The Small Screen The Other Berlinale

The Berlinale is a prominent showcase for big directors and red carpets. But a few kilometers away in a less glamorous section of Berlin, an alternative film festival is stealing viewers with politically charged short films and an edgy atmosphere.
Underground action: Viewers in the former bordello that housed this year's Boddinale in Berlin.

While most of Berlin was focused for two weeks on the Berlinale, the big annual film festival, a smaller, edgier competition was stealing headlines.

Six kilometers from the Berlinale's red carpet at the Sony Center on the Tiergarten, the alternative Boddinale film festival was entering its third year. The rival event's credo: Give independent film directors a prominent stage.

The setting could not be more different than the glitzy Berlinale, which is held at Berlin's sleek Potsdamer Platz near the Tiergarten central park.

In the cellar of a dilapidated building that used to be a bordello on Boddinstrasse in the hip Neukölln district, viewers in dark streetwear sat on old Persian carpets and discarded car seats, sipping Berliner Pilsner beer, whose television commercial gave Berlin its unofficial song anthem.

Smoking was not banned, but encouraged, and most of those at the Boddinale twisted roll-your-own cigarettes along with the directors.

This year, 87 directors showed films on six screens at the former bordello, which had to expand to a gallery across the street to accomodate the large crowds, the biggest in the three-year history of the underground festival.

One of the festival's founders, Gianluca Baccanico, a self-described "neo-Kantian philosopher of the Internet,'' said the event attracted more than 3,000 people this year, almost double the number of the year before.

“The festival lives off its communal feel,'' Mr. Baccanico told Handelsblatt Global Edition. "Directors, all of whom are Berlin-based, explain their films after each screening. It is this that attracts the crowds. The feeling that this could be your neighbor.”




Even though some German media have cast the Boddinale as an “anti-movement” to the Berlinale, the founders reject the comparison.

“It is not a counter movement. We just wanted to give independent directors visibility. When we started, we had no idea that we would be compared to the Berlinale,” Mr. Baccanico said.

The festival is held at the same time as the Berlinale. Unlike its larger, world-famous cousin with the upscale address in Berlin-Mitte, the Boddinale this year had a budget of only €900 (US$ 1000).

The budget for the Berlinale this year was €22 million.

Mr. Baccanico defended the quality of films showed at the smaller festival, saying “only 10 percent of what we showed this year is amateurish and very experimental.”

Viewers also seemed impressed by the quality of the films, which ran from a minute up to an hour and a half long.

David, a 31-year-old Berliner, said, he thought "three out of the five films" he saw were "surprisingly good both technically and content-wise."

While Berlinale advertises itself as a film festival "for the people," the Boddinale embodies this notion in its dress-down style and tickets, which are free.

On Saturday, screenings included an endearing short film called "Chaja and Mimi" by Eric Esser about two Jewish ladies who escaped Nazi Germany in 1934. Today the two ladies, still best friends, live in Tel Aviv.

The film focused on their difficult relationship with Berlin, their former home town. Asked if they would ever move back, the two ladies answer "Never!" in unison. Their attachment to Israel, the place that gave them a sense of belonging, has become too strong.




Germany's Nazi past and relationship to Israel was a recurring theme in this year's festival.

"The community of Israeli expats grew significantly in the last years here in Neukölln and we hosted quite a few artists originally from Israel here," Mr. Baccanito explained.

Given that directors had to be Berlin residents, many of the films had Berlin as their subject matter.

The short film "Poser'' by Kuesti Fraun playfully deciphers what makes a Berlin native a true "Berliner,''  which involves being annoyed at another Berliner, and not afraid to show it.  Two men sitting in a car get irritated when someone they don't know starts making faces at them outside the car window. Laconically, they comment on the fact that Berlin is full of lunatics.

The camera pulls back in the final shot of the film to reveal that the two complainers in the car realize that this whole time they are parked in a no-parking zone. The film evokes in the viewer a familiar Berlin trait: a sense of Schadenfreude.

At the end of the festival, this year's winner of the Boddinale's best film award went to a filmmaking duo of transplanted Israelis.

In "Jerusalem for Cowards," Dalia Castel and Orit Nahmias, who now live in Berlin, said they do not want to be known as "cowards" in Israel for leaving Jerusalem. They said their film was for everyone who "once left a place and sometimes misses it."


Sarah Mewes is an editor at Handelsblatt Global Edition in Berlin. She studied social sciences and cultural studies at Goldmiths, London. To contact the author: [email protected]