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FILM

The Local’s best bets for the Berlinale

With almost 400 films and countless other events accompanying this year’s Berlinale, choosing what to see can be a daunting task. Fortunately, The Local has sifted out a sampling of the festival’s most interesting offerings.

The Local’s best bets for the Berlinale
Photo: DPA

Second only to festivals in Cannes and Venice in glamour, the Berlinale claims to be the world’s largest film festival open to the public. Anyone with the pluck to negotiate the overwhelming lineup – 391 films with a total of 970 showings this year – can experience the best global cinema has to offer.

From the festival’s nine categories, the winners are:

BERLINALE SPECIAL

“Metropolis”

If you see nothing else this Berlinale, the freshly restored Metropolis should be on your list. But you only get one chance! Bundle up, grab your flask, and brave the frosty weather to see the legendary silent science fiction film in its original glory at an outdoor public showing at 8pm on February 12 at the Brandenburg Gate. If you prefer your sofa, broadcaster ARTE will be airing the film, along with the live orchestra soundtrack, at the same time.

COMPETITION

All twenty films competing for the top Golden Bear prize for best film, and the Silver Bears for best acting, production and screenplay, are likely to be well worth seeing. Here are a few of our favourites.

”Exit Through the Gift Shop”

The elusive graffiti artist Banksy’s first film is sure to be popular. Here he inverts the outside world’s curiosity about his persona with what he calls “a film about a man who is trying to make a film about me.”

”Howl”

Berlin hipsters are likely to flock to this flick, starring the dreamy James Franco as Allen Ginsberg during the San Francisco obscenity trial about the famous Beat Generation poet’s work “Howl.”

”Apart Together”

This period Chinese film opens the festival and depicts a soldier forced to flee communism for Taiwan in 1949 who more than 50 years later attempts to reunite with the love of his life – only by then she is married to sergeant in the communist army.

”The Ghost Writer”

Following the highly-publicised legal drama in Roman Polanski’s personal life, all eyes will be on his new film starring Ewan McGregor, which was finished from the director’s Swiss chalet while on house arrest.

PANORAMA

This section focuses on new and provocative independent films, and this year looks back at the relationship of past and present in honour of the festival’s birthday. It also offers viewers a chance to vote for their favourite film for the Panorama Audience Award (PPP)! The “TEDDY” Queer Film Award is also issued for movies in the section, which explores LGBT issues.

“Jolly Fellows”

Dubbed “’Pricilla Queen of the Desert’ in the snow,” by festival organisers, this Russian film gets to know five Moscow drag queens and the dark stories behind their glamour.

”Beautiful Darling: The Life And Times Of Candy Darling, Andy Warhol Superstar”

This film is a homage to the transsexual entertainer Candy Darling, one of the most memorable figures of New York City subculture in the 1960s and 1970s. Take a deeper look at the character who inspired Lou Reed’s song “Wild Side.”

PERSPECTIVE

Those looking to get down with the locals can beef up on their Deutsch skills with the 14 films in the German programme.

“The Boy Who Wouldn’t Kill

Anyone interested in the way Germans interpret the Western film genre, whether or not they are fans Winnetou and Old Shatterhand, will want to see the most recent re-invention, heavy with special effects.

Portraits of German Alcoholics

According to Berlinale organisers, the documentary remains strong among German filmmakers, and one of this year’s examples, directed by Carlin Schmitz, manages to create arresting depictions of her subjects though they’re never directly addressed by her camera.

FORUM

This section is a chance for young experimental filmmakers to splash onto the cinema scene and make the most of restriction-free entry requirements. The “echoes of the global crisis have finally reached the movies,” organisers say, and these reverberations can be felt in these films:

”Orly”

This film takes place at Paris’ Orly airport, a place where people come and go between events in their lives. Director Angela Schanelec observes four couples in transit with an underlying sense of longing and detachment.

”Head Cold”

In this documentary German director Gemma Bak herself – as well as her psychosis – is the issue at hand as she explores her mental health through discussions with friends and family.

RETROSPECTIVE

For cinema fans who want to bone up on their film trivia facts or see that influential film they’ve been meaning to look up, the Retrospective is their chance. This year in honour of the Berlinale’s 60th birthday viewers can see films from festivals past.

”The Deer Hunter”

The Soviet delegation, including two members of the Berlinale jury famously walked out on this Vietnam War film starring Robert De Niro which showed at the 1979 festival. See for yourself why they and other communist countries found its portrayal of the Vietnamese so offensive.

”The Marriage of Maria Braun”

Legendary director Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s 1978 drama about the difficult life of a woman during and after the Second World War is a film that every German film buff should see.

SHORTS

Twenty-five films from 15 countries are competing for the Golden and Silver Bear short film awards in one of the festival’s more experimental sections. You can view them in clusters at several different showings where the films focus on topics ranging from feminism to bank robberies. Though it’s running out of competition, the animated short “The Song of the Red Forest,” about two musical beings who sing about their world is a must see.

GENERATION:

Find something for your precocious wee ones and tweens in this section, which is split into “Generation Kplus” for the 13 and under crowd, and “Generation 14plus” for the more grown-up children. There are some 28 films competing for a Crystal Bear in both sections, with another 10 showing outside the competition. Many of the films, set in exotic far-off places, will appeal to budding geographers. But if you don’t think your rugrats can sit still through English subtitles, opt for the section’s few original English films. Our picks:

”This Way of Life”

Set in New Zealand, this film recommended for children 12 and older follows a young Maori boy and his father on a journey where they catch wild horses, eat boar meat grilled over a campfire, frolic in rivers and live by their own rules.

“Gentleman Broncos:”

This outlandish film recommended for children older than 14 centres on a teenager who lives in a geodatic dome and writes imaginative science fiction stories. When he takes his best manuscript to a writing workshop extraordinary things happen.

CULINARY CINEMA

The fourth annual instalment of Culinary Cinema invites guests to employ all five senses as they revel in the consumption of delectable cuisine, refreshing beverages and some circumspect cinematic discussion.

”The Botany of Desire”

Eat bison steak and organic hemp salad prepared by a Michelin-star chef while you learn about the relationship between humans and plants. Apples, tulips, marijuana and potatoes to be precise.

AWARDS SHOW

Microwave some popcorn, put on your slippers and catch the highly-anticipated Berlinale Awards Ceremony from your couch on TV. The elaborate gala event at the Berlinale Palast will present the festival’s most important prizes, the Gold and Silver Bears. Tune in on February 20 to German channel 3sat starting at 6:55 pm.

For members

WORKING IN GERMANY

‘Lack of diversity is a problem’: What it’s like to work at a Berlin tech startup

Many foreigners dream of finding a job in Germany's growing startup scene. But aside from promises of free pizza, what's the culture like, is the pay good - and do you need to speak German? We spoke to two foreigners working at tech startups in Berlin to find out.

'Lack of diversity is a problem': What it's like to work at a Berlin tech startup

With over €5.1 billion in venture capital fund investments raised last year, the startup industry in Germany’s capital is booming. Startups are the fastest-growing job sector in Berlin, and more than 78,000 people are now employed in the sector.

The sector attracts highly qualified, ambitious people from all over the globe. But what is it really like to work for a Berlin startup?

We spoke to two insiders to find out. Gabriela, 36, is originally from Poland and has been a Business-to-Business Manager in a tech startup in Berlin since October last year. Giuseppe, also 36, is originally from Italy and has been working as a Human Resources Manager in various tech startups for the last seven years. 

Most important question first – do you actually get free pizza and office table tennis?

Giuseppe: These kinds of benefits have become a bit of a cliche that doesn’t really reflect the reality anymore. Yoga, soft drinks, and fruit baskets are nothing special. The real benefits are now to do with remote working and flexible working schedules. 

Gabriela: We haven’t really had many of these kinds of ‘incentives’ because we’ve been mainly working from home since I started. Only in the last month or so we’ve been going to the office at least once a week, and we do get free pizza and drinks once a month when the CEO’s give us their monthly update on how the business is going.

READ ALSO: The German regions attracting startups

Would you say that your work environment is diverse?

Gabriela: My team is a complete mix of people from different European countries. But the number of BAME (Black, Asian and minority ethnic) people on board is not very high and there is definitely a problem with the lack of female leadership, which the company is trying to address. The CEOs are all white Germans.

Giuseppe: (Lack of) diversity is still a big problem. Most of the CEOs and the highest earners are white – usually German – guys. Women and BAME people tend to occupy lower-paid jobs. It’s a systemic issue – and there is competition among a lot of startups that are trying to show who is more diverse. 

How much German is spoken in your company?

Gabriela: Hardly any. We speak all the time in English with each other and all of our meetings are in English.

Giuseppe: It’s the same with us. I’m hearing German less and less. 

READ ALSO: How easy is it to get an English-speaking job in Germany?

Is there anything then that indicates that the company you’re working for is German?

Gabriela: I think the presence of a strong labour law reminds you that you’re in Germany. In our company, there’s an employees representation group and certain clear rules. You know that you won’t be suddenly dismissed once you’ve passed your probation time.

Giuseppe: Yes, the labour law is what I would point to. It’s not easy to get rid of employees in Germany – there is a more robust framework that affects the environment and culture. 

What is the salary like?

Gabriela: I think it’s competitive. My company does salary benchmarking every summer to see what the standard is across the industry and adjusts its pay accordingly.

Giuseppe: Salaries have gone up a lot in the last few years and you could even say they are booming now. A ‘normal’ engineer can expect to earn at least €85,000 per year, and if you are in a serious leadership position, you can expect to earn up to €180,000.

READ ALSO: Do internationals face discrimination in the workplace

A woman working from home throws money in the air. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-tmn | Christin Klose

Would you say that it’s a high-pressure environment to work in?

Gabriela: For me, there isn’t the kind of pressure that if you don’t perform you won’t get the money you should be getting. Instead, my company is trying to get you to think that your own success is intertwined with the success of the company. There are good incentives to work hard and we have also a certain amount of shares in the company, so if it does well we benefit too.

Giuseppe: I personally feel pressure, but I love what I do, so for me it’s fine. But I have seen a lot of cases of people burning out – especially young people. I think because there are a lot of young managers, who get into leadership roles without having the tools or strength to resist the pressure.

How do you find the work-life balance? 

Giuseppe: I feel like I’m working all the time, but again, that’s because I love my job and I want to, it’s not necessarily the expectation, it’s not like in the US. In Berlin tech startups, there is a tendency to slow down around 6pm.

Gabriela: For me, the work-life balance compared to previous jobs is very good. Telecommuting is great, there are flexible starting times and last-minute holiday requests are usually approved. I think it’s very good for people with children and more complex schedules. 

How many days holiday do you get?

Gabriela: We get 28 days holiday per year.

Giuseppe: We get between 23 and 30 days holiday per year, depending on how long you’ve been working in the company.

What are the career progression opportunities like?

Gabriela: Very dynamic. For myself, I don’t see a clear career path at the moment, but I see a lot of movement happening and people moving to different roles. There is a feeling of being in a constant state of change. 

Giuseppe: If you join a startup at the right time, you can very easily become a manager very quickly.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How to boost your career chances in Germany

What was different about working for a Berlin start-up than you expected?

Gabriela: I thought that working from home would be easier, because I hadn’t done that much before, but I find it much harder to be engaged than I expected. I think a lot of startups (in Berlin) are struggling now to find the right balance between the competing interests of their employees – some of whom want to be fully remote and others who want to come more regularly to the office.

Giuseppe: Before I started working for tech startups I had this romantic image that they were all led by geniuses with big ideas who started in their garages. But in reality, I’ve found this emotional, big-dreaming side to be lacking. There are a lot of people who work for startups who just see it like any other job.

A work team exchanging ideas with notes on a whiteboard.

A work team exchanging ideas with notes on a whiteboard. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-tmn | Christin Klose

What are the best things about working for a Berlin tech start-up?

Giuseppe: You can make an impact with what you do, to build a product and say it’s mine. There is also creativity and freshness in the team dynamics. I was deeply unhappy in the years I spent working for big corporations because I didn’t know what the goal was. In startups, the objectives are clear.

Gabriela: You can grow with the company, and there are a lot of positions opening all the time, and it’s very common for startups to promote internal talent.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: The German regions attracting startups

What are the worst things about working for a Berlin tech start-up?

Gabriela: Sometimes it can be hard to keep up with the pace of change. It sometimes feels like we are constantly onboarding new people or people are changing roles and there is a slightly chaotic feel to things. The buzzword “agility” is used and abused, and sometimes means staff is expected to go along with anything and everything.

Giuseppe: In the tech start-up world here there seem to be a lot of people who get into the top jobs because they speak a lot, not necessarily because they are the most competent. There is a lot of networking and self-promotion required to push yourself forward. It’s also not a good environment for people who don’t like change, because things change a lot. 

Do you think Berlin is a good place for foreigners to work?

Gabriela: Yes, definitely. You have a lot of choice when it comes to places to work – so it’s unlikely you’ll have to stick at a job which
you don’t like. It’s also a big help for foreigners that most startups in Berlin don’t require German language skills.

Giuseppe: Definitely. For me, the mix of cultures and ideas in the workplace is really inspiring and motivating. And, of course, the city of Berlin itself is full of cultural events and has a great night life – so it’s a great place to live for when you want to detach from work too.

Do you have any advice for anyone thinking about joining a tech start-up in Berlin?

Giuseppe: Try to develop an entrepreneurial mindset instead of an employee mindset as soon as possible. Always look for opportunities, don’t take things personally, don’t think about what happened yesterday, and focus on the now. 

Gabriela: Be open-minded and be prepared for change. 

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