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Berlin International Film Festival

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Photo by: Max Kullmann

 

The seemingly never ending countdown was finally coming to a close. The suitcases were filling and the below freezing weather clothes bought. All the emails, full of plans, had been exchanged. Now it was time to get on a plane for twelve hours and start my newest adventure.

Last February, I had the opportunity to travel across the globe to be part of the youth jury of the Berlin International Film Festival, one of the top three film festivals in the world, the other two being Cannes Film Festival and Venice Film Festival. Six other 14 to 18 year olds and I watched sixteen feature films and thirteen short films that were part of the Generation 14plus competition.

The Generation 14plus program is a section of the film festival made for young adults, age 14 and up. The films in this category always feature protagonists that are in the same age group as target audience.

The first day rolled around quickly and nerves started taking over my body. I was worried about everything, as I always am, and I thought I was unprepared. My responsibility did not start until that evening, so my mom and I used the day to try and get rid of our jet lag as quickly as possible, as well as to explore the city.

We took a stroll through the city and arrived at the House of World Cultures, where I would be spending most of my time. The building was beautiful and the Generation Program was advertised all throughout it.

In the foyer, I met with one of the jury supervisors, Natalia, who was going to catch me up on what I missed in an earlier informational meeting. I received a stylish backpack from the festival, a bag from the Generation Program, some festival chocolate and a Generation notebook. Along with that, I received a whole lot of information.

While talking to her, the other jury members slowly started arriving and hugging each other. Their greetings were so friendly and knowing that, I thought, “Oh no, they all already know each other and I am going to be the odd one out in this group.”

However, I soon learned that they had only met once and they were all just very friendly and open people. They quickly showed me the same kindness and instantly pulled me into their conversation. I did not feel left out or out of place for a second. I knew that these were people I would grow close to in this short time, and I’d have a hard time saying bye to when it was time to return home.

Wearing our orange badges around our necks, we walk into the theater and are led straight to the seats reserved with red rope. We have a couple minutes to sit and get to know each other better before we are called on stage to get introduced to the audience. Smiling, we stand in a line with an awkward gap between each of us. Getting off the stage as quickly as possible, we sit back down and watch the first film.

When the film ends we take a secret exit, which we would be using every time over the next couple days. Entering our room again, we decide that we want to have a short discussion about the film we just watched, even though it was not part of the competition.

On my way to the first film of the actual competition, I stop by my aunt’s to say hi and talk to her for a bit. From there, I head to the Zoo Palast Theater and wait outside for the others to arrive. We always plan to meet half an hour before the film since the film is unable to start until we are all present. We want to have a bit of a buffer in case things go wrong, which they constantly did.

As we watch the first film, “Mulher du Pai”, we are all vigorously taking notes making sure we do the best job we can in our new position. During the discussion, we use these notes to deconstruct the film to look at the simplest details. It takes us over an hour to discuss a single film.

The second and last film for day one was a film from England called Butterfly Kisses. Walking out of Butterfly Kisses, and keeping our mouth shut until we were in our jury room is especially hard since this film left us all with some sort of strong reaction. It brings many interesting opinions and discussions to the table. We have different views on how we saw the film and the arguments start to get more, and more intense.

At first, it is intimidating to state my opinion about some very sensitive topics and how they were portrayed in the film to a group of six strangers. However, I feel the energy in the room and I know that this is not a place where I will be judged. This is a place where being open with one another is the best way of completing our task.

The two films we watched on the second day presented us with surprising new reactions and everyone got a chance to put in a new and interesting perspective. This is the second night that we fill out a current ranking sheet, but the first night that we start to have an inner struggle deciding how to place these four films.

On Monday, we start our day with a one and a half hour block of short films, and then watch two more feature films after that. Once the last film is finished, we discuss the last two films we watched, but we have all gotten better at keeping our thoughts concise. Our discussions are straight to the point and are a lot shorter.

After finishing these discussions, we all take some time to go to the bathroom and change into something more festive since we still have a party to get to. This is the party for the Generation section of the Berlinale and it will be filled with people working for the festival, or on films in the festival. However, we have been given clear instructions not to talk to the film teams since that might create an unwanted bias when coming to a final decision.

We start our night sitting in the outside area of the club that they had rented, dancing to a little music coming from a speaker we brought. After a while, we decide we want to go into the club and dance on the dance floor.
Nobody is on the dance floor so it’s just the seven of us dancing together and having the time of our life. We do not care who is watching, and slowly more and more people start to join. At one point, we see a girl who starred in one of the films we had watched and she starts dancing with us as well.

Eventually, all seven of us even squish into a photobooth in hopes to capture cute memories.. However, all you can see is the face of one guy and a bunch of faces around him.

The next couple of days, we spend each waking hour watching three to four films a day and then intensely discussing them after. Each night, filling out the ranking sheet gets harder and harder as each film brings a new story and a different form of art to consider.

Each night we are served a nice dinner that we eat while chatting about our lives and getting to know each other better. Sometimes when we have extra time, we go exploring outside the building and find good places to stand together and dance to stay warm.

Our discussions also get more intense as we grow closer to one another and feel comfortable disagreeing and arguing. We also start having a wide variety of inside jokes that were always there to lighten the mood after discussing a serious topic.

Thursday is our last day of watching films, four films that strongly ended the week. Walking out of the theater one last time had us all silent in sadness. This was the second to last time we were able to dance to the film festival’s introduction.

After discussing the last film, we take one last break where we go outside into the freezing cold and dance our hearts out. Then we get back to work knowing that it is time to come to a decision of which film should win the Crystal Bear for best Feature Film. We had already decided the Crystal Bear for best Short Film on Tuesday after watching the second half of the short films. As well as this, we had to decide the runner up for each category.

Around 12:30 a.m. we come to a decision after heavy discussion and convincing. Once the decision is made, we take our speaker outside again and have a celebratory dance party.

However, we still have the hardest part ahead of us. We still have to write the reasoning for why each of these films were getting the award we had chosen it for. These will be what we said on stage Friday night, at the awards ceremony. Around 3:30 a.m., we finally decide we are satisfied with what we had written.

The next day, we meet again at 2:30 p.m. to write a jury statement and then practice giving the speeches. There are two Crystal Bears that have to be given to the winners as well as four certificates stating that they won, or got runner up. We also all still have to sign these certificates.

At around 5:30 p.m., we go to the bathroom to start getting ready,and put on our fancy outfits. The award ceremony starts at 7 p.m. and we all have multiple friends and family members coming to watch us present the awards. After the awards are given, the winning short film and the winning feature film will be shown again.

The feature film we chose as the winner was the film Butterfly Kisses. It stayed in our minds all week, and we are very anxious to see how the audience will react to this film. Will they have the same feelings about it as us? Will they also be stunned to silence?

Nervously sitting in our seats, we watch the beginning of the award ceremony. As our names are called one by one we are summoned on stage again. This time, we all know each other and the awkward gap that we had left between us that first night is now completely gone.
We present the awards one by one, giving each winner a chance to say a few words and hugging some of the film crew members. We are then also presented with flowers ourselves and stand on that stage, arm in arm, laughing and proud of what we accomplished.

Watching the film again we notice many things we had not noticed the first time, and we know what was coming next. When the intense parts come, we look away or grab another jury member’s hand for support.

After the film, we go back to our discussion room one last time and say goodbye to one another. For them it is, “see you in a week when we have our last meeting” but for me it is “I will hopefully see you in the summer when I visit”. Even though we have only known each other for a week, it has changed each one of us and we have a bond that we would never have with another person. I know I will stay close to these people and always remember them.

Even now, two months later, we still text each other about life, film suggestions, and about anything that reminds us of that incredible week we shared.