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Berlinale 2019: An Insider’s Guide to Getting Your Film Noticed

Day One: A rocky start for me. Learnt an important lesson – when Germans say 8:45pm, they mean 8:40pm not 9pm. I was the last one to enter and it was a sit down. Once I had suitably apologised, I looked around. 24 people from 24 different countries and all looked very impressive. As the evening progressed a realisation dawned – they were as excited and as clueless as me. I was going to fit right in.

Filmmaker Paakhi Tyrewala shares her experience at the Berlin International Film Festival 2019.
Day Two: 8:45am is the first session; I have taken my seat at 8:40pm. Our first session is with Dorothee Wenner, a member of the selection committee. If you don’t know who she is, you should. She is an expert on sub-Saharan Africa and India, making her the most powerful person in India when it comes to selections for Berlinale. Her recommendations are highly valued, so if you want to impress someone, it’s her.
She described Berlinale as sexy, edgy and aggressive and that’s pretty much what they are looking for in their films they select. I would personally add political.

To understand Berlinale, you must understand Berlin. They have a history of colonisation and Holocaust, which they are ashamed of, and the bringing down of the Berlin Wall that they are proud of. In World War II, they were ruined to the ground. They have been the aggressor and the victim. Post the war, Germany was divided into East and West. The line went through Berlin. One side was socialism and other democracy/capitalism. This is the closest America and Russia came to each other during the Cold War. Separated only by a line, and later a wall. This made Berlin politically progressive and charged but it also made then aggressive (not violent) and opinionated and I say that positively.

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How to Get Your Film Noticed at the Berlinale

This in turn gave Berlinale a political air it carries.

Germany desires to be the new leader of the free thinkers and those are the kind of filmmakers the festival wants to give a platform to.
So, if you are making a fairy tale, however good it is, you are likely to not get selected. On the other hand, if your film is dealing with issues that impact the world – feminism, fascism, racism, dictatorship, freedom of speech, female infanticide, homelessness, child abuse – basically any revolutionary idea, chances are you will be considered. Along with that, if it’s sexy edgy and aggressive, your chances go up.

It is also important for your film to be either a world premiere or an international premiere.
A world premiere is when the movie has not released anywhere. Gully Boy, for instance, has its world premiere at Berlinale 2019. An international premiere is when the movie has released in the home country but nowhere else. So, as a filmmaker, be very cautious of the festivals you debut your films at.

The Selection Process

You can choose to send in a blind entry, i.e. when you send your movie through without a box or freeway. Dorothy assured us that they watch every movie that is submitted. Some in the group were less convinced than other about that. In her defence, she did say they do not watch the entire movie. If it does not intrigue them in the first 30 minutes, they stop watching. Let’s assume it’s closer to 15 minutes then.

So, the first five minutes of the movie are extremely crucial – her words not mine.
Members of the selection committee also scout for movies round the year. In our case, that’s Dorothee. The entire group agreed that most of the films that get selected are through this route. Which means she comes to India, watches movies and networks with people who have attended the festivals. There have been instances where films get selected even before they are completed. Another name that came up for Indian selection process is film curator and critic Meenakshi Shedde.

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Now, let’s not get disappointed. Networking doesn’t always mean having to do the rounds of various parties to get yourself noticed by the right people. Sometimes it’s as simple as getting in touch over email and keeping them posted about your project at various stages.
If you feel intimidated doing all this by yourself, there is another way – festival agents. We have a few good ones in India and you can also choose to find yourself international agent.

My take: Do not waste your money on blind submissions. If you are going to get representation, get it at an earlier stage and do not wait for the film to be over. Best to keep in touch with the folks behind the Berlinale. All the information you need to do that is there on their website.

(Paakhi A. Tyrewala is a filmmaker who is part of a special delegation at the Berlin International Film Festival. She is sending special despatches on her experience at understanding the prestigious festival.)