Feb 10, 2013: DAY 4

One of the things that I find fascinating about festival culture is that the people who come to “do business” (that is, not just to watch films all day) never seem to take time off, unless you count the industry parties that everyone finds themselves at in the evening. Colin and I found a brief window in our Sunday schedule to visit a crazy flea market and go shopping for antiques and junk. We saw some awesome stuff, bought a candleholder, and even though we were only gone for two hours, I felt really refreshed afterwards.

When I returned to the hustle of the market and told people about my mini-break, the most common reaction was “oh, I wish I could do that …” And, the thing is, a few of the sales agents, publicists, distributors, and other buyers and sellers really can’t take that sort of break, because they’re in their booths or makeshift offices by 8:00am and back in their hotels ready to crash by 10:00pm with no real breaks in between. Their jobs are exhausting and hats off to them for having the stamina. The rest of the participants, on the other hand, simply don’t allow themselves to take a moment off. You can see the frenzy in their eyes by day three, and it’s a wonder they haven’t had a breakdown by about the midway point.

Here’s my pro tip to those who want to “do” a market – aspiring producers, budding programmers, first time filmmakers, and the rest of us who haven’t done it a million times and are still excited about every single aspect of a huge event like this: take breaks. Don’t schedule meetings at every half hour increment all day. Don’t forget to eat breakfast, survive on party hors d’oeuvres and schedule meetings at every half hour increment all day. Don’t schedule your flights so that you don’t even have half a day to recover from jetlag at the start of your trip or relax at the end, no matter how much time or money you are trying to save. It’s a bummer to talk to people who’ve been attending Cannes for a decade and have never dipped a toe in the Mediterranean, and it’s even more tragic to visit a city with as much history and beauty as Berlin and never leave Potsdamer Platz.

Not only will you not miss anything crucial (or even particularly important) if you take a break, but when you tell people that you took an hour to check out a gallery or stroll by the river, they’ll look at you with a kind of envy in their eyes that says “wow, this person’s really figured out how to do it right”.

Feb 11, 2013: DAY 5

Monday is just as full of meetings as any other day here, but I’m forcing it to be my “tipping point” day, where I actually start watching movies and don’t spend all my time just having coffees with people and talking about projects, either theirs or ours.

I attend a whopping two screenings, both in the market. The first is an as-yet-unfinished, super fun genre pic from the US, for which I had to wrangle an invitation from the sales company, because the screening is on total lockdown for festival programmers and buyers only. No one’s allowed to talk or tweet about it, so I won’t say anything more here, except that it was pretty damn fun.

All kinds of films screen in the market – some that are completed and looking for sales or distribution help, or hoping to be selected for a festival premiere, others that have already had a festival run but haven’t yet been sold for distribution, or are looking for distributors in certain territories, and others that aren’t “festival titles” and don’t have aspirations to have a big premiere in Toronto or Sundance, but still want to be sold to a distributor who can put the film out on DVD, for example.

The variety is huge, and the quality can’t be judged as though they were all comparable, because they really aren’t. A modest genre title that’s aiming for a simple DVD release isn’t in the same league as a major, big budget festival title, and it’s really quite nice to be able to see both kinds of films, not only because the variety is fun but also because it’s useful to know what kinds of films are being made, and what the big sellers are that you’ll never see coming to a big Cineplex or festival near you.

At my first market screening, I run into a Canadian pal and get talked into seeing a German action film called Guardians, featuring German action superstar Til Schweiger, who not only stars in the film but also wrote, directed and produced it.

The film is having its public premiere at the Berlinale so it’s a bit safer to talk about. The film looks slick and was obviously very high budget, but I leave thinking that maybe Schweiger should have left one of those jobs to someone else, because in spite of the fun fight and chase sequences, it includes way too many slow dramatic scenes, and is at least half an hour too long.

After Guardians, I realize that I’m so exhausted after three days of running around from dawn till dusk that if I don’t eat some dinner and get the hell to bed at a reasonable hour, this day won’t only mark the tipping point of me starting to see movies, it’ll also mark the tipping point where I fall victim to the vicious colds and flus (and horrible sounding stomach bugs!) that have been ruining other people’s Berlin experiences all around me.

With a heavy heart, I decide to skip the Estonian reception (which I was looking forward to because I met so many awesome people when I attended the Black Nights film fest in Tallinn in December) as well as the Korean one. Instead, I get some pretty good pasta with a couple of friends and then trudge off to the apartment. I’m in bed by 10:00pm, but end up answering emails and confirming meetings until 1:00am. I guess my “go to bed early” plan was about 50% successful.