Documentaries enjoyed a higher than usual profile at this year’s Berlin International Film Festival, which took place in Germany from February 6 to 16. This can be attributed to two stars that dominated the Panorama Dokumente section. Oliver Stone screened Commandante, his up-close-and-personal interview with Cuban dictator and socialist holdout Fidel Castro, and action-flick star Jackie Chan accompanied Alex Law and Mabel Cheung’s doc Traces of the Dragon: Jackie Chan and His Lost Family.
Extra screenings were added for both films, which drew enthusiastic response. Stone’s made-for-HBO film sees the director question Castro about his relationships to Che Guevara, JFK and Nixon, as well as aspects of his private life. It is unbalanced and highly subjective – everything that makes an Oliver Stone film worth watching.
A moment of reflective silence followed the screening of Law and Cheung’s film, but then applause broke the spell and the filmmakers took the stage for a Q&A. The doc started as a private video commissioned by Chan, but snowballed into a full-length film when the filmmakers kept discovering new truths. Among the facts they discovered: ‘Chan’ is not his real name, his father was a spy, his mother was a gangster and, contrary to what he was told, he isn’t an only child. Very quickly, this incredible-but-true-story of the Chan family became the story of modern China.
Proving the Berlinale does not exist in a vacuum, up to a half million protestors marched in an anti-war demonstration on the Saturday, but were peacefully prevented by police from marching through Potsdamer Platz, the heart of the festival. But, festival director Dieter Kosslick gave a group of young Berlin filmmakers permission to use the festival as an ongoing discussion forum about the threat of war. Their Freedom2Speak initiative lead to speaker’s corners being set up to give festival guests the chance to voice their own opinions, and camera teams did vox-pop interviews. The footage was gathered into a feature-length film and screened at the end of the festival.