Squeezed between the Golden Globes and the Oscars, the Berlinale may not attract the same attention from American audiences that it should. But if you really want to know what is going on in the world today, take a look at many of the films showcased in Berlin, and try watching this year's winner of not only the Golden Bear but also Best Actor and Best Actress in Berlin, Nader And Simin, A Separation, written and directed by Asghar Farhadi, who had to clear himself before the Iranian authorities as to not risk the troubles that his banned colleague, filmmaker, Jafar Panahi has experienced.
This is a tale of generations, of class separations, and of gender, both physically and psychologically trapped, damaged and unfairly judged. It is about a future generation which dies before it is born. It is also about a longing for freedom and a better life.
Yes, film can be about pure entertainment, and the opening film, True Grit is Hollywood and the Coen brothers in true big screen excellence. But one way for us to travel and experience what our fellow human beings are going through, is through cinema. Berlin highlights these kinds of films. The festival stands out as an intelligent alternative to other festivals which are more focused in the glitz. And what goes on behind the scenes at the market is also very revealing in terms of how cinema is evolving.
One of the more troubling discussions I participated in concerned state funding for European films, which in many countries have recently been winning a bigger market share than ever before, yet both MEDIA and the UK Film Council are virtually disappearing (the UK Film Council is going out with a last laugh before they disappear as they helped fund one final film, Phyllida Lloyd's Thatcher starring Meryl Streep) and other state funded entities are being drastically cut back. Many smaller production companies financing some of the best and most daring films, many of them co-productions will no longer exist. (The late Jack Valenti once told me co-production was a "European" term-guess he had forgotten about how all that foreign soft money also helps line the budgets of Hollywood films).
But, on a positive note, even as Europe absorbed the cuts, the rest of the world was in the midst of a revolution. At the star and money-studded, Cinema for Peace dinner, producer and filmmaker, Julie Bergman Sender said that, "...an Egyptian actor -- who actually appeared in the film Fair Game with Sean Penn -- arrived just off the plane from Cairo to talk about the 17 days he spent on the ground. At the end he said the whole thing had been like a dream and now he wished for all of us to dream with him...". Sender's film, Harmony, about global environmental and economic sustainability that we made in partnership with HRH The Prince of Wales (Prince Charles) won a Green Award -- Sean Penn was honored for his humanitarian work in Haiti. The other Green awards were given to a biography of Jane Goodall focusing on her environmental work with young people.
The beat goes on, and Cinema will accompany humanity as we move into a new reality, documenting and sharing experiences around the world.