The world premiere of a documentary about music legend Tina Turner and an "impressive" pack of pandemic-era movies will take the spotlight at an all-virtual Berlin film festival starting Monday.
With theatres shuttered due to the coronavirus outbreak, Europe's first major cinema showcase of the year was pushed back by a month, put online and divided into two parts as the movie industry struggles to find its feet.
The Berlinale, now in its 71st year, will hold the competition for its Golden Bear top prize March 1-5 virtually for critics, reporters and rights buyers.
For the second stage, organisers hope to invite stars and screen the films for the general public in June, mainly at open-air cinemas. Last year's event, one of the last before the pandemic, sold more than 330,000 tickets.
The festival has also gone "gender neutral" with its acting awards -- best actress and best actor prizes are history, replaced with best lead and supporting performance.
Industry watchers say that despite severe restrictions on making and screening movies, the Berlinale has managed to pull together an exciting lineup.
"I'm pleasantly surprised that they were able to get what looks like a pretty impressive collection of solid movies together for this festival," Scott Roxborough, European bureau chief for The Hollywood Reporter, told AFP.
- 'Uncertain times' -
One of the hottest titles is "Tina", a star-studded HBO documentary about the queen of rock'n'roll by Oscar winners Dan Lindsay and T.J. Martin ("Undefeated") to be released on March 27.
The film features never-before-seen concert footage, interviews with the 81-year-old superstar and recollections from the likes of Angela Bassett and Oprah Winfrey.
Directors including Emmy winner Maria Schrader ("Unorthodox"), German-Spanish actor Daniel Bruehl ("Rush") and France's Celine Sciamma ("Portrait of a Lady on Fire") will be premiering new work in competition.
All 15 contenders for the top prizes to be awarded on Friday are films that were made or in post-production during the pandemic.
Berlinale artistic director Carlo Chatrian said the selection captures "the uncertain times we are experiencing".
Bruehl, who starred in the bittersweet German comedy "Good Bye, Lenin" and is now part of the Captain America franchise, will make his directorial debut with "Next Door", a black comedy about gentrification.
Schrader will unveil "I'm Your Man", a sci-fi comedy about a woman falling for a custom-made Mr Right, played by British actor Dan Stevens ("Beauty and the Beast") while Sciamma offers up "Petite Maman", a magical realist look at girlhood.
One of Romania's top filmmakers, Radu Jude, is back with the intriguingly titled "Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn" about a teacher whose sex tape winds up on the internet.
Hong Sang-soo of South Korea, who won best director in Berlin last year for "The Woman Who Ran", will show "Introduction", vying against titles from Japan, Mexico and Lebanon.
- Watching under house arrest -
The Berlinale comes at a complicated time for the industry.
With the glamour of the red carpet and the magic of the big-screen experience sorely lacking, Roxborough said festivals were still "experimenting" with formats as the pandemic drags on.
"A danger of these virtual festivals is that even critics can't get super excited about watching films at home," he said.
"They have to have some kind of communal experience to go crazy for the movie that nobody's heard about but that now everybody just has to see."
Cannes hopes to hold its festival in July after being cancelled last year.
Venice managed to benefit from a break in high infection levels to take place last September with a range of special precautions.
But this winter, with the second wave raging, Sundance was held online.
The Berlinale jury will be made up of six previous Golden Bear winners including last year's laureate, dissident Iranian director Mohammad Rasoulof, who claimed the prize for "There Is No Evil" about capital punishment.
Five of the members will all stay at the same hotel and sit, physically distanced, in a Berlin cinema made specially available under lockdown, while Rasoulof will watch from Tehran under house arrest.