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Berlinale Bloggers 2019
Broken at the Berlinale

Navigating the 2019 Berlinale on crutches.
Navigating the 2019 Berlinale on crutches. | © Sarah Ward

Cognisant of her every move due to a broken ankle, Sarah Ward had to navigate the 2019 Berlinale on crutches. So how did she fare?

By Sarah Ward

When Agnes Varda describes your life, you listen. Discussing a sequence from her seminal sophomore film Cleo from 5 to 7 in her new autobiographical documentary Varda by Agnes, the iconic French filmmaker explains how her 1962 protagonist walks down ten steps, and how Varda chose to film and display each — never cutting away or truncating the sequence. She wanted to give an accurate sense of the experience, she notes, and of the time it takes. It’s a small touch, but a meaningful one; here, with no shortcuts, descending a set of stairs takes the time that it takes.

Counting Steps

At the Berlinale this year, I’m also counting steps. My attempts to walk — up and down stairs, and in general — also take the time that it takes. That may seem obvious; however there’s no rushing or shortcuts or mindlessly flitting from one place to another on autopilot. With one broken ankle, another sprained foot, a moon boot, the use of crutches and sometimes a wheelchair, I’m cognisant of every move I need to make to see every movie. That includes every single step, every cautious effort on the stairs when they’re absolutely necessary, every flight avoided by elevator when and where I can, and every kind person.
Navigating the 2019 Berlinale on crutches.© Sarah Ward
While I mightn’t recommend travelling across the world with an injury that severely impacts your mobility, then attending one of the biggest film festivals in the world, here I am — and, thankfully, it’s an achievable task at a highly accessible event. Everything just takes more time and requires more planning; however, since my injury, I’ve been joking about being in the best line of work for such a malady. When I’m sitting, watching and writing at the Berlinale, that largely proves true.

The Kindness of Strangers

Before Agnes Varda so eloquently encapsulated my situation, another Berlinale inclusion did as well. Announced long before my broken ankle, opening night’s The Kindness of Strangers couldn’t have a more fitting title. In Lone Scherfig’s wistful drama, the term encapsulates a motley crew of downtrodden souls coalescing around a New York restaurant. For me, while I don’t need help of strangers, the phrase applies to everyone who holds a door or a lift, doesn’t push past or cut me off, isn’t visibly or audibly angered at my slower pace, and understands that my predicament is more frustrating for me than anyone else.
Navigating the 2019 Berlinale on crutches.© Sarah Ward
If another film has struck a chord in my situation, it’s one featuring something that I can’t do easily: walk. Casey Affleck’s Light of My Life serves up a blend of Leave No Trace, Children of Men and The Handmaid’s Tale, but it’s primarily an exploration of parenting — of the steps a father takes when his teenage daughter, the only known woman left in dystopian times, needs to become her own person. The duo spends much of the movie trekking to find safety, and cementing their bond along the way. Walking and chatting — and doing anything else, really — is near impossible on crutches, but my injury has left me with a renewed bond to Berlinale. If I can navigate this festival in a barely mobile state, then I clearly just can’t keep away

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