The venerable Berlin International Film Festival turns 65 this year, opening tomorrow, Thursday, February 5 and running through Sunday, February 15. Germany’s largest film festival annually screens in excess of 400 films, which include this year nearly 80 new documentary features, as well as some retrospective work. In addition to this onscreen component, the Berlinale also features nonfiction-focused programming as part of the simultaneous European Film Market’s Meet the Docs initiative, made up of a Doc Spotlight series curated by IDFA, CPH:DOX, and DOK Leipzig, and a robust program of documentary panels, as well as the Berlinale Talents program’s Doc Station, in which ten nonfiction projects from five continents receive development support over the course of the event. Sadly, my schedule has not permitted me to attend this year, but if I were, I’d direct my viewing time to the following documentaries on offer:
The festival’s Competition section very rarely includes nonfiction work, but this year does present one documentary, THE PEARL BUTTON (pictured), auteur Patricio Guzmán’s meditation on Chile’s coastline and water; while Berlinale Special offers three, including Jack Pettibone Riccobono’s THE SEVENTH FIRE, about the threat of gang violence on a Native American reservation in Minnesota.
Documentary’s more typical home at the festival have been in the Panorama section, which this year showcases eighteen feature docs. Among these are portraits of notable figures, such as Christian Braad Thomsen’s FASSBINDER – TO LOVE WITHOUT DEMANDS (pictured), a personal tribute to the noted New German Cinema director; Jack Walsh’s FEELINGS ARE FACTS: THE LIFE OF YVONNE RAINER, which gives the acclaimed modern dancer/choreographer/filmmaker her due; and Jean-Gabriel Périot’s A GERMAN YOUTH, an archival rich portrait of key members of the Red Army Faction. Other Panorama titles include LGBT-focused work, such as Jan Soldat’s PRISON SYSTEM 4614, about prison fetishists, and Jannik Splidsboel’s MISFITS, a look at the lives of three queer Tulsa teens; as well as a look at the absurdity of war in Saeed Taji Farouky and Michael McEvoy’s TELL SPRING NOT TO COME THIS YEAR, which follows the Afghan National Army as they take over a dangerous province after the withdrawal of NATO troops.
Nonfiction and its hybrid forms traditionally have also been welcomed in the festival’s often more off-kilter Forum; this year twenty such features appear, including several work-focused films: Joaquim Pinto and Nuno Leonel’s FISH TAIL, about a fisherman in the Azores; Francesco Clerici’s HAND GESTURES, an observational portrait of an Italian bronze foundry; Michel K Zongo’s THE SIREN OF FASO FANI, a personal reflection on the decline of the Burkina Faso filmmaker’s hometown after the shuttering of its textile factory; Nikolaus Geyrhalter’s OVER THE YEARS, which similarly documents the consequences of the shutdown of a local community’s textile factory; and Janina Herhoffer’s AFTER WORK, which looks at group leisure activities from yoga to band practice. Additional films include Vladimir Tomic’s FLOTEL EUROPA (pictured), which revisits the director’s childhood as a Yugoslavian refugee taking up residence on a ship in Copenhagen; Marcin Malaszczak’s THE DAYS RUN AWAY LIKE WILD HORSES OVER THE HILLS, a focus on the ephemeral moments of everyday life; Jem Cohen’s COUNTING, an essay film exploring several cities; and Tatiana Brandrup’s CINEMA: A PUBLIC AFFAIR, about the curator of the now-closed Moscow Film Museum and his struggles with official forces.
Two documentaries for younger viewers appear in the Generation section: Kongdej Jaturanrasmee’s SO BE IT (pictured), which profiles two very different boys’ experiences of Buddhism; and Teboho Edkins’ COMING OF AGE, about South African teenagers who must choose between the life of a traditional shepherd or instead pursue education. Two new docs also appear in the NATIVe section, devoted to indigenous cinema, including María Dolores Arias Martínez’s ELDEST BROTHER, an observational portrait of a Chiapas elder as he navigates tradition and modernity.
Local filmmakers’ work appears in Perspektive Deutsches Kino, including three documentaries. Among these are Saskia Walker and Ralf Hechelmann’s SEX: SPEAK, which attempts to explore sexuality through interviews; and Filippa Bauer’s UNOCCUPIED, an exploration of the lives of women facing empty nest syndrome. Other German work – specifically contenders for the Lola, the German Film Awards – appear in the Lola at Berlinale sidebar. Among these are seventeen docs, including: Annekatrin Hendel’s ANDERSON, on the German writer, secretly a Stasi spy; Ulrike Franke and Michael Loeken’s DIVINE LOCATION: A CITY REINVENTS ITSELF, about a new residential community developed against the backdrop of a traditionally industrial area; and Regina Schilling’s TITO’S GLASSES (pictured), which recounts the history of a Yugoslavian family who resettled in Germany.
Finally, Berlinale’s popular food-focused Culinary Cinema section showcases a dozen films – among them: Luis González and Andrea Gómez’s COOKING UP A TRIBUTE, which follows the renowned Roca brothers on a multi-city tour of culinary reinvention; Anne Georget’s IMAGINARY FEASTS, an exploration of the common practice of prisoners writing recipes as a form of resistance; Yun Hwang’s AN OMNIVOROUS FAMILY’S DILEMMA (pictured), in which the director immerses herself in the lives of pigs; Phie Ambo’s GOOD THINGS AWAIT, about an aging biodynamic Danish farmer and the fate of his farm; and Willemiek Kluijfhout’s SERGIO HERMAN, FUCKING PERFECT, a profile of a Dutch masterchef whose pursuit of perfection threatens his family life.