Berlinale Day One: International Jury Press Conference

Article published on Feb. 6, 2014
Article published on Feb. 6, 2014

Two recent events, that had shocked the international film scene, did also becloud the atmosphere of Berlinale’s opening. The scandal around Woody Allen’s alleged sexual assault of his daughter and the recent death of Philip Seymour Hoffman were inevitably among the topics of the press conference presenting this year’s international jury.

James Schamus, the pres­i­dent of the jury, is an ex­cep­tion­ally pro­duc­tive pro­ducer, script writer, dis­trib­u­tor and scholar. The fes­ti­val surely aims to profit from Schamus’s mas­tery in bal­anc­ing be­tween com­mer­cially ori­ented film pro­duc­tions (key­word ‘Hol­ly­wood’) and art-house cin­ema. This bal­anc­ing act ex­actly has char­ac­ter­ized Berli­nale pro­gramme se­lec­tion for many years. Apart from his con­tri­bu­tions to many cel­ebrated films (Far from Heaven, Eter­nal Sun­shine of the Spot­less Mind, Lost in Trans­la­tion, Milk, Dal­las Buy­ers Club, The Kids Are All Right), Schamus pro­duced sev­eral Ang Lee films and co-writ­ten the screen­play of Lee’s Crouch­ing Tiger, Hid­den Dragon. Schamus ap­pears to have deep rooted in­ter­ests in China.

Re­cently, China is mak­ing a lot of head­lines with its as­pi­ra­tions to boost its cul­tural ex­ports and to com­pete with the soft power that the Amer­i­can com­mer­cial cul­ture has been ex­er­cis­ing glob­ally. ‘Chi­nese cin­ema is going global,’ said Tony Leung, Chi­nese actor and film di­rec­tor. ‘There will be more and more Chi­nese films on in­ter­na­tional film fes­ti­vals.’ In­deed, China is rep­re­sented with three films in this years Com­pe­ti­tion sec­tion alone.

What is Berli­nale’s role in a world where moviego­ing as a shared ex­pe­ri­ence is in de­cline. ‘Moviego­ing as an ex­pe­ri­ence is not de­clin­ing,’ replied Schamus. ‘If you go to places like China, where they are build­ing seven cin­ema screens a day. And these screens are serv­ing younger and younger au­di­ences.’

Hoff­man, Allen the Pro­fes­sional Haz­ards of the Film In­dus­try 

Re­ferring to Hoff­man’s death, a re­porter from Reuters asked whether the act­ing pro­fes­sion is be­com­ing in­creas­ingly haz­ardous. Schamus, laugh­ing off the ques­tion replied: ‘Maybe. But not quite as dan­ger­ous as cer­tain forms of jour­nal­ism, such as yours for ex­am­ple.’

Feel­ing con­fi­dent in his role as the pres­i­dent of the jury, Schamus an­swered him­self every sin­gle ques­tion that was not di­rectly ad­dressed to some­body spe­cific. Half ju­rors are ac­tors them­selves and I would much rather hear any­body else an­swer that ques­tion.

In­vok­ing Woody Allen’s re­cent trou­bles, a jour­nal­ist asked the jury to which ex­tent ‘eth­i­cal moral and eth­i­cal con­sid­er­a­tions’ are in­volved in its de­ci­sion mak­ing. ‘I be­lieve that moral and eth­i­cal de­ci­sions were al­ready made by the se­lec­tion com­mit­tee.’ was Schamus’ diplo­matic an­swer.

Michel Gondry’s con­tri­bu­tion to this year’s fes­ti­val is a dou­ble one. He is both a mem­ber of the jury and a con­trib­u­tor to Panorama sec­tion with his own doc­u­men­tary about Noam Chom­sky Is the Man Who Is Tall Happy?. The di­rec­tor of the suc­cess­ful Eter­nal Sun­shine of the Spot­less Mind (2004), for which he re­ceived an Acad­emy Award, nev­er­the­less made a hum­ble and slightly con­fused im­pres­sion. ‘Christoph here, he even got two Os­cars,’ said Gondry, ’this is ex­tremely rare.’

Waltz the Charmer and the Re­served Ladies

Christoph Waltz, un­doubt­edly the star of the jury, acted ac­cord­ingly. Elo­quent, sharp-wit­ted, al­most elu­sive, and slightly ar­ro­gant, but still charm­ingly so. When asked how will he go about his new task of judg­ing the filmic per­for­mance of oth­ers, he replied that ‘there are no basic prin­ci­ples ac­cord­ing to which one eval­u­ates a film.’ As to the dif­fer­ences be­tween Cannes and Berli­nale, he added: ‘One major dif­fer­ence is the lack of a beach in Berlin. While Berli­nale is def­i­nitely try­ing to set bolder stan­dards than Cannes, the food is still said to be bet­ter over there.’

It has been a tra­di­tion of Berli­nale to in­vite Ira­ni­ans to be mem­bers in its the jury every sin­gle year since 2011. Ini­tially in part a re­ac­tion to the un­suc­cess­ful 2009-2010 elec­tion protests in Iran, this has since be­come a yearly po­lit­i­cal state­ment against a regime that lim­its the free­dom of cin­e­matic ex­pres­sion.

The some­what timid Mitra Farhani (born 1975) had to hold her ground, dis­tanc­ing her­self from from the im­pres­sion of one jour­nal­ist that her par­tic­i­pa­tion in the jury is but a great ca­reer op­por­tu­nity for a young film­maker: ‘I’m old enough to judge oth­ers’ films.’

Oth­ers jury mem­bers Greta Ger­wig, Trine Dyrholm, Bar­bara Broc­coli were not ex­cep­tion­ally talk­ative. And I too should prob­a­bly wrap it up here.

Cafeba­bel Berlin cov­ers the 64. Berli­nale Film Fes­ti­val

We love film and we've got a lot in the pipeline! You will find daily up­dates right here in the mag­a­zine or on Berlin.​Babel.​Blog and @CafeBa­bel­Ber­lin. Ex­pect ex­cit­ing movie re­views, in­ter­views with stars and pho­to­graphic glances from the fes­ti­val grounds.