Berlinale International Film Festival: Top Tips for Attending

This blog post is written by Courtney Harmstone, a recent graduate of the MA International Film Business. Since graduating, Courtney has worked in freelance production on a variety of projects in London and across the U.K.  Courtney is currently assisting the University of Exeter as a Marketing Assistant and working on the development of two feature films.

Berlinale International Film Festival is one of the world’s largest and most respected film festivals and film markets.  The festival takes place in February, in Berlin, Germany, and attracts over 16,000 industry professionals from 122 countries. What is the difference between Berlinale and your local festival?  Berlinale is a film festival that hosts world premieres of feature films and is also the hub of business at the European Film Market.  The European Film Market, EFM, attracts exhibitors and professionals from across the globe, and is hosted in the Martin Gropius Bau building close to the festival hub of Potsdamer Platz.

Students on our MA International Film Business take a field trip to the Berlinale in the second term of the programme. This blog entry will discuss the dos and don’ts of Berlinale, and provides some top tips on how to navigate your way around a Class A film festival!  As an MAIFB alumna, and having also attended the festival twice, here are my tips!

Categories:

  1. Accommodation and Travel around Berlin
  2. How to see Films at Berlinale
  3. Exploring the Martin Gropius Bau, European Film Market
  4. Networking 101
  5. The buddy system!
  6. Dress code
  7. Best way to get access: Never Say No to a Party
  8. What to Carry at all Times During Berlinale
  9. The Marriott or the Ritz: Fancy and Warm!
  10. Most importantly – how to relax!

 Accommodation and Travel:

Berlin is not a huge city, but it can be complicated if you have never been to Germany before this field trip.  When looking for a place to stay, try to secure a hotel room or Airbnb close to Potsdamer Platz.  This is the hub of the festival and you will not need to worry about transportation to the festival or classes during the field trip if you are close by.

Bear in mind, these hotels and Airbnbs are sought after and are often booked quickly.  Do not wait too long to book, or you may end up staying quite far away!

If you can’t afford or miss your chance to stay around Potsdamer, then try to stay close to the U Bahn – an extremely reliable and well maintained subway.  Purchase the metro pass for a week – it’s only 20 euros.  The U Bahn also runs 24 hours a day over the weekends!

On the U Bahn, unlike London, there are no barriers where you put your ticket through, and so it can be easy to forget to purchase a pass.  There are ticket booths as you enter every U Bahn and you can change the language easily.  Be warned: they will charge you 60 euros if you do not have a valid ticket, so do not forget to purchase one before boarding!

 

How to see films at Berlinale:

Berlinale is one the premiere festivals for a reason – the films screened go on to major success and critical acclaim, and the tickets are sought after.  During the festival, you will notice a few films that generate a lot of “buzz”. Keep an eye out in Screen International Daily to catch the top films from the day before.

Berlinale has a strict ticket policy. You need to be prepared, with a huge list of films, for when you attempt to purchase tickets.  You will most likely not get to see your top choice of films.  The challenge with ticketing is they are on sale three days for films in Berlinale and four days for competition.  You will need to queue three hours before the sale in the Arkaden (a shopping mall where you find the ticket booths).  Be prepared, be flexible and make a list of top priority films. If your top film is sold out, have a backup at the desk!

 

Exploring the Martin Gropius Bau, European Film Market:

The Martin Gropius Bau (MGB) building is a catacomb of industry professionals, from sales agents, to film commissioners promoting their tax incentives.  When you first arrive, is can be extremely overwhelming. It is a fury of activity, with people on their phones, ordering a quick coffee at the coffee stand, and rushing with huge folders to their next meetings.  The best thing to do is to take a step back and breathe.  You do not need to conquer the MGB in one day!

My advice?  Take a look at the floor map. Learn where the commissioners or sales agencies you are interested in are located and make your way through each room and check out their booths.  Moreover, if you find your home country commission, that can be the first step to meeting and networking with people at the festival.

Keep in mind, the first few days of the market are the busiest, so best to find the companies you want to approach and then wait until the Monday or Tuesday of the festival to approach the desk.

As students, it can be intimidating to approach the film commissioners – what do you say, how do you talk to them?

TOP TIP: when you approach the film commission, ask for information on their tax incentive programs or how they help independent producers in their country.  This opens up a discussion about what they can offer, and then you can drop in that you’re a student and want to learn more!

TOP TIP 2: If they’re rude about you being a student, don’t worry. Usually this is because the first few days of the festival are extremely busy.  If you want to speak to a stand, wait until Monday, when the business is mostly completed.

 

Networking 101:

The festival is extremely busy and most people attending will only be around for three days (the first weekend).  Don’t let this discourage you from approaching industry members, but also don’t be offended if they can’t meet.

TOP TIP: Ask them for their business card and ask if you can email them after the festival.  This not only shows you respect that they are extremely busy and working, but also when you do email, that you follow through.

TOP TIP 2: Order business cards for the festival.  Put your name, your phone number and email.  You don’t need to put a title, but if you want to have one, put “Filmmaker”.  Moo.co.uk is a great resource for inexpensive business cards.

 

The Buddy System:

 Choosing one person to travel through the market with you not only gives you flexibility of movement, but also a safety net, if you feel nervous.  The best way to make connections is to be confident and speak to people.  If it is just two of you, you can really target the stalls you want to visit and spend the maximum time at them.  If you are in a large group, it can be difficult if you are in a huge group.  Moreover, if you are in a huge group, you may overwhelm the industry member.  While there are some bigger stalls, most of them are rather small and intimate!

 

Dress Code:

While this could seem superfluous, it can complicated to know how to dress for a festival.  While Sundance is generally après Ski (after ski, so lots of cute sweaters and warm boots), and Cannes is very glamorous, Berlinale is very much a “dark colour” festival. Black coats, black shoes, black shirts or dresses.  I would describe Berlinale dress code as “business casual”. Maybe a suit jacket for men, but no tie.

TOP TIP: Dress to impress, but don’t overdo it.  You want to look smart, not flashy.  Would you feel confident in someone who doesn’t present themselves well? You don’t have to have a beauty stylist on the side, but try to look nice and polished.

 

Best Way to Get Access: Never Say No to a Party:

If you get invited, definitely go. This is very important. Parties are where you make the best connections; people are calm, not running around, and almost all will have had a drink or two.  If you want to talk to an industry professional and they too busy during the day, try to catch them at an event.

That being said, always hang out at the MGB for happy hours (you don’t need to drink alcohol). These happy hours are hosted by different film commissioners and they are great opportunities to meet and mingle with people who can maybe help you in the future.  Plus, you never know who you’re going to meet! Be friendly, open and don’t be shy – everyone knows what it’s like to attend a market for the first time. If they’re rude, then they’re not worth talking to – usually these types of people won’t have anything to offer you anyway.

 

What to carry at all times during Berlinale:

Berlinale festival locations are strict with the size of bags you can bring into the buildings.  The festival provides a bag when you pick up your accreditation – my recommendation is to use this bag to carry your papers, magazines, and wallet throughout the festival. They are usually quite stylish and the right size!

Never leave your badge/accreditation at home.  While it may seem silly, the festival is extremely strict with entry. No badge, no entry.

 

The Marriott or the Ritz: Fancy and Warm!

Need a break from the hustle and bustle of the MGB or the market?  Take a break at either the Ritz Carlton Hotel lobby or the Marriott.  Order a fancy coffee (albeit, an overpriced one), sit down and observe. The Marriott and the Ritz are festival locations, with business meetings and interesting people hanging around.  Grab a seat, listen to conversations around you and offer up your surrounding seats. Again, you never know who you’re going to meet!

 

Have fun!

My most crucial and final tip!  Have fun. Relax. You are students exploring a market, most likely for the first time!  Have goals in mind for the future, but do not stress yourself trying to achieve these goals. You are here to learn and experience.   My main suggestion is to take your time, get to know people, make contacts, and then build the relationship over the time until you turn in your dissertation. Then hit them hard with what you want!

Written by Courtney Harmstone, alumni of the MAIFB and Film Producer

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