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Berlinale February 2005 by Alice Black, Ireland

Berlin DQ-winner: "Der irrationale Rest

Honorable mention in Berlin: "Kekexili mountain patrol"
The annual FICC jury at the Berlinale (Berlin’s Film Festival) operates within the parameters of the International Forum of New Cinema – or Forum – the most adventurous and daring section of the event.

To give you an idea of the kinds of films included, the official Berlinale programme describes the Forum in the following way: “Avant-garde, experimental, essays, lengthy observations, political reportages and yet-to-be-discovered cinematographers: in the Forum everything new or unconventional comes together and finds an audience known for its enthusiasm and discerning cinematic eye.”

This jury is not for the faint of heart. In order to see all the films included in main Forum selection we watched 39 films over six days. The very friendly and efficient Forum staff were always on hand to answer every question and ensure that all our needs looked after. So, while sleety rain fell on a cold and grey Berlin, we were holed up in Cinemaxx 5, along with journalists and the members of the other independent juries who were also judging the Forum films. A bit like being on an ocean-liner cruise, we all settled into a routine – almost always sitting same cinema seats, clutching a bottle of water at 10, coffee at 12, double espresso at 3 and much needed beer by 6.

The sheer range of material was astounding and this report would never end if I mentioned everything that was interesting. I was particularly impressed by the strength of the documentary filmmaking explored in this year’s Forum. Our Don Quixote prize went to the gripping German film Der irrationale Rest (The Irrational Remains). First time director Thorsten Trimpop, masterfully explored the different experiences of three friends, whose lives had been torn apart by a failed attempt to escape from East Germany. Intercutting direct to camera interviews with images of the three individuals returning to the physical spaces which had been part of their shared history, now derelict apartment blocks, prison cells, and schools, gave an eerie sense of reality and somber truth to their story.

Another film I will never forget was the very courageous documentary, Coca – The Dove from Chechnya. Director Eric Bergkraut introduced us to Zainap Gashaeva, an activist who, along with other women, hid hundreds of videocassettes recording abductions, torture and murder which are taking place in her homeland. She campaigns tirelessly to try and get the West to call for a tribunal into these atrocities. This documentary, while brutal and, at times extremely graphic, was not at all sensationalistic but rather a balanced and extremely brave film about a woman whose tireless journey forces us all to re-examine our own values.

Scheduled as the first screening on our second last day, you will forgive me for thinking that Yan Mo - a two and half hour Chinese documentary about the last days of the people of Fengjie, a town that was flooded to make way for the Three Gorges Dam - might have been a good moment for a nap. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Yan Mo was riveting. The flat video aesthetic and the ordinariness of the subject, were deceptive and over the 150 minutes, what had seemed like routine everyday events began to take a lyrical poetic quality. The audience was given a window on another world, different from our own but also instantly recognizable on a human level. We watched an old war veterans struggled to get compensation for his illegally built house, the local mayor presided over the village raffle to assign the new houses in the district, a church congregation argued over who is the right man to take away their scrap metal. When the final images came, I was exhausted but I would have gladly sat through another few hours with these people.

In addition to the strong documentaries, there were a few fiction films which also stood out from the crowd. This Charming Girl from Japan and Mongolian Ping Pong are two films in the Forum which I imagine expect will get some kind of theatrical release. A special mention was given by our FICC jury to Kekexili (Kekexili: Mountain Patrol), a Chinese fiction film which told the true survival story of a group volunteers trying to protect the cruel slaughter of Tibetan antelopes from illegal hunters. They risked their lives every day patrolling 40, 000 square kilometeters of wilderness. While it might sound like an esoteric topic and a film destined for the festival circuit only, Kekexili was beautifully shot, full of dramatic tension and well defined characters, and a damn sight more exciting than most Hollywood westerns.

Full details of the entire Berlinale programme, including the International Forum des Jungen Films can be found on the official website http://www.berlinale.de/en