Dr Will Higbee, Senior Lecturer in French, Director of Programmes (Film) and Deputy Director of the Humanities Graduate School, is currently at the Berlinale, the Berlin International Film Festival.
The end of a very exciting first day at the Berlinale; after sorting out the all-important accreditation badge and trying desperately to pick up tickets for some of the day’s screenings – most tickets for badge holders are snapped up first thing in the morning or booked the day before – I headed off to the Sony Centre for meetings with Ben Gibson, Director of the London Film School (LFS). Here at the Berlinale, the LFS are key collaborators in ‘Making Waves’: a MEDIA funded initiative that brings together students from film schools across Europe to participate in workshops with industry professionals, focusing on emerging strategies in distribution and exhibition.
During the course of the morning, I met Lizzie Francke, Senior Development & Production Executive at the BFI’s Film Fund and executive producer of André Singer’s documentary Night Will Fall (2013). Singer’s film, which is being premiered at the Berlinale, explores a ‘missing’ film by Alfred Hitchcock. In 1945, Hitchcock was approached to edit a documentary on German wartime atrocities, based on the footage of the recently liberated concentration camps shot by British and Soviet film units. Legend has it that when Hitchcock first saw the footage from the camps that would form the basis for his documentary, he was so traumatised that he stayed away from Pinewood Studios for a week. Singer’s documentary explores the political reasons why this sobering and at times distressing documentary was quickly shelved and retraces the story of the unfinished film that became known as the ‘missing Hitchcock’.
In the afternoon I moved on with colleagues from the LFS to the European Film Market: the business end of the Berlinale. This is one of the places that students on our MA International Film Business will visit on their field trip to the festival next year and is an excellent introduction to the importance of the international festival as a key hub for producers, distributors and exhibitors. The visit to the European Film Market will allow our students to begin to see how what they are learning on the MA is applied to the real world of the international film business. It will also provide them with unique and exciting networking opportunities with producers, directors and industry executives, as well as the chance to make professional contacts that could prove useful for final dissertation projects.
Finally, I went to my first film of the Berlinale, Casse / Scrapyard (2013) by a young French director called Nadège Trebal (a director whom I must admit I’d not heard of before today). The film is an observational documentary that takes place in a scrapyard on the outskirts of Marseilles, where people search for car parts to repair cars. I was intrigued by how the director would treat the film’s quirky subject matter and dutifully queued with other festival-goers at the Cinemax, hoping to snap up one of the few remaining tickets to the screening. There was no way, I told myself, that I was going to let my first day at the Berlinale pass without seeing one of the films selected for the festival. My patience in line was rewarded with a highly original, beautifully shot and totally engrossing documentary. At times, Trebal’s approach to the subjects of her film made me think of the work by the legendary French director Agnès Varda, for the way that it respectfully gave space and a voice to members of French society who are too-often marginalized, while creating cinematic beauty from something as mundane as removing the spark plugs from a car engine. The film also offered an eloquent statement on experiences of immigration and integration in France by simply allowing its working-class (and for the most part immigrant) protagonists the space to tell their stories while working in the scrapyard. Trebal seems to have a rare talent for opening up a genuine dialogue with those before the camera, and responded in an equally generous fashion to questions after the screening. In the end the Q&A ran for almost 45 minutes – a clear indication of the enthusiasm for the film amongst the audience. The unexpected find of the festival? Maybe I’m letting a fantastic end to my first day at the Berlinale impair my critical judgment. (I don’t think so). I’m certainly looking forward to seeing where this talented young French filmmaker goes next.