5 things to know about this year’s Berlinale film festival

The Berlin film festival, Europe's first major cinema showcase since the Harvey Weinstein sex abuse scandal roiled the industry, starts Thursday with 400 new movies slated and a controversy of its own brewing.

5 things to know about this year's Berlinale film festival
Berlinale at Potsdamer Platz in Berlin. Photo: DPA

US filmmaker Wes Anderson will kick off the race for the Golden Bear top prize with the animated feature “Isle of Dogs”, voiced by a starry cast including Bryan Cranston, Bill Murray, Jeff Goldblum and Oscar nominee Greta Gerwig who are all expected on the red carpet.

Organizers said they were careful to promote diversity with their selection — four of the 19 films in competition are by women — and to disqualify filmmakers accused of sexual misconduct.

But debate around sex and power looked set to dominate the 11-day event, on screen and off.


The Berlinale's veteran chief Dieter Kosslick said it would provide a “forum” to bring about “concrete changes” to the treatment of women in the film industry in the wake of the #MeToo movement.

He said he blackballed a handful of potential contenders because a director, screenwriter or star attached to the production was facing credible abuse allegations.

But even before the event began, a South Korean actress accused organizers of hypocrisy for inviting acclaimed director Kim Ki-Duk, who slapped her and allegedly forced her into unscripted sex scenes while she worked on his movie “Moebius”.

SEE ALSO: Abused South Korean actress slams 'hypocritical' Berlin filmfest

Kosslick told AFP the festival was aware that Kim had been convicted and fined in the case, but also that the sexual harassment allegations had been dismissed for lack of evidence.

The Berlinale “is awaiting detailed information” from the production company and the Korean Film Council about a pending appeal, Kosslick added.

“Obviously the Berlinale condemns and opposes any form of violence or sexual misconduct,” he said.

Women out in front

Long relegated by Hollywood to the role of muse, victim or plucky sidekick, women look set to be in the driving seat in many of the highest profile Berlinale movies.

“The Crown” breakout star Claire Foy and French screen legend Isabelle Huppert will dominate the action in two keenly awaited thrillers.

Steven Soderbergh will unveil “Unsane”, a movie he shot on an iPhone, featuring Foy in a Hitchcockian tale of a woman fighting to regain her freedom after she's committed against her will to a mental asylum.

Huppert is in femme fatale mode in the 1945 novel adaptation “Eva”, wreaking havoc in the life of a prominent writer.

“Damsel”, billed as a feminist Western, stars Robert Pattinson as a bumbling cowboy hoping to rescue his quicker-witted beloved (Mia Wasikowska).

 And the biopic “Becoming Astrid” sheds a new light on the tragic early life of the beloved author of the “Pippi Longstocking” books, Astrid Lindgren, and how it inspired one of the greatest heroines of children's literature.

Stars slip behind camera

It's the actor's age-old dream to wrest control from the director on set and two Berlinale guests have managed to mount their first passion projects in a tough market environment.

Britain's Rupert Everett, a pioneer of gay cinema, will present “The Happy Prince”, an Oscar Wilde biopic in which he also stars.

Meanwhile, Idris Elba, of television's “The Wire” and “Luther” and rumoured to become the first black James Bond, will be in Berlin with “Yardie” set among West Indian drug gangs warring on London streets.

Ripped from the headlines

Brazil's Jose Padilha will premiere “7 Days in Entebbe” starring Rosamund Pike and Daniel Bruehl, based on the true story of the daring Israeli rescue mission following the 1976 PLO hijacking of an Air France jet.

Norwegian contender “U – July 22” also promises to be a harrowing drama, based on the 2011 massacre by neo-Nazi Anders Behring Breivik and told from the perspective of his 77 victims.

“Museum” starring Gael Garcia Bernal depicts the shocking heist of priceless ancient artifacts from Mexico City's National Museum of Anthropology in the 1980s.

Beyond the cinema

The Berlinale ranks with Cannes and Venice among Europe's top film festivals and sees itself as the most socially engaged.

It will stage a screening for inmates at a local prison of “The Silent Revolution” based on a little-known story of protests against East Germany's communist regime.

The event will also reach out to the tens of thousands of asylum seekers who have arrived in the German capital since 2015, offering internships to young refugees and free movie tickets for adults and children.


7 ground-breaking German movies made by female filmmakers

To celebrate the works of women in the German film industry, and at the conclusion of this year's special outdoor Berlinale, we have compiled a list of seven must-watch German films directed by women. 

7 ground-breaking German movies made by female filmmakers
A scene from System Crasher. credit: picture alliance/dpa/ZDF | Peter Hartwig

This year’s Oscars marked the first time in its almost 100-year history that two female filmmakers – Chloé Zhao and Emerald Fennell – were nominated in the Best Director category. Only five women have ever been nominated for this award. Zhao took home the gong, becoming just the second woman ever to do so.

In 2021’s Berlinale Festival, 60 percent of the films in the Generation category were directed by women — with 75 percent of female filmmakers making up the Kplus selection (a category for younger audiences).

Here is a look at seven films by some of the most influential female directors in German cinema.

Never Sleep Again (1992) — Pia Frankenberg

Featured in Berlinale’s Retrospective series, meant to showcase female filmmakers, this film is written, directed and produced by Cologne-born filmmaker, Pia Frankenberg.

The film follows three female friends through post-unification Berlin, who are making their way to a wedding when their car breaks down. They wander through the streets of former East Berlin, roaming in and out of bars meeting men. 

The dilapidated sites of the former Cold War frontier city, still scarred by World War II, become a place for sheer endless personal experimentation where the women begin to reconfigure their lives and loves.

Frankenberg’s impressionistic portrait of three women in the city reflects on the state of the newly unified Germany, where for a moment all possibilities seemed radically open. (Available on Mubi, Binged)

The German Sisters (1981) — Margarethe Von Trotta 

Considered one of the classics of the New German Cinema movement, The German Sisters tells an intimate story of Germany. 

Based on the real-life story of the Enslein sisters, it is an expression of director Margarethe Von Trotta’s combination of the personal and the political. It’s the story of Juliane, a feminist journalist and her sister, Marianne, who is a terrorist revolutionary. The film, which won six awards at the Venice Film Festival including the Golden Lion, was Margarethe Von Trotta’s third film and first collaboration with Barbara Sukowa. The director-actor duo went on to do six more films together. (Available on Mubi, Prime)

Margarethe Von Trotta on set in 1975. Photo: dpa | Bertram

Toni Erdmann (2016) — Maren Ade 

Toni Erdmann is a German-Austrian comedy which was directed, written and co-produced by Maren Ade. The film, which premiered in competition at the Cannes Film Festival, was named the best film of 2016. 

Meant to showcase the intricacies of a father-daughter relationship, the film pairs carefully constructed, three-dimensional characters in a tenderly funny character study. A hard-working woman reluctantly agrees to spend time with her estranged father when he unexpectedly arrives.

As a practical joker, the father does his best to reconnect by pretending to be her CEO’s life coach. (Available on Mubi, Kanopy, Prime, Vudu)

I Was at Home, But (2019) — Angela Schanelec 

I was at home, but (Ich war zuhause, aber) is a 2019 German drama film directed by Angela Schanelec. At the Berlinale that year, Schanelec won the Silver Bear for Best Director. 

The film is a story about a 13-year-old student, Phillip, who disappears without a trace for a week and suddenly reappears. 

It maps the existential crises his mother and teachers are confronted with that change their whole view of life. The film features several plots, which tell the stories of several people who are all connected to Phillip in some way. It has scenes with long silences, to contrast ones with heavy dialogue, which critics believe makes this film a cinematic masterpiece. (Available on Apple iTunes, Google Play Movies, Vudu, or rent on YouTube).

The Audition (2019) — Ina Weisse

This film has been described as a symphonic study of human behaviour. It’s the story of a violin teacher, who takes great interest in mentoring a student for an audition. Anna, the violinist and teacher played by Nina Hoss, shows plenty of compassion toward the boy at first, but their relationship becomes much more strained as the date of Alexander’s audition nears and Anna begins to put him through musical torture. Come the day of the exam, events take a tragic turn. (Available on Amazon Prime Video)

Pelican Blood (2019) — Katrin Gebbe 

Pelican Blood is written and directed by Katrin Gebbe, who won the 2014 Preis der Deutschen Filmkritik (German Film Critics’ Prize) for her first film.

It tells the story of a woman who trains police horses. She adopts her second child, a severely traumatised five-year-old girl. When the girl shows violent and anti-social behaviour, her new mother becomes determined to help her.

The film has been described as raising fascinating questions – how do you draw boundaries for a child who seems to ignore them or even takes a perverse pleasure in overstepping them? What can you do as a parent when you realize that your love and protection aren’t enough? (Available on Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime)

System Crasher (2019) — Nora Fingscheidt

Another film about a rebellious child, System Crasher picked up a whopping eight German Film Awards after its release in 2019.

The film has a powerful political message about the inadequacies of the universal child care system. The protagonist, Benni, is a violent nine-year-old girl who suffers from psychotic episodes. Her key social worker, Frau Bafané, tries to get Benni into special schools or facilities; dozens turn her down and Benni is too young to be effectively sectioned as an inpatient.

In an interview with The Guardian, Fingscheidt says, “There’s a very German dimension to the film in the obsession with bureaucracy, with rules that need to be adhered to. Rules like, ‘this child cannot stay in this home because they are getting too emotionally attached,’ when that institution may be the first place where a child has begun to open up.”

The film has received an incredible amount of international recognition, garnering 45 international awards. (Available on Netflix)