Berlin 2019: Documentary Overview

The 69th Berlinale

February 7-17

Germany’s premier film festival showcases 85 new documentaries among its nearly 230 feature offerings.


As is typical for the event, nonfiction is mostly an afterthought in the Competition section, with only two docs represented out of 23 titles, and both out of competition: Aretha Franklin concert film AMAZING GRACE, which had its world premiere at DOC NYC last November; and Agnès Varda’s look back at her own work, VARDA BY AGNÈS. Docs fare better in Berlinale Special, representing 8 out of the 12 slots, including Jean Michel Vecchiet’s PETER LINDBERGH: WOMEN’S STORIES, a profile of the accomplished photographer; and Heinrich Breloer’s docudrama BRECHT.


Though nonfiction often comes close to parity in Panorama, this year, there are only 16 docs represented in the nearly 50-strong section, among them: Marion Scemama’s SELF-PORTRAIT IN 23 ROUNDS: A CHAPTER IN DAVID WOJNAROWICZ’S LIFE, 1989-1991, an essay on the acclaimed 1980s artist who died of AIDS in 1992; Pia Hellenthal’s SEARCHING EVA, about a young woman’s life lived online; Prune Nourry’s SERENDIPITY, a personal reflection of the filmmaker/artist’s work; Omar Shargawi’s WESTERN ARABS, which explores the filmmaker’s relationship with his Palestinian father in Denmark; Suhaib Gasmelbari’s TALKING ABOUT TREES, on a small group of Sudanese cinephiles and their mission to save an old cinema; Adele Tulli’s NORMAL, which casts a critical eye on gender norms; Marcelo Gomes’ WAITING FOR THE CARNIVAL, about a Brazilian community known for its jean factories; and Renaud Barret’s SYSTEM K, about street artists in Kinshasa.


The Forum also features a fair amount of nonfiction or hybrids, including: Florian Kunert’s PROGRESS IN THE VALLEY OF THE PEOPLE WHO DON’T KNOW, in which the filmmaker restages memories in the “backward” town in which he grew up; Mariam Ghani’s WHAT WE LEFT UNFINISHED, which revisits incomplete films made in Afghanistan during periods of instability between 1978-1992; Callisto Mc Nulty’s DELPHINE AND CAROLE, on the 1970s video activist work of actress Delphine Seyrig and feminist directot Carole Roussopoulos; Igor Drljača’s THE STONE SPEAKERS, about a Herzegovinan village that has developed itself into a Virgin Mary pilgrimage site; Heinz Emigholz’s YEARS OF CONSTRUCTION, which explores the construction of a power station on the Rhine; Mischa Hedinger’s AFRICAN MIRROR, an essay about European constructions of Africa through the work of a Swiss photographer; Bernd Schoch’s OLANDA, an immersion into Romania’s Carpathian mountains through its mushrooms; and Nikolaus Geyrhalter’s EARTH, an exploration of terrestrial locations impacted by humanity in the Anthropocene. Nonfiction projects in the Forum Expanded section include Mpumelelo Mcata and Perivi Katjavivi’s hybrid FILM FESTIVAL FILM, a meta exploration of the work of and expectations on a black African female filmmaker; and Lene Berg’s FALSE BELIEF, which examines gentrification and system racial bias in Harlem.


A third of the youth-focused Generation section is nonfiction, including: Eliza Capai’s YOUR TURN, which looks at student-led protests in Brazil; Mo Scarpelli’s ANBESSA, a portrait of a rural Ethiopian family as they contend with modernity; Pablo Briones and The Moving Picture Boys’ BARACOA, a coming of ager about two boys in Cuba; and Carl Javér’s RECONSTRUCTING UTØYA, which re-stages the 2011 attack on a Norwegian youth camp.


German cinema is in the spotlight in Perspektives Deutsches Kino, including: Stefan Sick’s THE INNER LIGHT, an observational portrait of people with dementia in a care home; Hristiana Raykova’s THE PIT, about a Bulgarian thermal bath; and Maryam Zaree’s BORN IN EVIN, a personal film investigating the filmmaker’s birth in an Iranian prison for dissidents.


Nonfiction also appears in the NATIVe: Indigenous Cinema section, with work like Erica Glynn’s SHE WHO MUST BE LOVED, the filmmaker’s portrait of her mother’s work to promote Aboriginal music and culture; in the LOLA section, with films like Lutz Pehnert, Matthias Ehlert, and Adama Ulrich’s PARTISAN, on the final days of the director of the Berlin Volksbühne theatre; and in Culinary Cinema, with Marianna Economou’s WHEN TOMATOES MET WAGNER, about a small Greek village that experiences unlikely worldwide success with its tomatoes.


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

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