Documentaries made a strong showing at this year’s Berlin International Film Festival (February 6 to 17). André Heller and Othmar Schmiderer’s 90-minute film Blind Spot: Hitler’s Secretary, in which the infamous dictator’s personal assistant Traudl Junge records her unique memories, won the audience award in the Panorama section.
Another strong non-fiction entry was Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe’s Lost in La Mancha. Originally planned to be the ‘making of…’ documentary behind The Man Who Killed Don Quixote (a fiction film by ex-Monty Python member Terry Gilliam), Lost in La Mancha instead documents the collapse of the fiction project. Tips picked up along the way: Never film next to a nato bombing range, pray your leading man doesn’t get a double hernia, and if a storm wrecks your sets and equipment, recognize that God is trying to tell you something. (The moral? Make sure you’ve got insurance.) The film is also a tribute to the energy, drive and determination of Gilliam, who may sometimes be down but is never out.
The Tramp and the Dictator, Michael Kloft and film historian Kevin Brownlow’s doc about the making of the Charlie Chaplin masterpiece The Great Dictator, brought to light recently discovered shot-on-set color footage. It was a fitting addition to the program, as a newly restored version of The Great Dictator received a gala screening as the festival’s closing film, the personal choice of Berlinale boss Dieter Kosslick.
Finnish filmmaker Mika Kaurismäki took audiences on a 4,000 kilometer roadtrip through Brazilian music in Moro no Brasil – Sound of Brazil. Kaurismäki stands back, allowing the country’s rich musical tradition to seep forward in the stories told by the people, and in the sheer range of styles.
Receiving the great Berlinale accolade of extra screenings by public demand was Claude Lanzmann’s Sobibor, 14 octobre 1943, 16 heures. Screening in the Forum section, the film features Yehuda Lerner, Holocaust survivor and participant in the only successful uprising in a Nazi concentration camp.
The Berlinale is also home to the European Film Market. By general consensus, this was a quiet year. While a few were unhappy – the usual suspects called for more subsidies from the German government – Montreal-based Films Transit’s Jan Rofekamp was in high spirits. Rofekamp represents Christian Frei’s War Photographer, a portrait of war photographer James Nachtwey, which is nominated for an Oscar.