened up a space for me to reflect upon the criticism, affect and impact of the festival at large.