Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Berlin Endnotes

During the first five days of the Berlinale and EFM, I was hardly able to see a film, but I was happily busy the last three days catching up on whatever movies I could get tickets to and had been too busy to see earlier during the main events of the market.

From the well selling Arclight film Red Hill (I’m not a Western fan) to The Owls whose distribution through TheFilmCooperative.org bears watching, to Menemsha’s pickup of Kawasaki Rose the Czech Republic’s version of The Lives of Others, the Brazilian film produced by Hank Levine     and directed by Lucy Walker, Waste Land, which deservedly won the Audience Award in the Panorama and has been called the breakout film of the of the Berlinale, Kyoto Story, a surprising and deeply satisfying sweetly bittersweet love story showing the real workers of Japanese society as doc with the fictitious love story well integrated into Kyoto's daily life, Sundance film Welcome to the Rileys, Jud Suss an embarrassingly heavy handed treatment of German anti Semitism filled with vulgar inauthentic scenes, Argentinean film Rompacabezas (Puzzle), Andrew Davies’ poorly executed Rock Hudson – Dark and Handsome Stranger to the really weird 1951 Expressionistic Tales of Hoffmann, and -- except for being shut out of the sold out Exit Through the Gift Shop and the DDR 1957 Berlin – Ecke Schoenhauser -- I feel I have seen a fair sampling of films this year and have not missed the great breakouts, because, frankly I haven't heard of any that I might have missed.
It’s been tough and tiring trudging through snow and ice for every event -- lots of broken legs, dislocated backs and even one broken shoulder were reported.  The exhaustion from the extreme cold eliminated every desire to attend a late screening or party.  Except for the Wide party in a crazy gay “East Berlin” bar where I got to hang out with the Wide crew and Cannes’s Myriam Arab and her husband, I’ve been asleep almost every night by 11.  And I’ve been much occupied with our own clients and with the Talent Campus and the Deutsche Welle Akademie activities. 
Giving tours this 5th year to Talent Campus members and working  with the Deutsche Welle Akademie 2 and ½ days with 12 festival directors from Africa and Asia has given me a view of upcoming talent and the truly international nature of the film industry and the films which will be taking the center stage over the coming decade.

Trends and themes in the market:  
  • English language films coming out of Europe, originally spurred on the French and German tax benefits are on the rise.  
  • Presales are on the rise.  Presales have returned to fill the gap left by the sudden downturn of film production during the financial crisis.  Interested readers can go through my Berlin Rights Round up with a search for “prebuy” and “presale” to highlight the current business model for acquisitions.
  • Documentaries continue to hold their own in the various companies' lineups.
  • Music films showed a strong presence
  • Africa also is showing up in many sales agents' lineups.
The Threepenny Opera, the 1928 Berlin musical by Brecht and Weill will be made by Andy Serkis, the pioneer of motion-capture performance in Lord of the Rings, King Kong and the upcoming Tintin films who also gave a bravura performance in the Panorama film sexdrugs&rock&roll as the late rock star Ian Dury, a film just picked up for US distribution by Tribeca Film Festival for its new distribution operation.  To name only a few other music films:  Every Little Step, Who Killed Nancy?, Don’t Stop Believin’: Everyman’s Journey, Street Dance 3D, Dance For All, Wim Wenders' Pina, Made In Hungaria a musical set in the 1950s, Bruce Beresford’s Zebras, Sony Pictures Worldwide Acquisitions Group’ acquisition of a raft of rights to Inner City Films’ Beat The World including US, while E1 Entertainment has taken UK, Canadian and Scandinavian rights.  The dance film blends Hip-Hop and Parkour and features such artists as The Flying Steps and The Pink Ladies in the story of dance troupes who face off in a high-stakes dance contest in Detroit.  There is also Julien Temple’s third film of his trilogy about the British music culture of the 1970s. See The Hollywood Reporter related article: Music themes make comeback at EFM for more examples, "This year a number of musical-themed movies are playing, and selling, in Berlin, though in ways you might not expect".

Women's Films
I received lots of praise for my blog and am grateful for it all.  The Women’s blog in particular was favored and I will take it in a slightly new direction thanks to my friends in the lesbian community who have given me new insights to their part in the community of women.  The Owls by Cheryl Dunye and a Sundance discussion with Maria of Wolfe Releasing and some Sundance filmmakers of focused my attention on their unique pov regarding their films.  More on that later.
Politics Not As Usual

Also noteworthy was the focus on Iran and the outburst of emotions which erupted at the World Cinema Fund Day about Iranian films with filmmaker Rafi Pitts (The Hunter) and the heated remarks of 30 year exiles in Berlin who staged a happening in Potsdamer Platz, and Jafar Panahi whose trip was cancelled by the Iranian government and who has since been further detained in what might have been a scene in Women Without Men. 

I have to admit that I was so relieved not to have to witness the Israeli-Palestinian temper tantrums which have been dogging festivals over the past six months – and more as far back as I can remember…Rotterdam IFF 1976 when I visited it while working at 20th Century Fox International’s City Fox Films in Amsterdam was also a forum of Palestinian fulmigating against Israeli.  Thankfully the Israeli-Palestine issues were being seen on screen with the optimistic Budrus taking the lead, and with many new and interesting Arab films which are claiming much audience interest and are also taking on other subjects, another welcome sign of the internationalization of the film industry. 

Omar Sharif will play King Lear transplanted to modern day Egypt.  Sharif has acted as a bridge between the West and the Middle East for 50 years.  Bestselling novelist Khaled Al Khamissi who will adapt the drama says that one of his earliest memories as a child was hearing his grandfather say that Shakespeare was not really English but in fact was Arab and his real name wasn’t Shakespeare but Al-Sheikh Kabeer, so now he will write the story of Al-Sheikh Kabeer, ‘Al-Sheikh Lear’, the Egyptian Lear.

Ever self renewing Michael Winterbottom, who looks like he'll continue like Clint Eastwood to innovate and play with his topics and style, or like Picasso if he lives long enough, is taking on The Promised Land "which recounts the months leading up to the 1948 partition of Palestine and the subsequent creation of the state of Israel. Pic is bound to raise eyebrows on both sides of the divide with its depiction of Jewish militant groups launching terror attacks against British forces and Palestinian civilians during their campaign for statehood." Kudos to Fortissimo for handling the international rights.

Other western filmmakers taking on aspects of the Arab-Israeli conflict include Julian Schnabel's Miral, starring Hiam Abbas and Freida Pinto, for Pathe based on the true story of a Palestinian nurse who founded the Dar Al-Tifi orphanage in Jerusalem in 1948,  Untitled Helen Mirren Project as a Jewish woman whose journalist daughter is murdered while covering events in Gaza, and Serbian Emir Kusturica's Cool Water, about two Palestinian brothers who smuggle the dead body of their father from Jerusalem to Ramallah.  

Indians entering mainstream:
Indians increasingly seem to be considering how to integrate their vast experience into mainstream cinema as well.  IM Global and Reliance Big’s alliance starting with IM Global’s international representation of 3 Idiots, a huge box office hit in India and staring superstar Aamir Khan (My Name is Khan) and a slate of other films as well.
US is not Center Stage:
During discussions at Talent Campus, the United States and American films were barely mentioned.  It seemed like every “talent” was born in one country but raised in another, and they were articulate and experienced.  One talent from Portugal had spent two years in America working with Lisa Wilson and Ashok Amritrage of Hyde Park, a training she was proud and lucky to have received as she develops her financial and producing skills.  We had a great time on the tour of The Forum Expanded exhibits, a curated show throughout Berlin, east to west.  One stage designer talent -- born in India, raised in Pakistan and living in London -- wondered if perhaps she should move to Berlin, so in love was she with the city, its architecture, its safe streets at all hours of the night, its both new and old beauty and its upcoming place within the German film industry and, ,most of all, its conscious striving toward a national identity which includes diversity of population, a continuation of the convivial discussions which began in the Age of Enlightment and continued into the Age of Emancipation here in the heart of Berlin itself, and continues to this day to create that world seen through the idealistic German Jewish eyes of Heine, Hess and Marx (and the non-Jewish eyes of Engels as well).  That, as all my friends know, echoes my exact sentiments.  And I was proud to be able to say, as an American, that our nation’s greatness lies in the fact that it is an entire country of immigrants (with a spiritual nation of native Americans within it) and that every generation assures a new crop of young original thinking hyphenated (Whatever-American), talent which will give us a view of a world never before viewed by such eyes as theirs.  Immigration, like grains of rice, thrives best when a large variety of types is kept healthy, well and able to travel, to reinvigorate a society as it becomes too ingrown and too lazy to do its proper, private and even public work by itself.  The immigrant take the worst paying jobs and yet are somehow able to raise the next generation up into the next class while new immigrants take their place.  The second generation is able to raise itself up upon the shoulders of the parents…a process to be seen in societies which thrive in peace.  The prosperity such a peaceful and encouraging environment allows for is that sweet perfection which makes Yamada Yoji’s and Abe Tsutomui’s Kyoto Story (Kyoto Uzumasa Monogatari) so appealing and memorable.

As my final endnote, I wonder why the film companies holing up in the Hyatt and Ritz Carlton were not mentioned as participants of EFM or even shown on the map of the European Film Market.  Were they all the “big” American companies, and are they building private walls around themselves as the rest of the world discovers its voice and finds its digital path into the world of cinema?  Or are the high flyers making the gems which we have yet to see in upcoming festivals? 
The Ritz Carlton nights recalled late nights at the Principe in Milan and I so enjoyed my late night drinks with Sal Ledestro, Carl Spence, Michael Barker, Dylan Leiner, and Marcus Hu.  When Wieland Speck paid his respects and Bill Kong joined us, I felt I once again how privileged I am to be a part of this grand world community of film.  

1 comment:

  1. Couldn't make it to Berlinale this year, but am grateful that your article has compressed the news and atmo in such a lucid way. Great photo of you too!