Feb 6, 2013: ARRIVAL DAY!

I arrived in Berlin a day in advance of the opening of the Berlinale (that’s the pretty big deal film festival there) and accompanying film market feeling pretty confident that my experience in Cannes would prepare me for the experience.

After all, once you’ve been to the granddaddy of film conventions, you can handle anything, right? In a way, yes. I was totally right. Perhaps due to that much touted German precision, attention to detail and superior organization, this festival ticks like well oiled clockwork.

Unlike Cannes, the European Film Market (EFM for short) that’s hosted in Berlin doesn’t require quite as much elaborate “proof” that someone trying to register is, as they claim to be, a film industry professional. No letters of reference or lengthy CVs were required, and I managed to register in advance on the strength of the shiny new website for Ultra 8 Pictures (www.ultra8.ca) that Colin and I spruced up just in time for EFM.

Picking up our accreditation and info was simple, and the woman we dealt with actually handed us documents which explain how the market badge can be used and how those with festival accreditation (which is separate and costs a little bit extra) can pick up tickets to public screenings. No crystal balls required to comprehend the system here. If you want to see a public screening, you walk up to a clearly marked booth the day before, point to the title of your choice, and if it’s not totally sold out, you walk away happy, ticket in hand.

This year, Colin and I rented a small room in a shared apartment (think “hostel for adults”) that’s a five minute walk from the festival centre. Berlin is an amazing city and very much worth exploring, but we opted for convenience instead of grabbing a cooler, larger place to stay in nearby hip ‘hood, Mitte, where many of our friends are staying.

Remember when TIFF was centred almost exclusively around the Yorkville neighbourhood and when out of town pals would come in for the fest, all of us Torontonians would say things like “nobody actually hangs out here when it’s not TIFF time” or “I wish you could see another part of the city, it’s really way cooler than this”. That’s kind of the situation with the Berlinale, or at least the EFM, which is clustered around Potsdamer Platz, a modern, sky-scraper- y, business district with a futuristic town square and a bunch of fancy hotels. It’s right around where the old east/west divide used to be, and is pretty close to Checkpoint Charlie, which is historically interesting (and it’s certainly neat to be given directions to a cinema or hotel that include the words “turn right at the Berlin Wall”) but it’s not the prettiest part of Berlin. Alas, we’re not here to sightsee, are we?

After getting a whirlwind tour of the cinemas around Potsdamer Platz, and the two main hotels in which some of the larger companies hold offices (the Ritz and the Marriott), we settle in for some traditional Berlin dinner – a takeout container of Turkish doner. Turkish pizza and doner / kebab places are as plentiful around downtown Berlin as currywurst stands (Google it – sounds a bit gross, tastes delicious), which at least makes cheap snacks easy to find just about anywhere.

We do the wise thing on our first night and actually go to bed early in an effort to get some decent rest and speed up the jetlag recovery process. Unfortunately, this backfires and we end up wide awake by 5:00am. At least this results in some productive emailing time before the market opens at 9:00am and we can go for a tour of the booths.

Feb 7, 2013: DAY 1

The actual market – the place with all the booths filled with producers, distributors and sales agents eager to show you their cinematic wares – is housed in a beautiful old neo-rennaisance building that used to sit right on the east/west border, Martin-Gropius Bau. The building’s got a glass dome in its spacious central atrium which fills it with natural light and makes it feel like the totally polar opposite to the low-ceilinged and fluorescent-lit modern convention centre in which the Cannes market is housed. This joint definitely classes up the whole market experience. Colin is primarily here to scout for films that he might program for TIFF, his main gig. There are market screenings to attend, but the bulk of his time is actually spent meeting with producers, sales agents and distributors who will have stuff to show him in a few months, closer to his actual programming crunch time. For him, Berlin functions mostly to cut his Cannes work in half, because he’ll already know what’s coming up, who’s got promising contenders to show him, and what the ‘must sees’ of the Cannes market are going to be.

For me, this trip is all about meeting people and learning more about what it takes to produce feature films, which is the line of work I’m slowly transitioning into. I recently got involved with a feature by a super cool Canadian director, and I don’t want to mess up my first real opportunity to get into the game and produce something really interesting, so I am here to tag along to as many meetings as I can, hopefully have a few meetings of my own, soak up the atmosphere, and learn. It means I likely won’t see a lot of movies, but I’m starting to get the feeling that a lot of people who attend these markets don’t get to see a lot of films while they’re there.

The first day isn’t too meeting-heavy but we do walk around all the booths in the Martin-Gropius Bau to visit with anyone we didn’t manage to set up a meeting with inadvance. Some of them have time to chat on the spot, others pencil us in for later in the weekend. As with Cannes, the first three days are a mad rush, and then a lot of people pack up their bags and go. I’m here for the full ten days, but after the opening weekend the work will slow down, and by Wednesday it’ll practically be a ghost town, which means I might actually get a chance to see some films before we leave.

In the evening, I go to dinner with a small group of friends and colleagues to a restaurant called Henne, which serves the best fried chicken I’ve ever had. We follow it up with cool cocktails at a bar that used to be a Jewish girls’ school. There’s no sign outside, but inside, the atmosphere is relaxed, the music isn’t cranked so loud that we can’t talk, and the cocktails are incredible. The bartender turns out to be from Istanbul by way of Kamloops, and we bond over our immigrant Canadian-ness while she concocts an insane tequila cocktail with ginger, fennel, black pepper and vinegar. I know, it doesn’t sound like the most delicious thing you’ve ever had, but trust me, it is. The drinks are so good, we end up staying much later than intended. It’s only the first day of the market and I’m already going to bed after midnight. This doesn’t bode well for my fantastic