My enthusiasm for Filmfest Hamburg spills over into my surroundings. I eagerly distribute the festival schedule to the International School, American friends, my Russian neighbors, and my German cosmetician with the Turkish boyfriend. They look at me sceptically and ask, “Which film should I see?” I find it hard to answer. That is a legitimate question when you must pay for a ticket, babysitter and transportation as well as sacrifice valuable time. You cannot afford to make the wrong decision and lose time and money.
I am incredibly lucky, because as an accredited journalist with little money invested and eight free days to peer at the silver screen, I can afford to sit through anything good or bad.
Over the years at the Berlinale I have experimented with a different pattern each time. For example, in past years I have watched:
• only films which showed at Berlin’s CineStar Cinema which meant that I watched an unusual number of gay/lesbian films
• only films which were up for competition or by new directors
• never any holocaust films, which meant that I missed The Counterfeiters which went on to win the Oscar for best foreign film in 2007
• no films in which women suffered, which meant that I missed this year’s Berlinale winner The Milk of Sorrow
Over the years at the Filmfest Hamburg I have chosen to watch
• all films nobody else wanted to see, which meant that, in 2006, I sat through the Brazilian Cabra-Cega, the Egyptian Halim, and the Chinese Luxury Car, and the Russian Relations, all two-star films
• only films which I expect will never return to mainstream cinema
• only films in English or only documentaries
• no films about male-female relationships or suffering children
At both festivals I searched for everything music-related and/or funny – a short list. Light-heartedness has a hard burden to assert itself at film festivals.
This year I watched all the films which had already appeared in other festivals and even, in some cases, won prizes. As a result I was rewarded with the excellent Departures, I Killed My Mother, Nora’s Will, and Baghead. Naturally, in some cases I would argue the judgement of the various festivals’ committees, e.g., She, a Chinese, Pandora’s Box and No One Knows About Persian Cats, although I am still glad to have seen them simply for their value in future film discussions.
Next year, I will take the advice of my friend, Thelma. She bought tickets to four movies and chose them according to their relevance in her own life. As a result she saw films dealing with young people with Down’s syndrome, a gay Jewish man, and Palestinian immigrants to the U.S. She also saw the made-for-TV Bella Block: Vorsehung because she “just loves the actress Hannelore Hoger.” She will agree with Haim Tabakman, director of Eyes Wide Open, who said, “If we recognize things in our own lives, then we enjoy the movie!”