Though lagging behind Cannes and Venice in terms of glamour, the Berlinale claims to be the world's largest film festival open to the public. Anyone with the pluck to negotiate the overwhelming line-up can experience the best global cinema has to offer.
From the festival's main categories, the winners are:
“A Girl Called Rosemarie”
In honour of the untimely death of great German producer Bernd Eichinger, the festival will screen his 1996 film, “Das Mädchen Rosemarie.” The charming film about a lovely but naive social climber stars Berlinale jury member Nina Hoss in her first title role.
Another jury member, the luminous Isabella Rossellini, stars in this romantic comedy with William Hurt, portraying a couple of a certain age. French director Julie Gavras explores what happens to a relationship after the children are gone and the problems of ageing set in.
All 16 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.
In 1964 Germany's one-millionth guest worker from Turkey arrived. This film follows the fictional life of guest worker one-million-and-one. Written and directed by two Turkish-German sisters who used their own childhood memories to shape the story, it explores the identity of Germany's largest group of immigrants.
“Cave of Forgotten Dreams”
It's running out of competition, but that's no reason to overlook the European premiere of this 3D film by legendary German director Werner Herzog about the Chauvet Pont d'Arc cave in southern France, believed to hold the oldest cave paintings in the world. The cavern's delicate environment prevents public access, but there has long been a plan to allow a single filmmaker in to explore the mystery for a fee of just €1. Herzog was (and is) the man. He ate a shoe once. He can do whatever he wants.
Another 3D film by a top-notch German director, Wim Wenders' “PINA” honours his late friend, famed German choreographer Pina Bausch. The medium is said to bring the viewer into the thick of her sensual ensemble and the surrounding city of Wuppertal. Running out of competition.
This section focuses on new and provocative independent films, and this year's themes centre on migration, corruption and intimate filming styles. 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.
Following five male prostitutes in Berlin, this documentary tries to avoid the stereotypes connected to the profession. The subjects include young Roma with impoverished families, a civil war refugee from Bosnia and a young Romanian whose family relies on prostitution for their income.
This French film tells the story of 10-year-old Laure, a little girl who passes herself off as a boy after moving to a new neighbourhood. Naturally things get complicated.
“The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975”
Swedish director Göran Hugo Olsson explores the legacy of the Black Power movement through previously unpublished documentary material from researchers in his country, where some people were particularly fascinated with the movement during the 1970s. Material includes interviews with civil rights activist Stokely Carmichael, Black Panther founders Bobby Seal and Huey P. Newton, and Black Power activists Angela Davis and Eldridge Cleaver.
Those looking to get down with the locals can beef up on their Deutsch skills with the 11 films in the German programme as it celebrates its 10th anniversary.
“Stuttgart 21 – think to remember!”
This documentary follows the ongoing demonstrations against controversial rail project Stuttgart 21 – one of the largest grassroots movements to hit Germany in years, and one that may resonate for years to come.
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 programme also includes exhibitions, talks, radio broadcasts and stage performances.
What would independent film be without navel-gazing coming-of-age stories? Mop-topped teen protagonist Oliver Tate is both trying to bring his family back together and lose his virginity to quirky girlfriend Jordana. But he may not be quite as clever as he thinks.
Don't forget snacks for this epic four-hour film by Japanese director Zeze Takahisam about revenge and how it sets a chain of tragic events into motion. Each new character has a different relationship with death and killing, all against a background of strange settings and coincidences.
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 and Homage sections are their chance. This year they honour Swedish director Ingmar Bergman and German actor Armin Mueller-Stahl.
”Fanny and Alexander”
Considered by many to be Bergman's magnum opus, the pre-World War I saga following the Ekdahl family won four Academy awards and brought the director international fame in 1983.
”Night on Earth”
Revisit director Jim Jarmusch's set of five vignettes exploring the bond between taxi drivers and their passengers around the world. In New York, actor Armin Mueller-Stahl portrays an East German immigrant who isn't much of a driver. Also starring Winona Ryder, Roberto Benigni and a stellar soundtrack by Tom Waits.
In one of the festival's more experimental sections, brief films are shown in clusters. You can't go wrong with a mixed bag. Here are two that stand out.
”Scenes From the Suburbs"
Sure to be among the favourite shorts of the festival, director Spike Jonze expands a music video into a 28-minute film about teenagers wandering aimlessly around town one summer.
The Korean filmmaker Park Chan-wook, who also made the popular feature-length film “Old Boy,” teamed up with his brother Park Chan-kyong to shoot this film made entirely with an iPhone.
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. 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:
”Griff the Invisible”
“True Blood” star Ryan Kwanten stars in this 14plus feature about a young man who is bullied by day, but an imaginary superhero by night. But it's his new girlfriend Melody who ends up doing most of the rescuing.
Canines are among the best children's movie protagonists. As an old dog dies in the back room of a pub in Western Australia in 1971, patrons recall stories of how he touched their lives in the wild region.
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 ZDF theaterkanal starting at 7:40 pm.