Reflections on the 62nd Berlinale Film Festival
What does it say about a film festival that puts emphasis on reflecting on the Arab Spring, yet prominently features advertisements from their main sponsors, L’Oreal and BWM, on the V.I.P. red carpet? This question was asked during one of the panel discussions held by Forum Expanded at the 62nd Berlinale Film Festival. Forum Expanded is one of the many subcategories of the festival and its main goal is to approach the film medium from another angle to “provide a critical perspective and an expanded sense of cinematography.”
Six panels were set up where artists that were associated with these categories opened a dialogue while the audience could voice their opinion. This particular question reflects on the multi-million dollar industry that the festival is partaking in, but more importantly it asks by which means the film medium is able to approach and reflect on current global issues.
ADDRESSING THE CRISIS OF CAPITALISM
The question came up during panel discussions called Working the Crisis. The panel set out to contemplate how artists address the global crisis of capitalism. In relation to that topic it asked, “What are the counter-narratives offered to mass media representations?” The artists present at the panel were participants in the exhibition Critic and Clinic, put up in relation to Forum Expanded. Kodwo Eshun from the London-based Otolith group stated that in his artistic process he is aware that “capitalism thrives on denunciation.” ‘Anathema,’ a film by the Otolith group, exhibited in Critic and Clinic, employed the visual language of “black mirror” advertisements, i.e. the stylistics surrounding flat screens and iphones, and used the commercial captive power in formalizing the work. As was pointed out by a member of the audience, the work mesmerizes the viewer and gives him a chance to be engulfed in the visuals without being aware of gathering particular information while viewing it. In this work the Otolith group exploits capitalist means in order to reflect on it.
Awareness of the social and cultural context one works in and ways to reflect on it, was a recurring topic of the panel discussions. The panel Cairo: The City, the Images, the Archives, focused on the moving image and its “accessibility under dictatorship as well as on post-revolution conditions.” Hala Galal, filmmaker and producer, said that in Cairo there is a growing awareness of news reports’ subjectivity and as a result people emphasize finding ways of “storytelling without reporting.” Khalid Abdalla, co-founder of Mosireen, pointed out the difference between archiving materials in transitional times and in stable periods. Mosireen, as is stated on their website, is “a non-profit media collective born out of the explosion of citizen journalism and cultural activism in Egypt during the revolution.” There you can find an archive of video material that has been shot by people that took part in the revolution by any technological means, creating a vast, diverse resource of shared stories.
WINNING FILM: CAESAR MUST DIE
As the Forum Expanded program is a side to the actual film festival, it was interesting to see a ‘real’ movie. Incidentally, one of the few I saw was the winning movie ‘Caesar Must Die,’ by Italian filmmakers Paolo and Vittorio Taviani. The director had prison inmates enact Shakespeare’s tragedy, ‘Julius Caesar.’ This take on the play had an interesting relation to the panel discussions, as a parable for the aforementioned topic of how to reflect on the social context of art production. As actualized, however, I found the film disappointing: Expecting the film to reveal the inmates’ clash with society through the production of the play, expecting the film to incorporate the play with questions and conflicts that we face today, I found something less. The director conveyed the play by asking the inmates to stay in their roles for the whole, while bringing the theatrical personas into their lived reality. The points where the play touched on their own personal experience were also acted.
In the final scene of the film, one of the inmates, with all the dramatics that a Shakespeare play can entail, looks into the camera and states: “Since I have known art, this cell has become my prison.” The line is central as the film intends to focus on the liberating potential of culture. L’Oreal and BWM are sure to be pleased with an audience emancipated through art, as contemporary industries thrive on creativity, the green energy of the mind, that we all are eager to partake in. ‘Caesar Must Die’s’ framework should have enabled the director to reflect on how capitalism thrives on denunciation, but instead it merely conveyed how peacefully the cell of capitalism rests around artistic freedom and liberation.
A GLOBAL ISSUE AS A SELLING POINT
While the festival went on in Berlin, the local Edda awards were handed out for cinematic achievements in Iceland. The winning film in the documentary category was ‘Last Days Of The Arctic,’ a very well lit film about photographer Ragnar Axelsson, narrated by the photographer himself. The jury thus considered the landscapes of Iceland and Greenland, aesthetically standardized not the least by Ragnar himself, the most relevant topic to portray and document in post-apocalyptic 2011. There seems to be an international trend there: Just like ‘Caesar Must Die,’ the ‘Last Days Of The Arctic’ has the aura of relevance, employing a global issue as a selling point.