Behind The Screens: Docos outshine the rest in Berlin

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 Rubbings From A Live Man  directed by New Zealand based Florian Habicht. Photo / Supplied
Rubbings From A Live Man directed by New Zealand based Florian Habicht. Photo / Supplied

Before the beginning of the documentary The Bengali Detective, the producer made an announcement to the assembled media.

"Please stand up," he said. Everyone obliged.

"Now put one hand in the air."

Everyone did.

"Now the other." The bemused bunch of journalists did as he said. Then he laughed.

"OK, you can all sit down now. Thank you. That's just a little tradition we've got before you watch the film."

That routine was almost as cute as the film. The documentary, which was filmed in Calcutta, India, follows the employees and owner of Always Investigations.

"We do brand protection, murder investigation, pre- and post-marital affairs," the receptionist tells anyone who calls.

They also do a spot of Bollywood dancing. When not investigating the gruesome murder of three young men who were beaten and left hacked up on some train tracks, the detectives enter a televised dance contest.

And when they are not discovering torrid affairs and organising raids on warehouses filled with fake shampoos, they're practising their dance moves.

It's such a crowded, funny, colourful documentary that you can almost smell India - all burning tires and exotic spices - in the cinema.

Another documentary, Kampf die Koenigen, or the Battle of the Queens, takes theatregoers somewhere different altogether.

High in the Swiss Alps, there's a rumble going on. Every spring the breeders of the rare Eringer cows get together to establish which of their bovine beauties is the toughest.

The cows are led into a ring where they face off against one another, literally. Locking horns the bovine gladiators work out their natural ranking in the herd, much to the delight of their owners and around 10,000 spectators.

The winner is the cow that won't be pushed around.

The whole film is beautifully shot in black and white and while it concerns itself with the cow fights - the cows go by names like Diamond, Melancholy and Shakira ("did you see her dance?," the latter's breeder says, proudly) - the director also follows a trio of teenage boys looking out for the cute girl cow-breeder they spotted on Facebook, a geeky radio reporter who appears to have a little bit of a cow phobia and some of the earnest and enthusiastic Eringer owners, who should be giving lessons in innovative facial hair growth.

The documentaries, as one film critic noted recently, have generally been outstanding - especially, he noted, when compared to the percentage of good films that are actually in competition at the festival.

But wait there's more. A lot more. The film festival has definitely wound its cinematic tentacles around more of the German capital then you might think.

Potsdamer Platz is the centre for most of the festival activities. There are several cinema complexes here and the Berlinale Palast is actually a theatre transformed into one giant cinema for the event.

The neighbouring Grand Hyatt hotel hosts press conferences and a media centre and the Price Waterhouse office block houses a sort of rabbit warren of offices of the Festival staff (being organised and German though, all the doors are carefully numbered and named so you can find whomever you need).

A lot of the actors and film makers stay the in nearby hotels while the biggest stars tend to be accommodated the Hotel Adlon, a ten minute walk away - this is one of the oldest, poshest hotels in town, where heads of state and royalty also hang out. But of course, none of this is anything like the "real" Berlin.

The "real" Berlin seems to be into the movies this week too. One neighbourhood cinema chain ran all the Coen brothers movies, an art collective hosted a special showing of Skateistan, a documentary about a skate boarding school in Afghanistan, and there was a midnight screening of Casablanca for lovers.

Additionally Live!Ammunition! was an event open to all fledgling film makers. For five Euros they bought two minutes time, in which they could pitch their movie idea to a panel of film industry experts.

Apart from various other international visitors, New Zealand's very own Graeme Mason, CEO New Zealand Film Commission, was apparently also on the panel.

Also screening this week in Berlin was a film by New Zealand-based director Florian Habicht, maker of the films Kaikohe Demolition and Woodenhead.

Rubbings From A Live Man is "a documentary performed by, and based on, the life story of performance artist and director Warwick Broadhead" and it showed in a gallery, as part of an exhibition by New Zealand artists, in the depths of the ever-increasingly hip district Kreuzberg.

"Berlin is my birth city and I'd love to have a film in the official selection in the near future!," says an enthusiastic Habicht, who has just spent 18 months in New York but is now back home in New Zealand.

"Maybe my new project - a love story that we're editing at the moment."

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