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Once upon a time hollywood press conf.

The Joker Coming October.

Phillip Bergson


Writing about Films and Festivals.

 

Film Critic, UK, member of Fipresci

 

Winner of the Student Journalist of the Year competition in the UK weekly New Statesman, as a Classics Scholar Phillip Bergson then founded the Oxford Film Festival and, on graduating, was selected by "The Sunday Times" as a 'New Critic' and in the same week began broadcasting on film for many BBC Radio programmes. A contributor to the "Times Literary Supplement", "TES", "Screen International", "Film Bulletin", "Film a Doba" inter alia, he also worked for the "European Script Fund", has scripted shorts and features (that have been produced and released) and, fluent in eight-and-a-half languages, currently programmes and advises several international film festivals. At the National Media Museum in his native Yorkshire, he created the "Eurovisions" project, to promote classic and contemporary European cinema.

As a Jury Member

 


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Make Mine Mannheim

Arriving at any festival on the 13th of the month does not augur well, though my journey from home to Heathrow Terminal 4 had been surprisingly smooth, if long before Dawn's dusky fingers had opened the strike-free ticket offices of any of the Underground stations circling London's Regent Park. Both my Air France flights, via Paris to Frankfurt, had departed and landed on time (though we should draw a veil over the Economy Class croissants of uncertain age and provenance on the earlier flight)and I arrived with my luggage (not always together these days, in spite of the supposedly stricter security measures everywhere prevailing) to find a charming, multi-lingual Lorelei, apparently condemned to spend most of her daytime hours during the Festival watching on the Rhine to  welcome guests from far-flung places, and shepherd them into transport shuttles down the motorway towards Mannheim. The Festival actually had opened on the 11th (running to the 21st November, 2010), and for the first time at the historic location of Heidelberg Castle, but malice domestic in my apartment (which for the past 3 weeks had resembled out-takes from Paranormal Activity 3,coming soon-though I hope not-to a heating system where you live) had obliged me to delay my attendance at the second most significant film festival in Germany.

Relieved to check in at last at one of my favourite hotels in the country (and of the 3 official hostelries, the one  marginally closer to the centre of activities), the Wartburg,literally in the shadow of the splendid modern Mannheim Synagogue in the heart of the curious Quadrate(the city-grid which gives it the futuristic address F4,4-11, though this urbanistic plan apparently dates from the early 19th century), I was  immediately regaled with a saga of sadness by a staff-member ,who told me  that the establishment is to close definitively in a couple of weeks, and -she added pointedly-because of  pressure from a London bank!Let it be by the by that,doubtless, most of the city-centre was already rased in the 1940s by other busy Brits flying over, but her colleague swiftly assured me that there would yet be food at breakfast,honey for the tea, heating in the rooms, and all the usual amenities, and the exotic Arabic restaurant in what used to be the fruehstucksalon had a separate contract that would permit it to serve Sheherezade's Lebanese delikatessen for a few nights' more, though certainly not for 1001 nights.

On the short walk to the  Stadthalle, a kind of civic library and communal eco- shopping centre,  Mannheim seemed to be enjoying  a prosperous Saturday afternoon, the modern building festooned promisingly with a red carpet and festival banners, no  job-less citizens visibly soliciting unwanted Euros, but very few in their winter-coats. For the temperature was amazingly mild (it reached 16 degrees Centigrade during the weekend, while some parts of Germany enjoyed  20, a record for the time of year,and decidedly as some locals dare to style it,an alteweibersommer,which is almost as politically incorrect as we British used to call a thermically torrid late autum or early winter). But the Festival Catalogue seemed thinner than usual, with  fewer films selected, more repeat screenings....the hugely well-attended Mannheim Meetings (to which, in recent years, literally hundreds of art-house buyers and sellers,pitchers and catchers and co-producers had flocked  from Ireland to South Korea) apparently now metamorphosed into some virtual high-tech rendez-vous of key players jetting in for only 2 days and 4 actual panels, and no Mannheim Masters of Cinema, or Lifetime Award to a Living Legend, all probably  to be blamed on the world-wide financial crisis, and maybe that volcanic ash from Iceland. Had I done well to ignore the colourful press bulletins from Sevilla and Huelva, the inclusive expansionism of Cottbus of the previous week (celebrating its 20th anniversary by somehow bringing Bollywood cinema into its remit as a showcase for Young East European Cinema- in spite of not being able to show films in any real cinema within that Sorbish city's borders),and back home the Greek,Turkish,and French Film Festivals (unreeling more or less simultaneously across  lucky London).Even the Gala Banquet marking the "Film Culture Prize" seemed to be gone with the wind of austerity...while both the FIPRESCI and Ecumenical Juries fielded more members than the Festival's own Official International Jury, slimmed down, apparently, to consist of but three-Cynthia Beatt (from Fiji via Berlin),Clemens Klopfenstein(from a Swiss lake, perhaps rowed in to town), and Stefan Laudyn,pillar of the Warsaw Festival and film community, who moonlights as a lean,mean  rock-guitarist, and might have been engaged as a juror to coincide with opening for Deep Purple, on tour in the Mannheim Arena during the Festival Week?

But festival fever started to manifest itself by Saturday night, with the main auditorium in the Stadthalle completely filled (and many had paid for their tickets) for the light diet version of the FilmKulturPreis Mannheim-Heidelberg, a relatively recent and worthy invention of the Festival itself, to honour individuals and/or institutions promoting, in the widest sense, the art of cinema within Germany.Instead of multiple honorees,and an elegant black-tied and atmospherically candelabraed sit-down dinner as in the past two years, this time there was but a single recipient, the famous Ernst Busch Acting Academy in what used to be East Berlin, very ably represented by an Austrian-born staff member and two recent alumni, Karoline Herfurth and Felix Klare, who have already made names for themselves on German stage and screens large and small.All three chatted well and amusingly in an hour-long discussion ably moderated by Dr.Josef Schnelle (who also edits the Festival Journal) and critic Rudiger Suchsland (usually busy on the Podium,leading discussions with visiting film-makers).There followed a screening of the feature-length documentary from 2003 made in and about the place, Die Spielwuetigen.The Reception subsequently  began on the traditional upstairs terrace, and the prosecco,local wines and Rothaus beer flowed like water, but what was remarkable was  that it was attended by everyone who had any kind of ticket (not only VIPs and CIPs and Press) yet  there was no crowding or crushing ,and meatballs and sausages and pretzels were enjoyed well into the early hours of a strangely warm for November night.

And then what a morning! The sun streamed over the Syngaogue roof, and even those who heard the chimes at midday, or were up  only at the crack of noon, enjoyed the balmiest of Sundays in Mannheim and Heidelberg and all across Germany.Another late-night party continued the lively discussion with colleagues, cineastes and film-makers.On Monday, seeing five features more or less back to back( I am not eating between meals while in Germany)  confirmed to me decidedly that whatever financial pressures weigh upon this (as on so many other festivals), the Team have not lost their rigour in selection, nor their  love of furthering the Seventh Art  in their inimitable fashion.

So instead of, say an Angelopoulos,or Iosseliani, a mini-hommage was made to a much younger but no less talented master of movie-making, Matias Bize from Chile, whose first work Sabado had won the Fassbinder Prize at Mannheim in 2003, a 65-minute Dogme-style skit which still has its freshness,invention and humour intact  today,while his latest film, hot from Venice 2010, La Vida de los Peces(The Life of Fish, for the few of my aficionados who might welcome a translation) confirms the maturity and development of Bize as co-scenarist and director, and surely should catapult his long-time acting muses Blanca Lewin and Santiago Cabrera to Hollywood careers or Armani pin-up status. Fishing among other non-competing films,I was also immensely encouraged by the Serbian director Predrag Velinovic´s delightful Motel Nana,  with another central performance from an actor,Dragan Micanovic,who  also deserves to be cursed with an international career, as the Belgrade teacher sacked for slapping a cheeky adolescent,and then sent to work in  a highly  rural school, beyond Banja Luka, where  through various comical and romantic episodes he  manages to embody in a very credible and for once highly attractive way, the notion that a kind of life can be possible after the terrible conflicts of the recent years in that region.

Another evident success with the public, the single film from the Czech Republic here, Muzi v riji (Men in Rut, but you all knew that too, didn't you?) had a sold-out screening in the only real cinema of the Festival, Mannheim's retro art-house Atlantis,waving not drowning in the Turkish bistro and bazaar corner of the city.Director Robert Sedlacek was consistently absent from his much-applauded premiere, a modern Moravian comedy set in remotest Mourinov, which is to host a kind of Eurovision contest for imitating the calls of deer on heat, and full of attendant Czech absurdities and local stage and screen stars. Also selected in the out of competition section was Some Other Stories, which brought together five female directors from the Balkans and Irish post-production facilties, and made a natural case study for the professionals registered to the Mannheim Meeting Place, ably orchestrated for the first time by Julek Kedzierski, with sundry experts brought in as Residents.

The International Competition culled a very respectable catch of 16 features from around the world, with Atsisveikinimas(Farewell) by Lithuanian Tomas Danela oustanding for its blend of dark humour and poignancy as a  fatally ill sea captain takes shore leave to take his leave of the world with a music theme comparable to Strauss and Sakamoto combined; a handful of old friends similarly engaged in Siyah Beyz(Black and White), only here bidding farewell to their favourite Ankara bar, in a lovely little-big film ,subtly directed by Ahmet Boyacioglu, who is perhaps better known as the best party-giver on the European festival front, which is some day-job to dream over; and abundant humour, verbal and visual, also enlivened Win/Win, a kind of Dutch version of Bonfire of the Vanities, only without the vanity, smartly directed by Jaap van Heusen; a memorable melodrama from Sweden, Til det som ar vackert(Pure, the apparent English title), with a staggering performance by Alicia Vikander, fatally ensnaring an older music maestro, equally well played by Samuel Froler, though here perhaps not with the best intentions toward the distressed damsel;and Eva y Lola,a lush Cabarettish picture of Argentina's desparecidos from an unusual and slightly Jewish perspective, with notable roles, major and minor, for Juan Minujin and Ivan de Pineda. Of the other films I liked more or less, I reserve further commentaries until after the closing awards ceremony and final fest in Mannheim, or in view of the threatened activities of certain politically-unhinged groups or individuals, until I reach my domestic destination again.

 

Phillip Bergson

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