The personal and the political at the 2019 Berlinale

The personal is the political: Marginalized voices tell their story at the 69th Berlinale

Female filmmakers from divided Germany

This year's Retrospective section focused on film history is devoted to female filmmakers. "Self-determined. Perspectives of women filmmakers" features German films by women made between the years 1968 and 1999. "For women — Chapter 1," a film by women for women is one example of the works shown. Shot in 1971, it addressed the lack of equality of opportunity between the sexes in West Germany.

The personal is the political: Marginalized voices tell their story at the 69th Berlinale

Women front and center

The role of women in filmmaking — both in front of and behind the camera — has been the subject of much reporting recently. It is not only about the MeToo movement and equal opportunities but also a re-evaluation of film history. Fitting that the Golden Honorary Bear of the Berlinale 2019 goes to a European cinema great, Charlotte Rampling — seen here in "Max mon amour" by Nagisa Ōshima (1986).

The personal is the political: Marginalized voices tell their story at the 69th Berlinale

'NATIVe' programming

Berlinale audiences will encounter often uncharted worlds in the "NATIVe" program section. The 16 long and short feature films and documentaries shown in this series are set in the South Pacific region and provide glimpses of the life of indigenous peoples in areas with relatively little cinematic presence — like the film "Tanna" from Australian-Ni-Vanuatu that portrays a local marriage dispute.

The personal is the political: Marginalized voices tell their story at the 69th Berlinale

A church scandal

The competition for the Golden Bear this year includes 17 films from around the world. The new film from French director Francois Ozon. "Grâce à Dieu," is likely be one of the most explosive contributions in the competition. Ozon tells the true story of three men who were abused by a priest during their childhood and whose past catches up with them.

The personal is the political: Marginalized voices tell their story at the 69th Berlinale

40-odd years in the making

Berlin is celebrating the premiere of many much-anticipated films, including Sydney Pollack's long-unfinished "Amazing Grace." The film documents Aretha Franklin's appearance in a Baptist church in Detroit in 1972, during which the Grammy-winning, multi-platinum gospel album "Amazing Grace" was recorded. Unedited for over 40 years, the film is finally taking its bow in Berlin.

The personal is the political: Marginalized voices tell their story at the 69th Berlinale

Upcoming talent

The Perspektive Deutsches Kino program has introduced young German filmmakers for 18 years at the Berlinale. "The films in Perspektive Deutsches Kino are subtle, idiosyncratic and fearless. Here you can try, play and also provoke," says the Berlinale. This year, Miriam Bliese's debut contemporary drama, "The Components of Love" ("Die Einzelteile der Liebe") will feature as part of the series.

The personal is the political: Marginalized voices tell their story at the 69th Berlinale

A Danish opener

Opening the Berlinale on Thursday, February 7, is "The Kindness of Strangers," by Danish director Lone Scherfig. Featuring an international ensemble of actors,the film is set in a Russian restaurant in wintery New York and is a good representation of the festival's global nature — and this year's focus on women in the industry.

The personal is the political: Marginalized voices tell their story at the 69th Berlinale

Women in film heritage

An increasingly important task of major festivals all over the world is to promote film heritage by showing restored cinema classics to new audiences. "The Wayward Girl" from 1959 is one such film to feature in the Berlinale Classics section this year. Directed by Norwegian filmmaker Edith Carlmar, it features the young Liv Ullmann in her first leading role.

The personal is the political: Marginalized voices tell their story at the 69th Berlinale

New formats

A relatively new addition to film festivals that has become a standard feature is the premiere of television series on the silver screen. Only later are they broadcast on television or via popular streaming portals. Eagerly awaited in 2019 is the debut of "M — A City Hunts a Murderer," which is based on Fritz Lang's legendary film of the same name from 1931.

The 69th Berlinale focuses on themes of family, childhood, gender equality and nutrition. But how will the overriding slogan, "The personal is political," be borne out across the festival's 400 film program?

"The personal is political" is the motto of 2019's Berlinale, with outgoing festival director Dieter Kosslick borrowing it from the 1960s women's movement. While no motto can encompass 400 new films, especially a festival committed to diversity both in content and in form, the theme intersects well with the Berlinale's strong focus on women filmmakers and stories. 

For instance, the New Zealand Maori film Merata: How Mum Decolonised the Screen by Hepi Mita is an intimate documentary tracing the life, work and legacy of influential female Maori activist filmmaker, Merata Miti. 

Read moreThe 69th Berlinale: What you need to know

Family, childhood, gender equality and nutrition

This personal film about a radical Indigenous woman filmmaker also intersects with some of the four subsections of the festival: family, childhood, gender equality and nutrition.

Among these, gender equality seems to be the underlying focus. Juliette Binoche is this year's jury president; Lone Scherfig the director of the festival's opening film, The Kindness of Strangers; and Charlotte Rampling the recipient of this year's Honorary Golden Bear award. Meanwhile, the Retrospective is entirely devoted to female directors in German film from the 1960s to 1990s.

Juliet Binoche: one of many women taking center stage at the 2019 Berlinale

Of the the 400 films screened at the 69th Berlinale, 191 or almost half were directed by women, which is a significant achievement when compared with recent editions of other major European film festivals. In 2018 in Cannes, for instance, only three women directors featured in the list of 18 films competing for the Palm d'Or. Female filmmakers account for seven of the 17 films in this year's Berlinale competition. 

Also among them is Spanish director Isabel Coixet's period drama, Elisa and Marcela, the story of two women who struggle to marry in early 20th century Spain. The biographical film was produced by Netflix, which is making its debut in the race for the Golden Bear. 

The strong focus on women will also see Berlinale sign onto the Gender Parity Pledgethis year, following pledges from the Cannes and Venice film festivals, among many others.

From a film directed by Helke Sander, screening as part of the "Self-Determined. Perspectives of Women Filmmakers"

Interconnected motifs

In addition to family and childhood, which recur throughout the Generation section of the fest, the theme of nutrition, and indeed malnutrition, is another that Kosslick has worked hard on to develop for the program since he created the popular "Culinary Cinema" section. While always promising food for thought, female stories are also omnipresent here.

 The Peruvian documentary Mothers of the Land, for instance, follows five women from the Andean highlands in their daily struggle to maintain a traditional and organic way of working the land. 

Related Subjects

While it can be said "you are what you eat," in this way the personal really is political. In Kosslick's case, this was perhaps most exemplified when he invited members of the far right AfD party to a special Berlinale screening on February 10 of Roberta Grossman’s Holocaust documentary Who Will Write Our History? about a secret archive in the Warsaw Ghetto.

"All AfD members, all AfD MPs in the Bundestag, will be allowed to go to the movies for free. Invited by me personally. I will pay for every ticket myself," said Kosslick.

 Click through the above gallery to explore how the festival's filmic highlights integrate such themes in 2019.  

Watch video 26:01
Now live
26:01 mins.
Check-in | 26.01.2019

A short history of the Berlinale