Berlin film fest postponed, divided into online and live events

Deborah COLE
·3-min read
Usually Europe's first major cinema showcase of the year, the annual Berlinale, as the event is known, will now take place as a strictly digital event for industry players in March

Berlin's international film festival postponed Friday its February 2021 edition as the coronavirus pandemic continues to take a harsh toll on the global entertainment industry.

Usually Europe's first major cinema showcase of the year, the annual Berlinale, as the event is known, will now take place as a strictly digital event for industry players in March.

An international jury, whose previous presidents include Meryl Streep and Tilda Swinton, will watch the films in competition in Berlin and choose the winners of the Golden and Silver Bear top prizes.

Featured films would only be screened for the public in June, the festival said in a statement.

"There is a great desire to meet face-to-face. The current situation does not allow a physical festival in February, at the same time it is important to offer the film industry a market within the first quarter of the year," Berlinale Executive Director Mariette Rissenbeek said.

"With the change in the festival format in 2021, we will have the chance to protect the health of all guests and to support the restart of the cinema industry."

- Crippling impact -

Festivals serve as a celebration of films on the big screen at a time when the pandemic is accelerating the drive toward streaming.

The traditional pageantry of gala premieres and stars on the red carpet are the life's blood of the events -- elements that will be sorely missing at online editions.

Cannes was cancelled entirely this year while Toronto -- North America's largest movie gathering -- took place largely online.

Venice managed to benefit from a break in high infection levels to take place in September with a range of special precautions to prevent infections.

The Sundance film festival unveiled plans this month to screen premieres at drive-ins and arthouse theaters across the United States and online.

The second wave of the coronavirus outbreak has had a crippling impact on the global entertainment industry, with blockbuster premieres postponed and movie production grinding to a halt in many regions.

The Berlinale, which ranks with Cannes and Venice among the top European film festivals, prides itself on being the only one of the trio to sell tickets to the public for nearly all screenings.

Rissenbeek said the June screenings, to take place in open-air and indoor movie houses, would "offer the Berlinale audience the long-awaited community experience of cinema and culture".

Organisers had earlier ruled out a purely online edition of the event given its popularity with movie lovers in the German capital.

Germany mothballed all cinemas in the country in early November as part of a shutdown to tame the virus but the restrictions have failed to bring infection numbers down.

The closures have been extended until at least January 10 and are expected to last through most of the winter.

- 'Holding back movies'-

Alongside the competition for the Golden Bear and screenings of hundreds of new films, the normally 11-day Berlinale also hosts the European Film Market where movie distribution rights are bought and sold.

Moritz Hemminger, deputy head of sales and acquisitions at sales agency ARRI Media, said pushing the Berlinale into the spring wouldn't have a major impact on the festival circuit, even though it would be closer to Cannes, usually held in May.

"Producers were holding back movies over the last months for the return of physical festival editions," he told trade magazine Variety.

"There are many exciting films lined up and ready to be showcased at major festivals next year."

The 2020 edition of the Berlinale took place in February before Germany felt the full impact of the virus. The Golden Bear went to an Iranian drama filmed in secret, "There Is No Evil".

dlc/hmn/wai