What’s on Our Watchlist for the Berlin International Film Festival

The Berlin International Film Festival has been spotlighting some of the world’s best, most artistically meritorious films since its inception in 1951. This year the festival – known as the ‘Berlinale’ for short – is hosting its 68th awards ceremony, and there are 24 excellent films, four of which are German, on the programme. Of those, 19 will be eligible to win the coveted Golden Bear, which in the past has been awarded to highly influential films such as, Stammheim (1986), Bloody Sunday (2002), and Head-On (2004). Silver Bears are given to those who played a role in creating the films, be they directors, actors, or screenwriters.

The films shown at the Berlinale are thought-provoking and timely. “This year’s Berlinale competition reflects the world as it is,” says Dieter Kosslick, festival director. “And the world is complex, many-layered and also exciting.” There’s plenty to look forward to at this year’s festival, which takes place from Feb 15th – 25th. As well as amazing, must-see films, several exciting cinematic initiatives have been introduced to encourage diversity and local cinema. Here’s what’s on our watch list.

The Films

paper crane
Paper Crane – Marketed as ‘a liberating short film’ – Funded on kickstarter

Unsurprisingly, the highlight of Berlin International Film Festival is always the films themselves. One of the best things about the wide, international selection of films that are screened at the Berlinale is that you’re likely to see thoughtful, perception-challenging films that you won’t find in cinemas. These films may not be as commercially viable as the films featured in, say, the Golden Globes or Academy Awards, but they are no less deserving of audience attention.

One film we’ve got our eye on is Paper Crane, a short film directed by newcomer Takumi Kawakami. Takumi is a graduate of Swinburne University, which is renowned for producing some of the best talents in the cinema business. It will be fascinating to see what he is capable of at this early stage of his career. Another film which will doubtlessly provoke shock and praise in equal measure is Erik Poppa’s Utoya 22 July, a 72-minute cinematic reconstruction of the tragic and harrowing events that took place when a gunman attacked a summer camp on the Norwegian island back in 2011, claiming 68 lives.

Who to watch

Willem Dafoe
Willem Dafoe has been selected for a Lifetime Achievement Award at Berlinale (from The Talks)

Celebrity-packed film festivals like Cannes, Locarno, and of course Berlinale, are as much about the who as the what. This year’s jury has the tough decision of picking one film out of 19 to receive the Golden Bear (twice as many as the Academy Award nominees). Included on the five-person jury is Tom Tykwer, who directed the critically acclaimed Run Lola Run (1998) as well as recent Netflix series set in Berlin in the roaring ’20s, Berlin Babylon.

Willem Dafoe, who recently earned his third Academy Award nomination for his contribution to The Florida Project, has been chosen to receive an honorary Golden Bear, which is given in celebration of lifetime achievement. Other big names to look out for include: double Cesar Award-winning, Belgian actress Cecile de France; former director of Spain’s Filmoteca Espanola, Chema Prado; and Times Magazine film critic, Stephanie Zacharek.

European Film Market

The European Film Market – EFM for short – is your one-stop shop for all things European cinema. From dark French arthouse films to light-hearted German romcoms, this multi-media market has it all. Now in its 30th year, the EFM explores the role of new technologies and formats and the importance of diversity in the film industry.

Weimar Film Retrospective 

A still from Fritz Lang’s groundbreaking sci-fi film, Metropolis (1927) (from Skiffy and Fanty)


Rainer Rother and his team have compiled a list of 30 German classics from the Weimar period (the democratic inter-war years after the end of the First World War and before the rise of the Nazis in 1933) to be shown as part of a retrospective on German cinema. The period, known as the Golden Age of German cinema, produced many classic, globally celebrated films such as Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927) and Robert Wiene’s expressionist masterpiece, The Cabinet of Dr Caligari (1920).

Thanks to modern restoration techniques, many long forgotten films have been recovered and are being promoted at the Berlinale. As well as changing people’s perspectives on the Weimar years, and reintroducing this period to a modern, global audience, it will be interesting to see how the films – which come from a time of dramatic social and technological changes – comment on our own cultural situation nearly 100 years after they were first shown.

We Go Crazy for Berlin Goes Kiez

kino central
Berlin’s Kino Central in the Mitte district – One of the many independent cinemas being promoted by the Berlinale (from flickr)

Berlin Goes Kiez is an initiative to support local arthouse cinemas, running from Feb 17th – 23rd. Kiez is the German word for district, and refers to dozen or so neighbourhoods that Berlin is divided into. Each Kiez has its own unique personality, ranging from the rough-and-ready hipster magnet, Kreuzberg, to the elegant and stately Charlottenburg in West Berlin. One of the best things about the city is its eclectic selection of small, independent cinemas such as Sputnik Kino (located five floors up) in Neukölln, and Kino Central in Mitte. These local hotspots are key promoters of European cinema, so it’s fitting that they are getting some recognition from the Berlinale.


kristen stewart
Unlike at Cannes Film Festival in 2016, Kristen Stewart won’t have to bring a pair of flats to change in to at Berlinale Film Festival (from US Magazine)

#MeToo was referenced at the pre-festival press conference. Difficult for a film festival to escape the question of sexual abuse and the film industry’s atonement in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein Scandal. Two events – a seminar and a panel talk – have been scheduled with the intention of addressing the issue of assault and gender parity in the industry, which the organisers hope will contribute towards ‘concrete change’ going forward. The Berlinale also announced that it would make anonymous, free counseling support available to all attendees.

The festival, which came under fire in 2015 for turning away women who were not wearing high heels, has taken steps to ensure that it is a safer and more diverse space this time around. “I’m not going to turn away a woman wearing flats … or a man in high heels,” says director Dieter Kosslick. The Berlinale has sought to celebrate multivocality in the film industry since its early days, promoting films that illuminate the lived realities of underrepresented groups through its TEDDY and NATIVe awards, for example, which focus on films by LGBTQ and indigenous peoples respectively. Keep an eye out for several events on this year’s schedule that tackle matters of diversity, such as the EFM Industry Debate: Why Diversity Matters in the Film Industry.




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