The Berlin Film Festival is a challenge. Actually, any normal film festival is a challenge. Attending the rather select (and often limited) New York Film Festival as my first major metropolitan festival clearly spoiled me; in a place like Berlin, when presented with a multitude of titles and filmmakers and even countries I've never heard of, I get panicky. Am I really this ignorant of world cinema? Is distribution so bad that this many worthy films can be made and go unseen, unknown by film lovers? Or—an even worse thought—can so many films be made each year that are so undistinguished that they simply are never to be seen again, with just cause? At any rate, even more than Toronto, the two film festivals I've been to in Berlin seem to proudly avoid big name premieres (though what I consider a big name may be different from others' considerations), at the same time catering to a knowledge of cinema that must only exist amongst the most avid and tenacious of festival trackers, international travelers, and those poor people who have to watch thousands of movies in order to decide which, if any, will be financially beneficial to them. There are a lot of movies here.
But this is not a complaint against Berlin Film Festival programming (although last year's festival was indeed weakly populated with what I hesitate to call solid cinema), or even large festival programming in general. Rather, a festival like Berlin requires from someone like me a rather thrilling series of gambling acts. Poring over the festival press and public schedule the night before screenings with my friends, checking and counter-checking allusive, agrammatical, and often flat out fraudulent film descriptions, trying to fit in a screening of anything that sounds vaguely interesting or randy, or that comes from a country whose cinema I feel a kinship to, and piecing together these massively compressed stretches of time into a jigsaw puzzle of anonymity and risk (risk of time, of fatigue, of intelligence, of cinema, of life) is a one of a kind experience. And one that certainly can be as rewarding as it is despairing. (Last year I saw six films my first day, not one worth writing about, and though that didn't stop me then, it might this year.)
Really, though, as you may have noted, I have nothing specific or new to say about the 2009 Berlin Film Festival. I just needed an excuse to introduce the fact we'll be covering it here on The Notebook. Please have some patience during the first few days of the festival, as we struggle to find the time, the words, the right films, and, finally, the free WiFi (so hard to find!) to bring you some decent coverage.