Wednesday was about business and nothing but business.
I arrived at the Martin-Gropius Bau (the film market ground zero) and everyone else was walking around in a total zombie state. I dropped into a chair to chat with a friend I’ve made from Australia. He was talking with someone he’d just friended from Australia who runs a Jewish film festival. This was her first time at Berlinale and she was talking about how everyone was so seriously driven. Unlike other festivals she’s attended where there’s been a festive environment, and the participants have been getting laid, she told me no one seemed to be getting any action.
Well, I do know a couple guys who’ve been getting some late night attention. (Though not me.) But generally she’s right. The style of the European Film Market is to move from one meeting to the next, many of them scheduled weeks in advance, and talk till you’re brain dead.
I even ran into a good friend from home who told me he missed a really important meeting the day before simply because he is so tired. He had confirmed the meeting multiple times, and written it down and so forth, and when the time came it completely slipped his mind.
(Quickie side note: The Martin-Gropius Bau was built in 1877 to be the Museum of Applied Arts. The Gestapo headquarters were next door during the Nazi regime, including a prison holding 15,000 political opponents. This is where the annihilation of the Jews, Gypsies and homosexuals was planned. The prisoners were loaded onto trains two blocks away. After World War II the East Berlin wall was built practically on top of the building’s front steps.)
Wednesday started for me at a panel discussion on queer cinema. (This is the current title for gay films because it includes lesbian, tran, bi, and gender ambiguous content.) It was held in a neighborhood movie theater and the place was packed. After the panelists discussed their work laboriously, the floor was opened to questions.
Question 1: Why isn’t the festival including more local lesbian content? The director of programming for this part of the festival responded defensively: Because that sort of work isn’t being made. Twenty people in the audience started shouting: Yes, it is! And then a rather intense debate ensued regarding distribution access, the importance of recognition by the festival to reach other markets, vs. the multiple platforms available for distribution, vs. the festival director finally sealing the discussion with stating if he were 20 years old again he would project his film on the side of building to get it seen.
Okay, that was a bullshit answer.
Question 2: Why do gay films all seem to have so much skin and erotic content? Why can’t we make films that are more accessible for people who don’t want to see this much emphasis on sex? The director responded: Gay films aren’t supposed to be accessible! We want films that are in your face, that are challenging, that are not mainstream.
Two notes on this: Last year they gave the highest Teddy Award (the queer award for the Berlinale festival) to THE KIDS ARE ALRIGHT, which is about as mainstream as you can get. My movies don’t usually have much sex or skin, and in my market my sales suffer as a result. I know this. My distributor knows this and is willing to take the financial loss because he sees I have a niche within the market, though I know he wishes I’d sex the movies up. The reason films in this genre show skin is because it sells. Marketing 101.
Question 3: A woman in the balcony who has volunteered for the festival for 20 years told the crowd she refused to volunteer this year because the Teddy Award artwork features a man only and not a woman. After all these years, she wanted to know why the Teddy’s continue to ignore women even though they program some lesbian films. The director was extremely defensive by this point: The designers chose this image to reflect our 25 year history.
The women and many of us gay guys went ballistic.
What I took away from this is the selection committee for gay content at the Berlin Film Festival is living in the past. Though most of the world cultures are still very homophobic and I would be executed or murdered if I lived in some areas of Africa or Middle East, this is a film market for Western Europe and North America. What are the stories that connect with the audiences of these regions?
Very few queer films from Berlinale this year are marketable, and in speaking with a number of festival programmers many of them had no interest in programming these titles that aren’t ‘accessible.’
Lesson learned. My films won’t be the darling of the Berlinale because they are too ‘mainstream.’ It’s soooo totally ironic that my films will ultimately be seen by so many more people around the globe.
The political excitement continued into the afternoon with a schmooze fest of queer programmers and a few filmmakers. During the event I gathered more screening dvds for my US distributor to consider, and I got a list of people who want screeners of my film. (I held back dvds to get into the hands of distributors.)
Met with a distributor in the early evening; misconnected with another distributor and we rescheduled for this weekend.
I finished the night with the premiere of Helena Bonham Carter’s film TOAST. It was playing at a neighborhood theater. They’d rolled out the red carpet, packed the audience in the house, and Helena, along with the film’s director and the food writer Nigel Slater whose story is told in the film, tottered down the aisle and stood on stage for five minutes of photos. I went to see the movie because it has Helena Bohham Carter, I guessed there was a gay theme (there is–Nigel is), and I figured it would be funny. Wellllll, the acting was great. The story was a bit weak.
I stumbled out of the theater around 12:30 and caught one of the last U-bahn’s of the night back to my bed.
Today I’m going to see some movies. The market officially ends today, but most people have already packed up their cubicles and the Gropius Bau looks a bit like post-Katrina Superdome (but without the dead people).
This will be my last post from Berlin. The festival runs through Sunday and I’m hoping to catch some movies. Other than connecting with a couple other distributors my work here is done.