Coronavirus: Berlin rejigs film festival for COVID-19 pandemic times

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Berlin became the first of next year’s big European film festivals to bow to the coronavirus pandemic, announcing it would hold a reduced, online-only program in March, a month later than usual, with an audience event in June.

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The festival, now in its 71st year, occupies a distinct position in the cinema calendar, with its trade component, the European Film Market (EMF), shaping how films and series are sold around the world and launching that year’s co-productions as studio executives meet film makers.

The organizers said on Friday that the film trading event would be held online, depriving Berlin of the traditional show of studio top brass snaking in limos between city center hotels. The main film prizes would also be awarded at this time.

Asked if the film market could hold its own in an era where giant streamers like Netflix, Amazon and Apple had the biggest commissioning budgets, artistic director Carlo Chatrian said the EMF still had a distinct European role.

“Europe should go with its own system, which is different in the sense that it works more as a cooperation,” he said. “We hope the EMF will really help that.”

An audience-focused film screening event will be held in the summer, targeting not pros and the press, but the general public. Alone among the major festivals, Berlin admits the public to its screenings.

“We expect to invite the filmmakers and we’ll have one or two stars, but it will be an event for the public and not for the international professional visitors, or for the international press. So it will have a different character,” said festival chief executive Mariette Wissenbeek.

“What we need and what the festival can provide is a gathering moment,” Chatrian added. “And of course, when the gathering is not possible, the festival has to find a different way to exist.”

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