The Berlin International Film Festival opens its 64th edition tomorrow, Thursday, February 6, unspooling approximately 400 films through Sunday, February 16 for audiences of over 300,000 in one of the best cities in the world. Just over 70 new feature documentaries appear in the lineup, while other nonfiction-related programming includes the Meet the Docs initiative in the concurrent European Film Market, featuring panels, consultations, meetings, and networking opportunities for accredited filmmakers and industry; and targeted mentorship sessions for ten international directors in the Berlinale Talents. While I’m once again not attending, the following offers highlights of the documentary film offerings that are most intriguing:
As usual, the fest’s premiere strand, the Competition, fails to include any documentaries among its 23 feature offerings. The special presentations section, Berlinale Special, fares much better, with eight of its nineteen slots taken by nonfiction projects. Among these are the omnibus 3D film profiling six iconic works of architecture, CATHEDRALS OF CULTURE, by Wim Wenders, Michael Glawogger, Michael Madsen, Robert Redford, Margreth Olin, and Karim Aïnouz; and two works-in-progress: Martin Scorsese and David Tedeschi’s UNTITLED NEW YORK REVIEW OF BOOKS DOCUMENTARY, and André Singer’s NIGHT WILL FALL (pictured), about the Holocaust documentary Hitchcock never finished, which is also screening in the Berlinale in a reconstructed version.
Just under a third of the festival’s popular Panorama section are docs. Among the sixteen features are several WWII era subjects, including Vanessa Lapa’s THE DECENT ONE, a biography of SS Reichsführer Heinrich Himmler based on his private archive; Tamara Trampe and Johann Feindt’s MY MOTHER, A WAR AND ME (pictured), a personal chronicle of Trampe’s family history, with origins on the Ukrainian front; and Stefan Haupt’s THE CIRCLE, about the gay magazine that survived the Nazi era to foster an underground club before gay liberation. Other docs here include Claudia Richarz and Ulrike Zimmermann’s VULVA 3.0, a comprehensive exploration of female genitals and the discourse around them; Jonathan Nossiter’s NATURAL RESISTANCE, about controversies in modern winemaking; and Tommy Pallotta and Femke Wolting’s LAST HIJACK, a complex portrait of Somali piracy.
A surprising fifty percent of the fest’s Forum section highlights new nonfiction work. Among these two dozen features are: GERMAN CONCENTRATION CAMPS FACTUAL SURVEY, the newly reconstructed, never-before finished Holocaust documentary meant to be edited by Alfred Hitchcock in 1945; Warwick Thornton’s exploration of ghost stories, THE DARKSIDE; Kelvin Kyung Kun Park’s search for the divine in the industrial, A DREAM OF IRON; Nadége Trebal’s portrait of salvagers, SCRAP YARD; Christiane Schmidt and Didier Guillain’s profile of a Roma village, THE FOREST IS LIKE THE MOUNTAINS; Peter Kerekes, Pavol Pekarcík, and Ivan Ostrochovsky’s exploration of freedom fighters/terrorists in 1980s Czechoslovakia, VELVET TERRORISTS; Jung Yoon-suk’s investigative essay on singular, apparently unconnected, moments in 1990s Korea, NON-FICTION DIARY; Mehran Tamadon’s confrontation with regime apologists, IRANIAN; Jessica Sadana and Samarth Dixit’s love letter to Indian film history, JOURNEY WITH PRABHAT; Johannes Holzhausen’s exploration of a famed Viennese art museum, THE GREAT MUSEUM; and two portraits of adolescence – Sebastian Brameshuber’s AND THERE WE ARE, IN THE MIDDLE, about Austrian teens; and Jean-François Caissy’s GUIDELINES (pictured); focused on provincial French-Canadians.
Contemporary German cinema has a platform in Perspektive Deutsches Kino, with nearly half of the section made up of nonfiction, including: Franziska Schönenberger and Jayakrishnan Subramanian’s AMMA & APPA (pictured), about the filmmaker’s crosscultural marriage; Mirjam Leuze’s FLOWERS OF FREEDOM; which tells the story of an unlikely group of Kyrgyzstan activists; and Philip Widmann and Karsten Krause’s SCENARIO, a meditation on a well-documented affair between a businessman and his secretary in 1970s East Germany. LOLA@Berlinale, another section, also highlights recent national cinema, including nearly a dozen documentaries, such as: Antje Schneider and Carsten Waldbauer’s BEAUTIFUL KRISTA, about Miss Germany’s relationship to dairy farming; Stefan Ruzowitzky’s RADICAL EVIL, a study in the banality of Nazi genocide; Erwin Wagenhofer’s ALPHABET, a critical and radical examination of education; and Arne Birkenstock’s BELTRACCHI – THE ART OF FORGERY, a chronicle of one of the most infamous art forgers in recent history.
Finally, food takes center stage in Berlin’s Culinary Cinema, with more than half of the section’s entries devoted to documentary programming. Among these are Sanjay Rawal’s FOOD CHAINS (pictured), a consideration of the maltreatment of farm workers; Fisher Stevens and Robert Nixon’s MISSION BLUE, a look at the work of oceanographer and conservationist Sylvia Earle; and Walter Bencini’s THE KNIGHTS OF THE LAGOON, an exploration of the collective efforts of fisherman to return to sustainable, traditional models.