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Berlinale, yalla! A queer look at this year's films

'The Picture of Oscar Wilde', 'Bealemania' and 'You Don’t Know Jack Smith' are not titles screening at the festival; in fact, they’re not titles at all. But they do give a tiny impression of what to expect amongst the 400 selections this year. Walter Crasshole provides an overview

Linn da Quebrada, the subject of Claudia Priscilla and Kiko Goifman’s documentary 'Bixa Travesty'

Feb. 14 – The Berlinale is coming, which means that every Berliner Fenster segment will be addressing Europe’s biggest publicly accessible red-carpet affair. The best part about the fest is that the screens aren't just silver; they're a rainbow of colors depicting various sexualities, genders and constellations of desire. Here’s what the initiated and uninitiated alike need to know about what’s going on with the Berlinale this year, especially those with a queer eye.

Attentive Berliners may remember when, back in November, 79 German filmmakers signed a letter criticizing festival director Dieter Kosslick (whose time  is up in 2019) and the direction the festival is taking. They wanted the world to know that the next director should be able to make the Berlinale as important as Cannes and Venice, implying the festival has lost some of its shine over the years, and added, with a bit of shade, that the next director should be someone “passionate about cinema”.

What does all this mean for fans of LGBTQ cinema? Probably not a whole lot. Kosslick's Competition section has never been renowned for its queer selections in the first place. Queer moviegoers would do well to look at the Panorama or Forum sections, although Gus van Sant’s tale of a paraplegic alcoholic, Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far on Foot, will be gracing this year’s Competition. Meanwhile,The Happy Prince – Rupert Everett’s take on everyone’s favorite Irish dandy, Oscar Wilde – can be found in the Berlinale Special. While not eligible for top prizes, it was still brought to the fest at the request of Kosslick.

Panorama is where the lion's share of LGBTIQ films get screened. It's coordinated by a brand new team for 2018, replacing Wieland Speck, who stepped down after 25 years of overseeing the festival's “artier” section. Now it's run by Spanish Berlinale veteran Paz Lázaro, former Speck assistant and Xposed curator Michael Stütz, and Panorama programmer and vet since 1990 Andreas Struck.

Getting its international premiere is Bixa Travesty (Tranny Fag), Claudia Priscilla and Kiko Goifman’s documentary on Brazilian trans singer Linn da Quebrada (pictured). Moving north, Shakedown is Leilah Weinraub’s tribute to the African-American lesbian strip scene in Los Angeles and took over 15 years to complete. For a more controversial affair, Garbage by Indian director Q (yes, just Q) strings together slavery, rightwing extremism, online stalking and a taxi-driver in his revenge film centering on two women and is sure to ruffle some feathers.

And one of the most talked-about films in the Panorama will surely be Göran Hugo Olsson’sThat Summer. Olsson revisits the Beales seen in camp classic Grey Gardens, Albert and David Maysles' 1975 documentary on mother and daughter “Big Edie” and “Little Edie”, who lived an eccentric existence in a dilapidated mansion in East Hampton, New York. In 2018, we return to the Grey Gardens estate through newly discovered footage, including some directed by Andy Warhol.

The Forum Expanded section is another one to watch for queer content. This year offers some particularly exciting fare, including Zach Blas’s shortJubilee 2033 – an homage to Derek Jarman’s 1978 punk opus Jubilee – with Bruce LaBruce muse Susanne Sachsse as Ayn Rand, also featuring shapeshifter Cassils.

Equally counterculturally driven is Escape from Rented Island: The Lost Paradise of Jack Smith, Jerry Tartaglia’s cinematic essay on the Flaming Creatures director and underground icon.

What about other sections? The kids are alright in this year’s Generation section, not necessarily curated for a children's audience but for stories about youth, like this year’s Para Aduma (Red Cow): Israeli director Tsivia Barkai Jacov tells the story of Beni, a young woman caught between her conservative father and her burgeoning lesbian sexuality. The number of LGBTIQ films in Generation is unusually high, too, so read through the full program.

And while it might not necessarily be queer, the ultimate Berlin cinematic experience is also to be found at this year’s fest. Yes, Wim Wenders’ 1987 love letter to the divided Haupstadt Der Himmel über Berlin can be seen in various movie theaters year-round, but why not see it in style – in a digitally restored, 4K DCP version at the city’s premiere film event!

The one officially 100 percent queer aspect of the Berlinale is the Teddy Award. For readers who don’t know, the Teddy is the world’s most prestigious queer film prize, homegrown right here in Berlin. Founded by Speck and fellow pioneering filmmaker Manfred Salzgeber in 1987, it's the world’s oldest queer award from a big-name festival as well. And like every year, the general public can even get tickets to the gala on February 23 at Haus der Berliner Festspiele (but buy now!). 

No matter what your tastes may be, the Berlinale program is shaping up to be one of its queerest, so there’s likely something for everyone. Happy viewing, queens!

Walter Crasshole



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