Friday, December 21, 2007

My Berlinale Experience

The Berlinale is starting to gain momentum again. All the line-up announcements for next year are coming along in a steady stream. The big news for us is of course, Liew Seng Tat's Flower In The Pocket competing in the Generations category. That category was where Yasmin Ahmad's Mukhsin won this year. Here, there are a few funny coincidences. Yasmin's mother is in Flower. The young actress Amira Nasuha who was in Mukhsin also has a role in Flower. Amira plays a tomboy in Flower, and in Mukhsin, Orked played by Sharifah Aryana was a tomboy.

Last year, the Berlinale featured two Malaysian films - Mukhsin and Amir Muhammad's Village People Radio Show. I was there for both films, and I had a really exciting time. Really, it was very exciting! And here's why:


Mukhsin was screening in the afternoon at the Zoo Palast and I had to find my own way from Friedriechstrasse to the Zoological Gardens by train. Except for missing the red carpet and photo-op, I made it on time for the screening. The Zoo Palast used to be the main venue of the festival in the past, until they decided to move it to the Berlinale Palast in the centre of the city. So the Zoo Palast is some ways from the main venue, and my hotel was even farther. After the screening, the Malaysian contingent headed over to a cafe, after which Amir, composer Hardesh Singh and I took a bus back to the main venue.

About a day later, I had to make my way to the Zoo Palast again for an afternoon of short films, and my Kenyan friend and I got on the wrong train that somehow headed in the right direction. But when I tried to make my way back, the train station platform looked somewhat different. I asked around for the right direction to Friedriechstrasse, but all the people there said the same thing: "I'm not from Berlin. I don't know."

OK, alarm bells went off in my head; I seemed to have teleported myself to another part of Germany where the people are not Berliners. Was there some dimensional gateway I had unwittingly stepped through?

I went downstairs once more to get my bearings, and finally realised there are FOUR platforms, two in each"building". I had gone up to the platforms that were servicing out-of-town trains! My sci-fi fantasy shattered, I headed back to the hotel.


It was the night of Amir's screening. I headed to the Cinemaxx in the evening, and got myself to the cinema hall 15 minutes before showtime. To my surprise, the hall was huge, and rather packed. I took my seat, surveyed the hall, and was duly impressed with Amir for being able to draw such attention, when a South American friend and his companion sat themselves next to me. We got to talking.

"So, you're familiar with this director's work?" I asked.

"Not really," my friend replied.

"Well, this is the sequel to his previous film," I said proudly. "Have you seen his documentaries?"

My friend looked confused. "This is a documentary?!"

Alarm bells again. "Erm, am I in the right hall?" I asked aloud.

"Yes, this is the film by the Hungarian director,"he replied.

Without anything more than a quick apology, I jumped out of my seat and headed for the Sony Centre, which was across the road. I had about 5 minutes left.

I made it in time, of course, but boy, did I feel stupid!


That was part of my exciting adventures at the Berlinale, apart from getting my finger slammed in the heavy door of a cafe, and fighting fever and a bout of bronchitis. The first couple of days were spent learning the ropes, getting familiarised with How You Do Things At A Major Festival. For my very first screening, Park Chan-wook's I'm A Cyborg But That's OK, I was seated a row from the screen. Then, I couldn't get into the packed conference hall, and had to aim my tape recorder at the big screen TV outside, where the Park interview was broadcast live. Of course, I got smarter after that. And despite having Rain and Park standing right behind me in the Cinemaxx one night, and then repeatedly bumping into Park on the streets, I was too awestruck and tongue-tied to say anything to the guy!

But the one thing you just have to experience for once in your life, is to go for a really bad film, and then jeer at the end of it. We collectively booed at Zack Snyder's awful and racist 300, in the five jeering minutes of which we became an organic, hating beast spitting murderous venom at the screen. Now, that was great!

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