Berlinale Goes Kiez

By David Hudson | February 18, 2010
Wings of Desire Bruno Ganz looks over the Potsdamer Platz in Wings of Desire

Berlin resident David Hudson takes a look at the Berlin Film Festival’s new Berlinale Goes Kiez program, which pairs the city’s movie theaters with homegrown film directors.

In Wim Wenders' 1987 masterpiece Wings of Desire, an old man goes looking for the once-bustling center of Berlin, Potsdamer Platz. All he finds is a windswept no man's land – and the graffiti-covered Wall. Two years later, the Wall fell and, for a better part of the 90s, Potsdamer Platz was lousy with cranes, the largest construction site in the world. And in 2000, the Berlin International Film Festival, celebrating its 50th anniversary, moved to the rebuilt center of Germany's new capital. Festival attendees could now see nearly every film in every program in one of a couple of dozen theaters in two multiplexes, in the Berlinale Palast itself or in the Cinema Arsenal, the legendary repertory theater programmed by the same Institute for Film and Video Art behind the Forum section of the Berlinale.

All these theaters are within a few minutes' walk of each other and they're all still newish, relatively comfortable and feature more than decent projection, sightlines, sound and so on. But all that bundled convenience has its drawbacks, too. Some visitors, understandably eager to catch as many films as possible, never venture beyond the Platz; not only are they missing out on at least a sampling or two of a vibrant city, they're also essentially confining themselves to an oversized mall, a bubble of globalized nowhere and a botched opportunity: Many have remarked that some of the best architects in the world did some of their worst work on the new Potsdamer Platz.

Thing is, there are other Berlinale venues – off the Platz, out in the city. The Zoo Palast, for example, once known as the Ufa-Palast am Zoo, where Fritz Lang's Metropolis saw its world premiere in 1927. You may remember news breaking in the summer of 2008 of the sensational discovery of footage from that science fiction classic that was believed to have been lost for decades. Now the newly restored, nearly complete version of Metropolis will be screened for the first time during the 60th edition of the Berlinale. Another theater worth mentioning would be the Kino International, built in the early 60s in what was then East Berlin and now regarded as a classic of "GDR modernism." I could go on, but here's a full list of all Berlinale venues.

Director Tom Tykwer, one of the Berlinale Goes Kiez patrons

Director Tom Tykwer, one
of the Berlinale Goes
Kiez patrons

This year, there'll be more than ever before. In an effort to either get festival attendees out and about a bit more or to bring the Berlinale to more locations throughout Berlin – or perhaps both – the festival is launching a new program, "Berlinale Goes Kiez," which may call for a bit of explanation. Northern Germans, but particularly Berliners, refer to a neighborhood – not a district officially defined by political boundaries, but a real neighborhood, distinguished by a certain unique cultural flair – as a "Kiez." Over ten days, from February 12 through 21, the festival will be sending ten "patrons" out to ten cinemas in ten neighborhoods to introduce films from this year's lineup, often with the filmmakers in tow. Each patron – among them, Michael Verhoeven, Senta Berger, Hans-Christian Schmid, Andreas Dresen, Christian Petzold and Wim Wenders – has been matched with a cinema that he or she has some sort of relationship with, some personal history he or she can relate to audiences.

So, for example, Wieland Speck, who directs the Panorama section of the Berlinale, will be heading to Kreuzberg and the cinema he used to manage, Moviemento. In his introduction to selections from the Berlinale Shorts program, he might talk about the days Tom Tykwer worked there as a projectionist. Tykwer himself, by the way, will be introducing screenings of Hans Petter Moland's A Somewhat Gentle Man and Angela Schanelec's Orly at the Hackesche Höfe Kino. All the "Kiez" venues are highlighted here and the full program of patrons and films is laid out here.

At any rate, if you're going to the screening at the Moviemento, be sure to take a walk afterwards down to the canal and grab a beer at the Ankerklause or at any of the other cafes and bars lining the canal banks. I used to live not half a block away from the Moviemento and can vouch for the lively multicultural mix of the neighborhood. In an age when many are predicting that film festivals may go entirely virtual, that we may end up watching the Sundance, Berlin or Cannes lineups at home on our mobile screens, it's more vital than ever to remember that festivals are meant to be festive. They're social events, where cinephiles can reconnect with each other – and with the real world.

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