I’m the kind of person who likes to be prepared and who likes to know how things are going to happen (as far as that is reasonably possible). So going to Berlinale was a bit of a challenge for me because I had no way of knowing how everything is going to work out, what am I supposed to do (besides trying to watch as many movies as possible), and whether I will manage to spend 8 days in Berlin and still enjoy it. Prior my departure I did my homework and hoped for the best. Looking back now, I have to admit that the whole trip came together as a surprisingly good adventure. And it wasn’t just that I got to watch a lot of good movies (check out part I), but it was the festival atmosphere throughout the city that made the experience pretty special.
I arrived in Berlin on the second day of the festival. Needless to say, I wasn’t the only one on my flight going to Berlinale (and no, I wasn’t intentionally spying on people). On my way from the Berlin airport to the hostel, I started noticing an increasing number of people with red or gray festival backpacks (and I internally hoped I will get one too). After checking in and realizing I’m the first one of the European Film Challenge team on site, I decided not to waste more time and head for the registration and ticket office. Once I got to the Potsdamer Platz, it seemed like I’ve landed in Berlinale epicenter – almost every person was wearing a festival badge or bag. That was probably the moment I realized that this event is a lot bigger than I could have imagined. Soon after, I was introduced to the festival routine which is a story in itself.
Believe it or not, but the festival routine is almost worse than your average nine-to-five job. Why? For one thing, each day starts early (and I mean early!) and can end pretty late. The ticket office for people with accreditation opens at 8:30 in the morning. All the tickets for the next day are gone within the first hour so I couldn’t sleep in. I normally joined the queue around 8 or 8:30 in the morning. Depending on the day and the time of my arrival, I was queuing inside or outside the ticket office building (and I can’t still decide which was worse). Upon arrival at the ticket office, we all received the list of screenings for the next day to help speed up the process. It was usually five sheets long (no, I’m not joking!).
People queuing inside the ticket office greeted the booking-clerks with a round of applause each morning exactly at 8:30. And rightly so because they were our heroes of the day who indirectly decided which movies each and every one of us will get to watch the next day. As soon as the ticket counters were open, things happened at a crazy speed. I think the longest I ever had to wait in a queue was around 20 minutes (I’m less than 5 minutes from the ticket counter in the picture below).
Once I got my tickets, the day could really start. Before coming to the festival, I thought that watching my first movie at 9:30 in the morning would be crazy, but it became my new normal pretty soon. On five festival days, I went from the ticket office directly to the movie theatre for my first screening of the day. However, I never watched more than three movies a day, and I tried to space them out so that I’d have a decent amount of time to process the experience between the screenings. I was tempted to take a step further and squeeze in the fourth movie, but exhaustion and lack of sleep got the best of me (I didn’t really get more than 5 or 6 hours of sleep each night). I also took one day off to spend some time in the city and enjoy daylight (yeah, there was a whole world outside the cinema).
Choosing the films
When greeted each morning with a long list of movies, how do you choose what to see? It wasn’t easy, trust me. In the end, I used a combination of preferences, time management, and luck. I had put together an initial programme before the festival, and I used Berlinale app on site which helped to keep track of my daily wishes. However, I kept changing my initial plan according to the ticket availability and timings because I hadn’t factored in the different locations of the venues, etc. Also, I sometimes gave into impulsive decisions while waiting in the queue which often resulted in nice surprises.
The daily challenge was to get the tickets (hopefully, not any tickets) for the next day. Therefore, I always picked out about three movies for a specific screening time and prioritized them in order of preference. It made things easier at the ticket counter, and I never walked away without a plan for the next day. However, it often meant re-planning the screenings for the following days.
There were also screenings I could get in without a ticket, and I used this privilege mostly for LOLA at Berlinale program. It just meant queuing at the venue (instead of the ticket office) and hoping there will be enough places for everyone standing in line. In general, queuing was something we all did quite a lot because all screenings had free seating arrangement, so everyone tried to be early in line at the venue to get the best seats (with or without a ticket). Majority of the venues I went to had close to 2000 seats that were often nearly sold out so you can imagine the number of people trying to get in.
The World Premiere
One of my early morning impulsive decisions landed me a ticket for a real world premiere for the film “Museum” at Berlinale Palast. I didn’t think that normal humans were allowed in this kind of events, but I turned out to be wrong. Fair enough, it wasn’t a big Hollywood movie with major stars, but it was a red carpet experience nonetheless.
I had walked by the red carpet zone each morning on my way to the ticket office. It was surprisingly empty and deserted so early in the day. It was a big contrast with the evening when people were lining around the barriers and cars were arriving with the important people. I don’t care much for all the fuss, but it was interesting to see the proceedings from the other side. The inside of the Berlinale Palast was also crowded, and the whole atmosphere was full of excited expectations.
I have to admit that it gives a completely different flavor to the movie watching experience when you know you’re among the few people who get to watch the film for the first time in the world. Also, seeing the director, actors, and the rest of the team come up on stage afterward makes it all more personal and real.
The Ups and Downs
No adventure is truly complete without some misfortunes or funny moments. We had a few. My colleagues from the European Film Challenge were plagued with illnesses. I was the only one who survived Berlinale without getting sick, but my luck ran out as soon as I got back home. Interestingly, everyone went down with something else so no one can really blame the others.
I was more affected by the simple exhaustion (who knew that watching movies will be so tiring?). I didn’t make any sense most of the mornings, and I couldn’t trust my common sense before noon. I got so inattentive that I lost my smartphone after one of the morning screenings. At least, I knew when and where it happened. Three hours later my phone finally found it’s way to ‘Lost & Found,’ and we were happily reunited. Unfortunately, I ended up watching one movie in a state of serious distress which was a bit disappointing.
Finally, I had a chance to test my German language skills. I ended up in a screening with subtitles only in German (the spoken language was Georgian). For a moment, I couldn’t decide if I should leave because my knowledge of German is pretty basic. In the end, I decided to stay, and I was glad that I did. The film became one of my favorites from the LOLA at Berlinale program regardless the fact that I couldn’t understand everything.
There would be many more thing to tell about the Berlinale experience, but I feel like I have been rambling on long enough. If you ever get a chance to attend such a festival, just take it! It’s definitely 100% worth it!