Sunday, February 9, 2014

An Inspiring Week Ahead

Photography in Berlin

On Thursday night, we headed out to Kreuzberg again, this time so that we could take part in a photography appreciation event, and hopefully meet some interesting, like-minded people. Earlier in the week, Shannon found a cool site called Meet Up, and joined a group focused on photography in Berlin. They hold bi-weekly events and contests, and invite photographers (amateur or professional) and art lovers to participate.

This week's theme was "Love", and everyone was asked to submit three of their photos on the topic. Then, all of the submitted photos would be viewed anonymously, and everyone would vote on their top three. The winning photo's author would then be revealed, and given the task of picking the next meet-up theme. Shannon sent in a few pieces, nervously. She told me that the only reason she wasn't freaking out about sharing her work was that she felt certain she wouldn't win!

The meet-up was held at Kantina von Hugo, right next to the river. It's a casual place with a pub atmosphere, simple food and beers on tap. We had a couple of Berliner beers, and later shared a plate of decent tagliatelle and some overly-tart tomato-orange soup. The waitress spoke clear English, so that was a plus.

But the real focus was on the photography and getting to know the other group members. It was a very diverse group, with people from Poland, Lithuania, France, the Netherlands, Britain, Germany, the US, and even a Finn (so everyone just spoke English). It was cool to see everyone's different levels of skill and confidence with a camera. There were a few very experienced photographers there, and then a lot just starting out, but everyone's enthusiasm was clear.

The winning photograph
Everyone voted, and after a bit the group leader revealed the results. In second and third place, two lovely pictures of couples in love, one by a Dutch web designer and the other by a French expat.

And then, the winner (drum roll)... Shannon, with a photo of our newborn nephew and his dad! Everyone cheered, and Shannon's reaction was priceless. She was shocked, then embarrassed - mortified, you could say - and then bashfully happy. The first thing she managed to say was that the runner up should have won! It was awesome.

We stayed for quite a while after that, chatting with some new found friends. It was a great evening, and we're both really looking forward to going back. Shannon has already chosen the next theme - ghosts - so we'll see what everyone comes up with.

Berlinale International Film Festival

The famous Berlinale film festival kicked off this week. The festival is open to the public, so it's a great opportunity to see some unusual and interesting filmmaking from around the world. People here in Berlin seem to get pretty excited about the festival, and there are a lot of international visitors. The tickets are a bit pricey, so we've had to undertake the awful task of picking three movies out of literally hundreds.

The films of the Berlinale are divided into categories, or "sections", including:

- Competition - the big features, like Wes Anderson's The Grand Budapest Hotel, Clooney's The Monuments Men, and a lot of other films with buzz from well-known or up-and-coming filmmakers.

- Panorama - a marketplace for independent films, but the screenings are open to the public as well as film buyers.

- Forum - experimental works from young filmmakers.

- Shorts - self explanatory!

- Generation - films for children and youth.

- Perspetkive Deutsches Kino - films by young German filmmakers.

- Berlinale Special - seems to be for screenings of films with big names attached but that aren't in competition.

- Retrospective - this year's theme is "Aesthetics of Shadow: Lighting Styles 1915-1950", showcasing extraordinary lighting styles and techniques in classic films.

- Homage - a section honoring lifetime achievement, with this year's featured director, Ken Loach.

- Culinary Cinema - films focused on food, I guess?

- Native - a short sections of films by or about indigenous people.

A last minute addition to the festival was a special memorial screening of Capote, to honor Philip Seymour Hoffman. Not only have we never seen it, but to do so will satisfy our urgent mutual desire to see Hoffman again in what we hear is one of his best performances. We bought tickets the moment they were available, knowing they would sell out quickly. It felt strange to pounce on the ticket sales like we did, but it wasn't out of a desire to jump on the bandwagon or to get any kind of lurid thrill, but simply to witness and truly appreciate (now more than ever) a great performance by an actor that we love.

Otherwise, in our search for the most unusual and rare films, we found that Forum would be the best section for us. It contains melodramatic, unsettling, and absurd pieces which we, of course, seem to be drawn to. It was really hard to choose among all the fascinating offerings, but after much struggle and many nights laid awake, we narrowed it down to two films - Castanha and Chilla (40 Days of Silence).


This Brazilian film, from director Davi Pretto, is a combination of "documentary observation, staged sequences and fictional elements" centering on a 52-year-old man who performs as a transvestite in small clubs and lives with his mother. The images and descriptions from this film really captivated and disturbed us both. As terrified to see it as we are, we didn't want to miss out on something that seems truly unique and singular.
Trailer here

Chilla (40 Days of Silence)

This film is more mysterious. It's a production from Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, by director Saodat Ismailova. It sounds like a very contemplative piece about four generations of women living together. There is no trailer, adding to the mystery. We are interested to see it because it looks to be a window into a place and a way of life we know very little about.

Other films that were candidates: Sto Spiti (Greece), Blind (Norway), Unfriend (Phillippines), Forma (Japan), Top Girl (Germany), Lajwanti (India), Kumun Tadi (Turkey), Kumiko the Treasure Hunter (Japan, USA), Huba (Poland), Gui Ri Zi (China), The Forest Is Like The Mountains (Romania), and Nagima (Kazakhstan), among others.

Seeing two experimental and existentially challenging films, plus memorializing a great actor, will make this a melancholy week, I suppose. But hopefully inspiration will come from seeing great art, and that will feed us both. Shannon has the impetus of shooting for the photography group meet-up as well. The theme of "ghosts" is appropriate in context with the films we're seeing. And when I think about it, even some of the content I'm drawing this week goes with that theme. So, to inspiration, we say "welcome"!

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