Berlin & Beyond „From a Berlin-Boy with love"

Berlin & Beyond welcomes Tom Schilling.
Berlin & Beyond welcomes Tom Schilling. | © Barak Shrama

In the lull between the Golden Globes and the Oscars a German film festival by the Goethe-Institut in San Francisco is causing a stir: “Berlin & Beyond”, the festival for films from Germany, Austria and Switzerland, is turning twenty and celebrating with celebrity guests from Germany.

By Christiane Schulte

Anke Engelke is just one of the celebrity guests at Berlin & Beyond. The comedian, actor and university lecturer is surrounded by enthusiastic fans after being driven up to the Castro Theatre where her parent-teacher comedy Ms Müller Must Go will have its North American premier. “You speak English so well. Fantastic!” one visitor raves. The fans are mad about Engelke, they ask for selfies with the German comedy star and Anke Engelke patiently gives her all. Ms Müller may need to go, but Anke is staying put on the red carpet.

Anke Engelke is one of the celebrity guests at the Berlin & Beyond Festival in San Francisco. Anke Engelke is one of the celebrity guests at the Berlin & Beyond Festival in San Francisco. | © Barak Shrama Most of the other films at the festival are of a more serious nature with a focus on productions about xenophobia, displacement, violence and cybercrime. “We align the festival to issues that are socially relevant and reflect trends in European society,” explains Sabine Erlenwein, the director of the Goethe-Institut in San Francisco.

The programme therefore includes the hacking thriller Who Am I and the Berlin hit Oh Boy, which was renamed A Coffee in Berlin for American cinemas. The star of both films, Tom Schilling, is another German celebrity who came to the festival and is being celebrated by fans. Schilling also receives the festival’s Spotlight Award, which has gone to such actors as Hannelore Elsner and Mario Adorf in the past. The award ceremony is also taking place in legendary Castro Theatre, a cinema dating from 1920. “I’ve seen plenty of cinemas from the inside, but this is by far the most beautiful I’ve ever been in,” says Tom Schilling. “From a Berlin boy with love,” he writes on a film poster before leaving.

Innovations and new ideas

The famous city on the Pacific coast lives and breathes films. Many scenes in Alfred Hitchcock’s film Vertigo were shot on location in San Francisco as was the romance Harold and Maude. The legendary prison island Alcatraz alone has been the scene of countless classics such as Escape from Alcatraz with Clint Eastwood and Birdman of Alcatraz with Burt Lancaster.

But does German film have anything to say here? The discussion forum entitled Getting Radical looks at trends in German cinema for the twentieth anniversary of the festival. Is young German film getting more radical, are new production methods becoming prevalent? “Many young filmmakers just get to work without waiting for any film subsidies; they don’t want to be told what to do, but try out new ideas,” according to Christoph Gröner, film journalist and responsible for the German programme at the Munich Film Festival.

Tom Schilling is awarded with the Spotlight Award. Tom Schilling is awarded with the Spotlight Award. | © Barak Shrama And that’s the crux of the German film subsidies, says director Daniel Carsenty, whose first feature film After Spring Comes Fall was invited to the festival, clarifying, “If you’re radical, you won’t get funding, if you’re conventional you won’t either.” One of the biggest problems for German films is that you cannot really make much money with them or, as Tom Schilling adds, “German film doesn’t have the big, international market.”

Gaining a young audience

What most German films are lacking is American distribution. “At least two-thirds of the films in our programme don’t have US distributors,” bemoans Californian festival director Sophoan Sorn. This is why it is important to screen the new German films in the United States. “That’s what makes this festival unique.”

The German productions are greeted with great interest in San Francisco. Every year Berlin & Beyond reaches thousands of viewers; once again in 2016 the cinemas are full of viewers of all ages wanting to see the two dozen movies. Historic Castro Theatre offers pure cinematic pleasure: the odour of popcorn fills the air while heavy carpets muffle the guests’ footsteps.

The festival offers yet another highlight for young visitors in particular. The Goethe-Institut puts together a jury of pupils from the US, Mexico and Canada to vote on German films for the programme Youth 4 German Cinema. The young jury chooses the films Head Full of Honey and The Spiderwebhouse. Later, these movies will be shown to pupils all over northern California. Sabine Erlenwein considers this an important mission of Berlin & Beyond, and says, “We are thrilled when we can win over the young people for German films and the German language.”