It seems strange this year that the awards season is pretty much done and dusted before the Berlin Film Festival kicks off. Often in the past, actors and directors were able to speak of their Oscar nominations and at times the nominations actually came in during the festival. I’ll never forget interviewing Spike Lee for Malcolm X just as the nominations came through and he was clearly upset that he missed out when his film failed to be nominated in the Best Film and Directing categories. It made for a good story.
This year, there is no Oscar talent in sight apart from Icelandic musician Hildur Guonadottir, who won for best score for Joker and she will give a masterclass in the Berlinale Talents section. In that same section Cate Blanchett will take part in a panel focusing on “senses of belonging that go beyond national narratives” before Stateless, the series she co-created, executive-produced and appears in, which premieres at the end of the second week – just in time for the series’ Australian launch on the ABC on March 1. The six-part series focuses on four strangers in an immigration detention centre in the Australian desert and stars Yvonne Strahovski, Jai Courtney, Asher Keddie and Fayssal Bazzi.
Other big names attending the Berlinale include Simon Baker, Jack Thompson and Aaron Pedersen for the world premiere of Stephen Maxwell Johnson’s High Ground, which has been given a major weekend berth and screening out of competition in Berlinale Special. In the same section, Sigourney Weaver and Margaret Qualley will attend for the opening film, My Salinger Year, the story of a young writer who gets hired as an assistant to the literary agent of J.D. Salinger in New York in the ‘90s. The Canada/Ireland production is directed by Philippe Falardeau, who was Oscar-nominated for Monsieur Lazhar.
Then there’s Minamata starring Johnny Depp as celebrated war photographer W. Eugene Smith in a real life David vs Goliath story, pitting Smith against a powerful corporation responsible for poisoning the people of Minamata, Japan in 1971. Of course, Hillary Clinton comes from Sundance to talk up Nanette Burstein’s mini-series Hillary and hopefully she will share her views on Donald Trump to whom she lost the 2016 election.
Only the director will attend for Pixar’s Onward featuring the voice of Julia-Louis Dreyfus who is coming first to local cinemas in Downhill. Polish filmmaker Agnieszka Holland, whose 2019 Berlin entry Mr Jones (starring 007 hopeful James Norton, though I have my money on Richard Madden for that), will premiere her latest feature, Charlatan, a real life tale spanning two World Wars focusing on Czech healer Jan Mikolášek, who dedicated his life to treat the sick using medicinal plants.
As for the competition, Javier Bardem and Elle Fanning will play father and daughter in Sally Potter’s The Roads Not Taken and major German star Nina Hoss (I always think of her as Germany’s Cate Blanchett) stars in the Swiss entry My Little Sister. Paula Beer and Franz Rogowski star in Undine directed by Christian Petzold, who of course in the past had made so many films with Hoss including the award-winning Barbara.
French director Anne Fontaine, who ventured to Australia to make Adore starring Naomi Watts, will premiere the crime drama Nightshift and Omar Sy (The Intouchables, The Call of the Wild) and Virginie Efira are scheduled to attend. Kelly Reichardt will present her latest feature First Cow, which already screened at the Telluride and New York Film Festivals.
See the full list of entries in the Berlinale Competition and Berlinale Special here:
In all, eight Australian projects will screen in Berlin. Besides the aforementioned Stateless and High Ground, John Sheedy’s debut feature H is for Happiness, already on release in Australia, will have the prestigious slot of opening the youth-oriented Generation Kplus program.
See the Berlinale Screen Australia blog here.
Next year the Berlinale will take place before the Oscars.
The 2020 Berlinale is on Thu, Feb 20 – Sun, Mar 1, 2020