Europe’s first major film festival of the year, the 67th Berlin International Film Festival, is slated to serve up a host of exciting premieres from celebrated directors and performers. Here are the five films that Jack Howard of the Berlin Film Society is anticipating most this year.
I Am Not Your Negro by Raoul Peck (2016)
Based on an unfinished manuscript by American writer James Baldwin and narrated by Samuel L. Jackson, I Am Not Your Negro is a documentary that explores the history of racism in the US and delves into Baldwin’s memories of his civil rights leader friends Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Medgar Evers. In the film, Haitian director Raoul Peck transforms Baldwin’s unpublished pages into a powerful poetic collage of archival footage from the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s.
The documentary, which took ten years to make, is a reflection of Baldwin’s experiences as an African-American in a largely intolerant society and is as relevant as ever in our current political climate. “Although it’ll no doubt get a good theatrical run, due to its recent Oscar nomination, I’m impatient and will certainly be queuing up for this as a much-needed cutting antidote to Trumpism,” says Howard.
Casting JonBenet by Kitty Green (2017)
“The unsolved death of six-year-old beauty queen JonBenet Ramsey is the starting point for this somewhat experimental documentary, which invites everyone in the girl’s Colorado hometown community who had contact with the Ramsey family to explore their interpretations of what happened,” explains Howard.
In the film, Australian director Kitty Green cleverly mixes a documentary approach with a fictional one in order to delve into the murder that preoccupied the American public for almost 20 years. “Provocative in nature, the film digs deep into the conspiracies that surround JonBenet’s murder whilst resisting the traditional documentary format, confusing reality, fiction and drama,” Howard adds.
Tiger Girl by Jakob Lass (2017)
“Jakob Lass first caught my attention with his low-budget second feature, Love Steaks, where his two lead actors were thrown into an actual hotel environment, with the hotel’s real personnel in all the supporting roles,” says Howard. “In his follow-up film, Tiger Girl, Lass continues to develop his own unique approach to filmmaking, with the lead actors again improvising many of the scenes, resulting in a fast-paced, docu-style that stands out.”
In Tiger Girl, the German filmmaker tells the story of Margarete–a woman training to become a security guard–who is rescued from an aggressive former colleague trying to take advantage of her by a tough cab driver, Tiger, played by German actress Ella Rumpf. The film follows the friendship that develops between the two women in Lass’ idiosyncratic style of speed and improvised dialogue.
Fluidø by Shu Lea Cheang (2017)
“The Berlinale is a great way to uncover rare new indie films that struggle to get mainstream distribution,” says Howard. “Fluidø might be one of those films—a dystopian adventure set in the post-AIDS future of 2060, where young men are hooked up to a system of cables and ordered to produce sperm for the production of pharmaceuticals that will dominate the market.”
Taiwanese multimedia artist and filmmaker Shu Lea Cheang first conceived the idea for Fluidø in 2000 at the Sundance Film Festival. Since then, the concept has evolved through various manifestations in the form of installations and performances. It wasn’t until 2012, after connecting with Berlin-based producer Jürgen Brüning, that she began producing the science fiction/dystopian film. The result is a category-defying experimental drama filled with bodies that blur genders and explores virus, governments, drugs and conspiracy.
Una Mujer Fantástica // A Fantastic Woman by Sebastián Lelio (2017)
“Chilean filmmaker Sebastián Lelio’s previous film, Gloria (2013), made waves at the 2014 Berlinale, winning a Silver Bear for actress Paulina Garcia and a nomination for Lelio himself,” says Howard. “Una Mujer Fantástica will no doubt cause a similar stir in this year’s Competition section.”
This time around Lelio returns to the Berlinale with a film that follows a transgender woman’s struggle to be herself and her right to grieve after her lover unexpectedly dies one night. Despite the deceased’s family having misgivings about Marina and her sexual identity, the film reveals the story of a strong woman overcoming adversity and refusing to back down.
Jack Howard is the founder and director of the Berlin Film Society.
Photography:© Jürgen Brüning Filmproduktion / J.Jackie Baier