Berlin 2016: Documentary Overview

66_Berlinale_Plakat_1The 66th edition of the Berlinale opens tonight, Thursday, February 11 and runs through Sunday, February 21. A massive undertaking, the world-class festival, Germany’s largest, annually screens approximately 400 new and retrospective films across a wide range of programming strands. Among the new features on offer this year are just about seventy documentaries and hybrids, a sampling of which are noted below. Additionally, the festival is once again presenting Meet the Docs, a networking platform that is part of its corresponding European Film Market. The latter includes fifteen documentaries not in the official Berlinale fest program co-presented under the Docs Spotlight series by festivals IDFA, CPH:DOX, and DOK Leipzig; Meet the Festivals sessions; and a series of nonfiction-focused panels and conversations. Beyond this, the festival also presents Doc Station as part of the Berlinale Talents program, featuring ten projects in development. While my schedule continues to make attending the festival inconvenient, my attention would be drawn to the following programmed documentary features, were I to be heading to Berlin this weekend:

zeroWhile the fest’s Competition section overwhelmingly spotlights fiction, this year’s lineup includes two docs: Alex Gibney’s ZERO DAYS (pictured), an investigation into a rampant computer virus allegedly co-developed by the US and Israeli governments; and Gianfranco Rosi’s FIRE AT SEA, an observational portrait of Lampedusa, which has become a conduit for refugees to Europe. The Berlinale Special section this year offers four nonfiction works, including Sonia Kennebeck’s exploration of American combat drone policy, NATIONAL BIRD, and Colin MacCabe, Christopher Roth, Bartek Dziadosz, and Tilda Swinton’s omnibus profile of the British art critic, THE SEASONS IN QUINCY: FOUR PORTRAITS OF JOHN BERGER.

strikeNonfiction makes a significantly stronger showing in Panorama, which includes seventeen doc features, among them: Monika Treut’s ZONA NORTE, a revisitation of an educational project for Rio’s street kids; Reijer Zwaan and Ester Gould’s STRIKE A POSE (pictured), which reunites Madonna’s Blonde Ambition tour dancers; Lee Dong-ha’s WEEKENDS, about a gay men’s chorus in homophobic Korea; Patric Chiha’s BROTHERS OF THE NIGHT, a hybrid depicting the activities in a Viennese hustler bar; Sophia Luvarà’s INSIDE THE CHINESE CLOSET, which details the turmoil faced by LGBT Chinese to make their families happy; Mantas Kvedaravicius’ MARIUPOLIS, a look at everyday life in an eastern Ukraine city facing an encroaching war; Sherng-Lee Huang and Livia Ungur’s HOTEL DALLAS, a hybrid portrait of a Romanian father/daughter duo obsessed with the 1980s American nighttime soap opera; and Fan Jian’s MY LAND, a portrait of an activist couple fighting for the rights of Chinese migrant workers.

homo sapiensDocumentaries and hybrid projects have also traditionally been more welcome in Forum, which this year includes nineteen such features, including: Nikolaus Geyrhalter’s portraits of present-day post-apocalyptic settings, HOMO SAPIENS (pictured); Midi Z’s chronicle of his destitute brother’s attempts to find fortune, CITY OF JADE; Wang Bing’s look at civil war refugees escaping Myanmar, TA’ANG; Tatiana Huezo’s profile of a mother falsely accused of human trafficking, TEMPESTAD; Maher Abi Samra’s examination of the indentured state of foreign workers in Lebanon, A MAID FOR EACH; Colorado Velcu and Philip Scheffner’s profile of a Roma family settling in Germany, AND-EK GHES…; Rama Thiaw’s chronicle of Senegal’s youth-led Y’en a Marre movement, THE REVOLUTION WON’T BE TELEVISED; Jumana Manna’s ethnomusicological tour through Israel and Palestine, A MAGICAL SUBSTANCE FLOWS INTO ME; Ognjen Glavonić’s exploration of two cases of state-sanctioned killings in Yugoslavia and Kosovo, DEPTH TWO; and Sergio da Costa and Maya Kosa’s imaginative portrait of a Portuguese eccentric, RIO CORGO.

wrestlersGeneration, programming aimed for younger viewers, includes three documentary features, among them Mete Gümürhan’s YOUNG WRESTLERS (pictured), which follows the Olympic dreams of several Turkish boy wrestlers; and Mehrdad Oskouei’s STARLESS DREAMS, an inside look at an Iranian detention center for female criminals.

auditionNational cinema is the focus of Perspektive Deutsches Kino and of LOLA at Berlinale. Nonfiction in the former includes Till Harms’ THE AUDITION (pictured), a behind-the-scenes look at the selection board for a prestigious drama school; and Maximilian Feldmann’s VALENTINA, about a pre-teen Roma tomboy’s life in Macedonia. The latter section includes such titles as Susan Gluth’s URMILA – MY MEMORY IS MY POWER, about a former Nepalese child slave turned activist.

ants on a shrimpWrapping things up, the festival’s popular Culinary Cinema sidebar includes a dozen docs, including: Yariv Barel and Mor Kaplansky’s CAFÉ NAGLER, a personal exploration of the history of 1920s Berlin most popular establishments; Maurice Dekkers’ ANTS ON A SHRIMP (pictured), which follows the best restaurant in the world from Denmark to Japan; Pep Gatell’s OFF-ROAD. MUGARITZ, FEELING A WAY., a study of the pioneering Spanish restaurant; Gina Abatemarco’s KIVALINA, about an Eskimo tribe’s attempts to hold on to tradition as their island home is literally disappearing due to climate change; Rosie Stapel’s PORTRAIT OF A GARDEN, an observational portrait of an octogenarian garden pruner; and two episodes of Michael Pollan-inspired docuseries COOKED – Alex Gibney’s FIRE and Ryan Miller’s AIR.

Leave a comment

Filed under Documentary, Film, Film Festivals, Overviews, Recommendations

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.