Endowed in perpetuity by the Glenna Luschei Fund for Excellence

Berlin International Film Festival

Part I

This is the fifth installment of an ongoing series written for the blog by Peter Rorvik. Peter is the Director of the Centre for Creative Arts at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, as well as Director of the Durban International Film Festival.

Most filmmakers will agree that Cannes is the queen of film festivals in the world. Next to Cannes the big daddy is Berlin. Attendance at screenings total approximately 500,000, there are 15,000 accredited film professionals and around 4000 members of the press--this is a mega event!

Before rolling out to other festival venues the main competition premieres kick off in the Berlinale Palest, a giant 1600-seat theatre where you sometimes have to walk the stairs to the sixth floor to find seats. Get there early, and you can watch, onscreen, the paparazzi and film fans waiting patiently in the cold for stars to be delivered onto the red carpet by fleets of luxury cars, always black. Charismatic festival director Dieter Kosslick is there to greet and humour the stars, escorting them through the media attention before they sign giant photos of themselves inside the building. The stars say little before or after the screening--a brief walk-on, usually just a smile and wave. The talking gets done at the press conferences across the road the next day at the Hyatt, a hotel which turns into the bustling media centre for the duration of the Berlinale.

If you are suitably accredited it is handy to catch a few competition screenings early in the day without the star pizazz so you can get on to other programmes. Most of the screenings are centred within walking distance around the iconic Potsdamer Platz, an inner-city area rebuilt since the fall of the wall in 1989. The festival itself turned 62 years of age in 2012, a remarkable bastion for the celebration of cinema.

Numerous awards are given out at the Berlinale. The top prize, the Golden Bear, went to Caesar Must Die by Paolo and Vittorio Taviani. Meryl Streep received the Honorary Golden Bear for Lifetime Achievement and a week later won an Oscar at the Academy Awards. Two films from the main Berlinale competition worthy of attention here are Just the Wind and Tabu.

Winner of this year’s Silver Bear, Bence Fliegauf's Just the Wind is set against a backdrop of a series of systematic attacks and killings within the Roma community of Hungary during 2008 and 2009. Thrown up against an unforgiving modern world, this gypsy community suffers discrimination and victimization, evident in the experiences of the family central to this film. Playing like a cross between documentary and thriller, Just the Wind tracks three family members: Mari, a cleaner, her studious and talented teenage daughter Anna, and younger brother Rio, through the course of one long day, packing in both the mundane lifestyle essentials of this community and the dramatic events, such as a sexual assault at school, and racist confrontations in the workplace. We follow Rio as he bunks school, preferring to ramble through the woods and stock up his hideout. Rio’s instincts about the impending threat are sharp but not sufficient to stave off the inevitable.

Director Bence Fliegauf makes tangible the experience of living on the edge, and masterfully, but without melodrama, builds the atmosphere of menace under which the gypsies exist. With all the right aesthetics Fliegauf succeeds in taking the specifics of one family to tell us about a larger community, a community under threat. The umbrella messages about cultural conflict, social and moral decay, compassion and the lack of it, are neatly nuanced within a powerfully portrayed human story, never overt nor preachy. Highly credible performances by non-professional actors drawn from the Romany community add to the authenticity of this excellent film.