Berlinale Talent Campus 2010 Diary

Friday 12th Feb

Berlin is very cold. My fingers and toes estimate that it’s around -10°C. I have no idea what that is in °F (it’s so cold that I find myself pondering these bloody questions). A couple of days ago I bought an exquisite green Xmas jumper (at least two sizes too large) at an East Berlin charity shop, but it’s still too cold to go along to the outdoor screening of the newly restored version of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis next to the Brandenberg Gate. Instead I check into the campus hostel. I decide that I’m absolutely not going out tonight and that I should get an early night so that I can be fresh for the start of the campus tomorrow.

In my room I meet Ivan, a producer from Moscow with appealingly deranged laugh, and he swiftly persuades me to go along with him to a screening of in-competition shorts. There is a massive queue and we don’t have tickets. What we do have is an accreditation badge that I enjoy flashing around like Peter Falk in Colombo. I’m sure we aren’t going to get in, but I’m soon impressed by Ivan’s persistence in the face of adversity. For 20 minutes, he pursues every avenue he can in order to find a way into the screening while I just stand idly by, watching him, quietly in awe of his temerity. Finally, as the queues disperse Ivan finds a way in. Not only that, Ivan negotiates his way into the reserved seats in a superb position at the centre of the cinema. Ivan is all right.

Saturday 13th Feb

First day of the campus: 350 filmmakers (or as we are now called Talents) from 95 countries around the world have been invited to take part. Every day each Talent must queue up for tickets to the events they want to see. At the expense of much needed sleep, I make sure that I’m on the first shuttle bus to the box office so that I can get tickets to the events I want. At a breakfast consisting of chocolate croissants and fresh fruit, I briefly meet the affable Newcastle-based producer Jack Tarling. Everyone at the table seems to like Jack. As he leaves, I mischievously turn towards the collected ears from around the world and try to start a fallacious rumour that Jack was once whisked away to North Korea to head Kim Jong-il’s burgeoning film studio where he specialized in ‘nudies’. They look at me dubiously. I lean back in my seat and ponder whether ‘nudies’ was a lie too far.

A truly exhausting day of introductions, networking, discussions, etc. It would be difficult to estimate how many people I met, but thankfully, everyone seems very nice, intelligent and interesting. On my way back to the hostel, I thought I saw Christian Slater selling currywurst on a street corner, but that might be a sign of my tiredness.

After dinner with Yves, Visar and Dalia, fat on food and secure in the belief that I surely must have met everyone at the campus by now, I climb the many stairs to the hostel bar and see a room full of bright faces that I don’t recognise.

Sunday 14th Feb

Today’s morning session, entitled Trust and Risk in Documentary Films, is a riveting dissection of ethical and legal implications related to the form. Following this, I have a lengthy and equally interesting discussion about the different approaches to, and authorship of, the documentary film with Sara, a Hamburg-based cinematographer who is currently preparing a project in Palestine.

In the evening I attend the lavish networking dinner in an enormous warehouse called Dine and Shine, where the winner of this year’s Berlin Today Award is announced and Talents are sat at tables with assorted Experts. Awaiting the arrival of the experts, I sit at the table next to very energetic Irish director, Van. In front of us, Dorothea is seemingly taken aback to see anyone speedily consume as much Berliner lager as Van, who in no time at all has a team of attractive blonde waitresses at his beck and call. After each course, both Talents and Experts must move to another table and memories of the evening become nebulous due to the copiously flowing red wine. Afterwards we are given complimentary bags of L’Oreal products with self-consciously ‘scientific’ names, such as Eyelash Renewal SerumYouth Code and Pre-frontal Lobe Remover. I suspect that they are simply jars of different coloured gloop, but I’m happy to take my free bag…

Monday 15th Feb

After a full day of campus events, Talents are provided with free tickets to post-6pm festival screenings. Upon leaving the bathroom prior to the sold-out screening of Banksy’s Exit Through the Gift Shop, someone catches Jan-Hendrik’s eye and he spins around, blurting out in a somewhat aggressive way “Excuse me!” Slightly surprised, I turn to Jan-Hendrik, an extremely talented South African writer/director, who is staring motionless at the man in front of him. I look towards the man. The man is frozen and glaring back at Jan-Hendrik, seemingly waiting for a follow-up question. The man finally looks towards me. Gazing at him seemingly for a matter of minutes, I think to myself, “Bloody hell, is that Sledgehammer? I think it is…” An anxious looking Sledgehammer (that is, actor David Rasche) then turns and sprints into the bathroom. “What was that about?” I ask Jan-Hendrik. “I dunno.” It turns out Sledgehammer was a seminal television series for Jan-Hendrik during his formative years and now he’s had the satisfaction of terrifying its star. After the screening of the film Jan-Hendrik prowls around the auditorium looking for Sledgehammer. I ask him, “What are you going to say if you find him?” “I don’t know yet.”

Jan-Hendrik never finds Sledgehammer. “I wonder if he’s still in the bathroom…”

Tuesday 16th Feb

There was a wonderful morning session with the legendary production designer Ken Adam (Dr. Strangelove), who is gracious throughout his lively discussion with Christopher Frayling. I struggle to believe that the energetic Adam is actually 90 years old. After the discussion I disappear from the campus site for a brief respite and discover some graffiti artists working on a large building nearby. They allow me to take photographs as long as I don’t include their faces in shot. I suddenly feel ‘street’.

Following his excellent masterclass session in the main theatre, cinematographer Christian Berger (The White Ribbon) delivers a workshop wherein he demonstrates his idiosyncratic lighting system. This consists of creating a lighting state with the aid of (usually) a single 1.2k HMI lamp which he bounces off several well-placed reflectors (there is only a 10% drop-off in light intensity). Whilst not exactly reinventing the wheel, the general consensus is that anything that enables one to dispense with unnecessary equipment and free up locations for the actors is helpful. Most of all though, it’s exciting to observe an expert in their field seeking to overcome particular production strictures and relentlessly endeavouring to refine his own methodology - and obviously having a fine time doing it. Dressed in a long black coat and puffing on an unusually large pipe as he moves around his box of reflector boards, Berger vaguely resembles a modern-day Dr. Caligari (though with a slightly more placid disposition).

Wednesday 17th Feb

This morning I was forced to have stern words with Tarling after I overheard him telling a couple of Vietnamese experimental filmmakers that I was largely responsible for the MMR scare in Britain a few years ago. THIS IS A LIE. Unfortunately, it is too late to save the situation. One of the experimental filmmakers has a particular interest in matters relating to medicine and now regards me with unambiguous disdain.

In the afternoon I attend a panel discussion called Fear Eats the Soul: The State of Film Criticism. Though the session is marred by predictable grumblings about the dearth of quality cinema, it raises pertinent points about the relationship between filmmaker and critic/scholar. I’m also determined to ask my first question at this campus and as I raise the microphone to my mouth and hear my voice being unnaturally amplified by the speakers I nervously ask esteemed critic David Thompson about the future of short form cinema. It seems he doesn’t understand my County Durham accent and so thankfully, Sight & Sound editor Nick James takes it upon himself to be translator, otherwise we probably would have been there all day. “Yeah, you sounded nervous,” confirms London-based director/artist Bailey.

I then wander over to the European Film Market. Our tour is fronted by a remarkable woman who spits out words so fast it appears as though she is doing a highly successful impersonation of John Dillinger’s machine gun. After this, and without anything to shill (I contemplate pitching my idea about 9ft blue aliens sailing on a doomed ship, but think better of it), I end up wandering around collecting as many free dvds as possible. I also meet two nice French women who introduce me to an amazing archive website called Europa Film Treasures, which can be found here: http://www.europafilmtreasures.eu

In the evening I attend a screening of Werner Herzog’s first feature film, Lebenszeichen. As I’m settling into my seat I glimpse Herzog himself casually descending the steps to the front of the auditorium. As he introduces the film he speaks in German, but it doesn’t matter (he only translates one story into English, that of the origins of the name Stroszek). As the audience chuckles along to his anecdotes, I find myself observing the way the light falls onto his face; his eyes disappear and his face appears to be shaped out of weathered rock, rather like an artistic approximation of a human face created by some ancient tribe.

Thursday 18th Feb

Final day of the campus and there is a sense that something supremely enjoyable is coming to an end. Everyone is beginning to look a little fatigued. I have been averaging around 5-6 hours of sleep per night, but I suspect that that’s pretty good compared to most people. In this muted atmosphere I attend an enlightening post-production workshop that exposes some surprising limitations of the RED camera in low light.

Fortunately, everyone appears to get a second wind for the closing ceremony and end of campus party that goes on all night. I meet yet more people, say ‘see you soon’ to those I had met previously and generally have a fine old time.

Friday 19th Feb

End of the Campus and time to go home.

I met far too many delightful people to possibly mention them all here, but thanks to all of them for making my time at the campus so enjoyable.