Berlinale Day One

It’s Friday morning, shortly before 8, and I’m sitting at the tiny kitchen table of my third floor rented apartment in the Nollendorf district of Berlin.

It’s the beginning of a sun-less morning and the sound of rush hour cars and buses on the rain soaked street echoes inside this sterile studio.  I found this miniaturized living space on line; it has a tiny kitchen, a big TV, and a bathroom bigger than mine in New York or in Texas.  The light fixtures are from Ikea–in fact everything in here is from Ikea.  My buddy in Long Beach would love this place because of it’s ‘clean lines.’

For my eleven nights here the price is the same as a month’s rent in Astoria, or two month’s mortgage payments on the Texas farmhouse.

The Berlinale Filmfestspiele and the European Film Market (EFM) began yesterday with registration, film screenings in the late afternoon and the opening ceremony last night.

The hot topic of Berlinale this year is censorship and freedom of speech.  Filmmakers in Austin debated freedom of speech issues when state funding was pulled from Robert Rodriguez’ MACHETE last year; the thorn in the side here in Berlin was Iran’s decision to jail filmmaker Jafar Panahi for six years and ban him from filmmaking an additional fourteen years because he makes movies about social issues that are uncomfortable to the state.

Personal comment: Though we may think of our work as a commercial enterprise, filmmaking is storytelling, and those stories will always either support or antagonize powerful people who want to retain control of their standard of living.  When we pretend that what we do is simply creating ‘entertainment’ we’re ignoring the impact our films have on cultural attitudes and whether our messages strengthen or threaten the status quo.

I spent most of Thursday gathering the catalogs and directories of the thousands of screenings and events scheduled for the next 10 days. Because Berlinale and the EFM are two separate events, the film listings are in different books and I’ll spend most of Friday identifying the movies I want to see.

I’m far better prepared than I was a few years ago when I brought my film THEFT to the market.  At least now I know what to expect.  And in my first meeting yesterday with a sales rep (Ida from Media Luna) she recognized me and waved me over to speak with her.  Admittedly I was surprised, because I didn’t think she’d have any idea who I was.  But she’s good friends with my US distributor and has seen some of my previous movies.

Notes from the meeting with Ida:  1) Ida believes interns working at some festivals pirate films and upload them on the internet, which harms potential sales of dvds.  She thinks it’s better to post a screening version of the film on a private password protected website and encourage festival programmers to stream the movie from a site when considering whether to program the film.  2) Instead of blanketing festivals with screeners, Ida thinks it’s better to start with the top tier festivals and wait to find out if the film is accepted before submitting to second and third tier festivals.  3) Ida thinks screening copies of films should have watermarks  (‘screening copy’ printed on the image at various points in the film).

On the other hand, can a filmmaker successfully get his or her movie considered for screening at SXSW or Sundance or Outfest without sending a dvd screener?  I’ve heard from some people that watermarks on films annoy them and turn them against a movie because it breaks their concentration.  And do I really want to wait half a year or so on one or two festivals to make a decision, or do I want my movie to be seen and get screeners to a lot of festivals?

Ultimately the big question for ABRUPT DECISION: Do I want sales handled by a rep who takes commission (and I don’t see the original contracts) or do I want to handle sales myself? I won’t have that answer for a few more days.

Friday screenings begin in one hour.  I’m going to a seminar this afternoon on indie finance and a party tonight, where I’ve set up meetings with several international festival programmers.

I’m loading my backpack with the essential catalogs and screening schedules, a water bottle and fruit, ten screener dvds of ABRUPT DECISION, and my android so I can check email through the day.

I’ll tell you about tonight’s party tomorrow morning.

One comment

  1. Paul,

    the problem you face with dvd priates is universal but i do believe that Ida comments are productive and on track. Being a lawyer who sometime dabbled in intelletual property, trade mark and copyright (I’m in criminal law) the idea of watermark is one that is growing especially with festivals copies of dvds. I have a suggestion on how you can have a water mark in te DVD and have it subtle and for and entire movie you might only see it 4 times in 1 hour at the bottom of the screen. I will send you an email with my suggestions.

    Good luck at the festival and i hope you are successful as your movie can’t wait to see it.

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