Berlin's Red Carpet
Glamorous but down-to-earth, daring but easy-going. The Berlinale film festival brings the world's best movies to Berlin. Solveig Steinhardt discovered the festival's intriguing history.
F ebruary is cinema month in the German capital, and as the Berlin International Film Festival gets ready to roll out its red carpet for the 67th time to welcome movie stars and stellar producers, crowds are starting to gather at the festival's ticket counters. The Berlinale, one of the world's "big three" film festivals, counts many glamorous guests each year but remains a very down-to-earth event, with screenings for everyone to enjoy in approximately 20 movie theaters around town.
What's really fascinating, however, is the festival's unconventional history. Unlike other important film festivals around the world, the Berlinale was born out of political reasons. Back in 1951, when the divided city was covered in rubble, a Berlinstationed US army film officer named Oscar Martay decided to bring some glamour over to this side of the Atlantic with an international film festival that would also serve as a symbol of Western freedom in Cold War Berlin. The first edition of the Berlinale was a success, with Alfred Hitchcock's
Rebecca as the opening film, but the city's isolated position meant that for the first few years the festival had to struggle to survive. In 1958, however, the event was granted the same status as other big European festivals, and its international fame began to grow. But the Berlinale still maintained its function as a tool of propaganda: When the Wall went up in 1961, the organizers made sure to place at least 500 posters by the barrier, so East Berliners could see them. Perhaps because of this fascinating history, over the years the festival has developed a reputation for presenting controversial and daring productions, often politically charged or probing the boundaries of art and cinema. While the year's special guests and program details are not usually announced until a few days before the festival begins, the list of cinemas hosting Berlinale screenings is already available online, so audiences can already pick their favorite theater. Some of these are worth a visit just for their historic significance, such as the gigantic Friedrichstadt-Palast, home to the largest stage in the world and the official "film palace" for the duration of the festival; Zoo Palast, boasting an exceptional lighting and sound system; the GDRstyle Kino International; the stately Filmtheater am Friedrichshain; and the Colosseum, a 1920s architectural gem known for its program of independent films. Visit www.berlinale.de for more information.
Former Berlinale panel judges, George Clooney, Damian Lewis, and Meryl Streep.