Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Berlinale: Forum + Expanded

Isabella Does Cheap from Val Phoenix on Vimeo.

In my second year at the Berlinale I have become more acquainted with the different strands of the festival. Forum is the home of art cinema and its spinoff Forum Expanded shows installations utilising film. Both are housed in the Filmhaus complex in Potsdamer Platz and I have become a frequent visitor there. The dramatic glass-fronted lifts go up to the 9th floor and there is a definite hierarchy in place, with the European Film Market at the top level off-limits to the non-accredited, while the Cheap Gossip Studio in the basement is open to all. Hmmm.

The most fun place to be is definitely the latter, back for a second year. I missed Patti Smith's spoken word performance there but did see Isabella Rossellini (see film), a swarm of press in tow, wowing the crowds as she visited. Her film Green Porno is showing in the festival and a related installation is part of Forum Expanded. For this, she dresses up as various forms of insect life to explain their sexual behaviour. "This is a strange role for her, no?" enquired a TV journalist. "Yes, I think she wanted to stretch herself as an actress," was my reply.

Cheap is presenting a series of Underground Über Alles awards, the first of which were handed out on Sunday night. One went to filmmaker and friend of Cheap Marie Losier, who was swept into the arms of Cheap's Vaginal Davis, twice her size, as she collected it. Clearly emotional, Losier said she felt she was among family. Moments earlier, I overheard part of her conversation with Guy Maddin, in which he described someone peeing. I guess that's familial.

As for the films, well, they were certainly arty. One Hand on Open (William Wheeler and Stefan Pente) is an experimental feature featuring drag queens pondering violence and appropriate responses. It looks fantastic, shot with a blue screen and a lot of animation. But I found it a bit of, um, a drag. Too long and a bit pretentious.

The same could be said of some of the shorts. I saw two programmes, Grandmother Threading Her Needle and Locations and Speculations. The latter featured two quite long shorts, and I can't recall ever experiencing so many people leaving a screening in my life. It really is a case of voting with one's feet. If I were one of the filmmakers I would be mortified. But one could understand: 33 minutes of a silent film consisting of shots of a building site (In die erde gebaut--Ute Aurand) is a bit too künstlerisch for me.

Shorts highlights for me were Schein Sein (Bady Minck), a lovely evocation of a 2D orchestra coming to life from the page to the stage, and Bruce Lee in the Land of Balzac (Maria Teresa Alves), a witty juxtaposition of kung fu sound and French pastoral images. Arty and captivating, a wonderful combination.

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