Fires, food and more

Festival director Dieter Kosslick gives us the scoop on the 68th Berlinale, which opens Thursday.

‘Isle of Dogs.’ (photo credit: 20TH CENTURY FOX 2017)
‘Isle of Dogs.’
(photo credit: 20TH CENTURY FOX 2017)
The 68th Berlinale, the International Berlin Film Festival, which will run from February 15-25, will sizzle this year, with over 400 films from dozens countries – and to prove just how hot it is, my phone interview with Dieter Kosslick, the festival director, was interrupted by a fire.
“There’s a fire alarm, I have to run,” Kosslick said, before he fled the building.
It turned out that it was an actual fire, which started in the sauna of the Mandala Hotel, where many of the festival guests will be housed. When Kosslick was allowed back into his office by firefighters, he said no one was hurt and was characteristically upbeat.
“It’s a beautiful day, the sun is shining, it’s cold out and everyone is feeling good,” he said as he resumed the interview.
Most of us won’t make it to the Berlinale, but it’s worth taking a peek at what will be playing, because the films that premiere there will be showing up at our theaters throughout the coming year. Kosslick, who has been the festival director since 2001, said he was excited about many aspects of this year’s festival, among them the world premiere of the digitally restored Yiddish film, Ewald André Dupont’s 1923 silent classic Das alte Gesetz (The Ancient Law), which will be shown in a special screening with live music.
The film, which was restored under the auspices of the Deutsche Kinemathek, will be accompanied by new music by French composer Philippe Schoeller. The classic film is an important piece of German-Jewish cinematic history which contrasts the closed world of an Eastern European shtetl with the more liberal society of 1860s Vienna, and tackles the issue of the assimilation of Jews in 19th century Europe.
“It’s an astonishing film and a fantastic restoration,” he said. “A lot of people today don’t know the film, and it’s important to show that we remember these people and show these films and they are not forgotten.”
Among the speakers at this premiere will be Jurgen Serke, a German journalist who has collected more than 5,000 books by the so-called “burned writers,” writers whose work was burned by the Nazis.
Among other films of Jewish/Israeli interest in the festival will be another world premiere of a digitally restored classic, the late Assi Dayan’s 1992 film Life According to Agfa.
Considered by many to be Dayan’s best work as director, the movie, which is set during one night at a Tel Aviv bar, features a who’s who of top Israeli actors, among them Gila Almagor and Shuli Rand. The restoration was done by the Jerusalem Cinematheque – Israel Film Archive, in cooperation with United King Films and the Israel Film Fund. Dr. Noa Regev, the CEO of the Jerusalem Cinematheque, and Meir Russo, archive manager of the Israel Film Archive, will be on hand to introduce the movie.
Katriel Schory, the executive director of the Israel Film Fund, will be one of the recipients of the Berlinale Camera, a recognition of his work and longstanding relationship with the festival. Among the other Israeli films at the Berlinale will be Tsivia Barkai Yacov’s coming-of-age drama Red Cow, and the premiere of Sleeping Bears, the new television series by Keren Margalit (Yellow Peppers).
Also of interest will be the world premiere of 7 Days in Entebbe, the story of the 1976 hijacking of an Air France flight and the daring hostage rescue by Israeli special forces in Uganda. Jose Padilha’s film features Israeli actors Lior Ashkenazi as Yitzhak Rabin and Angel Bonanni as Yonatan Netanyahu, and also stars Rosamund Pike and Daniel Bruhl.
The festival will open with Wes Anderson’s Isle of Dogs, “the best opening film you could have,” said Kosslick. It’s a live action/animation hybrid about dogs quarantined on a Japanese island.
“The main cast is all dogs, but Anderson is bringing the dog’s voices” – among them the actors Bill Murray, Tilda Swinton and Bryan Cranston.
“As in recent years, there are a lot of films about migration and immigration,” said Kosslick, mentioning Christian Petzold’s Transit, based on Anna Seghers’ eponymous novel,which is about a writer who faces persecution in Marseilles.
Asked about the MeToo/Time’sUp and 50/50 movements that have dominated the news in recent months, he said, “I think this topic will be an important discussion at the Berlinale,” and added that there would be several panels on the subject, as well as an initiative called Speak Up, a platform to encourage abuse victims to raise their voices.
It will also offer counseling.
Among the festival documentaries, Kosslick mentioned Fernando E. Solanas’ A Journey to the Fumigated Towns, about how the agriculture industry is harming the environment and displacing people, and The Game Changers, Louie Psihoyos’ film about how vegetarians and vegans are actually very macho men, in spite of the stereotypes.
This leads right into one of Kosslick’s favorite subjects: food. It wouldn’t be a conversation with the ebullient Kosslick if there were no mention of food, especially bagels. Kosslick is a great devotee of this delicacy and has written a book on the subject. The Culinary Cinema section of the festival is very close to his heart. Following some of the screenings in this program, top chefs Thomas Bühner, Sonja Frühsammer, Michael Kempf, Flynn McGarry, and The Duc Ngo will take turns serving menus inspired by the films in the Gropius Mirror Restaurant. Among the films this year will be Cameron Yates’ Chef Flynn, the story of master teen chef Flynn McGarry.
As always, the Berlinale will feature fantastic food trucks, including one that will serve spätzle, a traditional German noodle dish – “like my mother used to make” – covered in grated organic cheese; traditional Mexican dishes from Eddielicious; Fräulein Kimchi, who will whip up international Korean soul food; and Pecados, with classic empanadas from Uruguay.
Asked whether there will ever be a food truck that serves bagels, Kosslick laughed.
“Yes, it’s a very good idea – a Berlinale bagel truck.