Berlinale Film Festival goes cross-continental

The 59th Berlinale Film Festival began yesterday, screening ten days of daring cinema in the center of Potsdamer Platz. Once divided by the Berlin Wall, the square now marks the glitzy, Westernized heart of the new Berlin. Melanie Sevcenko has a look at the festival's doc programs.
February 6, 2009

Out of the ten programs at the Berlinale Film Festival, two will screen over 35 international documentaries – Panorama, the festival’s section which satisfies an appetite for art-house trends and commercial flavor featuring both accomplished and debuting directors, and The International Forum of New Cinema, which reveals the most unconventional and experimental films that find their niche in the space between genres. In both sections, documentaries are treated as equals to feature films, and considering this year’s chunky selection, the promise of resonating issues and images stays true.

As either world or European premieres, the curated films of the ‘Panorama Dokumente’ are a slice of the world’s most intriguing documentaries, often combining social and contemporary themes. Women living in Indonesia struggle to claim the rights to their bodies in At Stake, a film that dissects the issue in four stories. Khalid Gill’s film Chan di Chummi (Kiss the Moon) takes an intimate look at the Khusras, a subculture of Pakistani transsexuals, while City of Borders, by Yun Suh, ventures to the heart of Jerusalem to Shushan, a gay bar which unites a tolerant community of both Israelis and Palestinians. The chronic hunger pandemic is debated in Brazilian filmmaker José Padilha’s Garapa, and German director Jochen Hick brings his seventh film to the Berlinale, The Good American, which chronicles the life of Tom Weise, who launched a ‘rent-boy’ website for male prostitution in NYC in the early 1990s. The versatile Michael Winterbottom brings The Shock Doctrine, the doc-adaptation of Naomi Klein’s best-selling book, which exposes the rise of disaster capitalism that enables governments and corporations to exploit the economies of war-torn and disaster-affected countries. And with a contrary approach to protest, political pranksters The Yes Men pull-off more impersonation scandals in The Yes Men Fix the World, as they worm their way into the nest of big business and debunk the system.

The documentary section of the Forum finds a common ground with several films that ‘investigate the ways in which public opinion is formed.’ In Hashmatsa/Defamation, Yoav Shamir uncovers the role of anti-Semitism as an identity issue when he gets acquainted with New York City’s American Anti-Defamation League (ADL). Rachel, by Simone Bitton, tells the story of American peace activist Rachel Corrie, who was killed in a 2003 attempt to prevent the destruction of houses in the Gaza Strip. In the France/Canada/Rwanda co-production, From Arusha to Arusha, director Christophe Gargot reflects on the long-term affects of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. Also from Canada, Richard Brouillette’s L’encerclement/Encirclement runs the gamut of analysis on neo-liberal ideology. Adventure-doc, Polamuang Juling/Citizen Juling, takes us through a divided Thailand with filmmaker Ing K and politician/human rights activist Kraisak Choonhavan, and from Japan, director Soda Kazuhiro’s Mental vividly depicts the prevalence of mental illness in Japan through examining a small outpatient mental health clinic. As a special screening, South African filmmaking collective, The Filmmakers Against Racism, will screen a series of four new short documentaries.

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