Friday, February 29, 2008

Berlinale: The Final Report

I'm back...at least for now. The hiatus will be explained in an additional post.

Though I've been food editing the UEA Concrete newspaper this year, I haven't had much of an opportunity to write...until this issue:

WILKOMMEN TO BERLINALE
By Stephen Morse
February 26, 2008, 4:27 pm

In the world of film festivals, Cannes reigns supreme for glitz and glamour – or so people think. Sundance is a bunch of Americans getting drunk between ski runs, and the Toronto Film Festival is overrun by corporate Hollywood. This leaves the Berlinale as the world’s best film festival. Here’s why:

The festival, much like the city of Berlin, is home to the world’s greatest year-round party scene but still filled with the kind of grit that one associates with Brooklyn (Berlin’s got the graffiti but not the gun crime). The film festival is underrated on the global scene. There are no sunsets on the beach or extreme sports, just films. For 58 years, February has marked the time when nearly all of Berlin’s 3.5 million citizens become in some way involved in this massive event, which is also the city’s greatest annual income generator.

With 350 films in the competition and hundreds more holding “market screenings” (people looking to sell and distribute films), the world’s most creative and savvy film talent and producers come together for ten days of the most brilliant networking I have ever experienced in my life. On February 7th, when Martin Scorcese’s new documentary about The Rolling Stones, Shine A Light premiered on screen (with both directorial and on-screen talent present for the festivities), the games had begun.
Here’s where my confession comes in, I saw 0 movies at this year’s Berlinale, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t have the time of my life.

My first night at the film festival at a glance:

Day 1: Arrive in Berlin at Tegel Airport via a British Airways flight (£72)…shower…meet friends for dinner…attend party for the Frankfurt Book Fair…it’s too crowded, but the open bar is a plus…my friends want to go somewhere where we can breathe.
Head to the Trassiberia party to celebrate a Spanish funded Russian set film starring Sir Ben Kingsley and Woody Harrelson… I have an invitation to the event, but need to blag my way to get two female friends into the event, claiming they are my wife and ex-wife. It works. Once again, we welcome open bars and a portable “ice lounge.” If you’ve ever been to the ABSOLUT Ice Bar in London, Milan, or Stockholm, you’ll know what I’m talking about, but the fact that they built such a bar (where everything from walls to floors to glasses is covered in ice) for this film party, wowed me. The party gets crowded and I begin to flirt with some Spanish cougar named Olga who compiled the film’s soundtrack and wants to take me home with her. I tell her that I’m married, but lost my ring in the ice lounge. Sir Ben Kingsley and a bunch of Spanish stars show up at the party. I make it my goal to rub Benjamin’s sweet cue ball head with my icy smooth fingers – like frozen fish sticks on a cantaloupe.

The open bar is getting to me, really getting to me. We decide to make for the door around 3AM, knowing that this Spring Break type madness will only get more exciting tomorrow – and I was up at 5:30am today, so I’m not doing too well.

A handful of chauffeured limousines wait outside the club. I tell the German man coordinating them that I produced this movie and that I must be driven home. I call him “babe.” For the past hour or so, I’ve referred to every male whom I’ve spoken with as “babe.” Why such a suave monster in me only comes out after eleven drinks I’ll never know. The girls and I demand classic rock on the way home, and we are impressed when the driver sings along to Here Comes The Sun and American Pie when I threaten not to tip him if he doesn’t comply.

We make it back to our rented apartment in the trendy West Village-esque Rosenthaler Platz area on the Northern edge of Mitte (the Central Part of town). Within minutes, I throw up into the toilet, asking the girls, “What did I eat or drink that was red tonight?” Stupid question indeed – as all I consumed for most of the night was glass upon glass of red wine, with the exception of the three screwdrivers I drank at the ice bar….

How will I ever live through a festival filled with such debauchery?

Day 2: Wake up, in pain of course. But that’s so cliché. I manage to make it over to the Potsdamer Platz area (the Times Square of Berlin) and head to a brunch sponsored by the UK Film Council. Champagne and sparkling water are the hangover cure. I meet about 50 people in just as many minutes. This event is like speed dating for industry professionals. Business cards are exchanged at a rate of one per minute. I now count the head of the South African Film Industry, and big-time producers from Canada, Scotland and Ireland among my peeps. The highlight of the brunch (besides the food) is meeting some PR woman from London who tells me she’s got details on tonight’s party for Vice magazine – and that she’ll be notified when its secret location becomes not so secret…Fast forward to later in the evening….after a chance encounter with a Brooklyn-based filmmaker in the lobby of the Hyatt, I find myself at a party for Film Festival Directors. All is good in the world…until Harvey Weinstein shows up, pops his head in and leaves. I see there’s another private soiree across the hall, so doing what I do best (being a mischievous schemer as my mother has reminded me since age five), I follow Harv across the hall and act like I’m his personal assistant. However, one of those 55-year-old bouncers who still has 8% body fat and 110% body muscle stops me. I tell him, “Look dude, I’m with Harvey, and he’s not gonna like it one bit if you leave me out here.” He chases Mr. Weinstein down, apparently, and tells me that he has no idea who I am.

Why can’t I ever quit while I’m ahead?

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