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Berlin looks in the mirror

Achtung Berlin - the city’s one and only vanity film festival - winds up its programme of 70 features, documentaries and short films this week.

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Photo (c) farbfilm verleih

The Achtung Berlin festival returns for the sixth time to showcase Berlin as a film city for producers, filmmakers and audiences alike. This time, it has expanded its venues traditionally Babylon and Passage Kino) to include Kino International – for a stylish premiere – and Filmtheater am Friedrichshain.

With a programme of 70 features, documentaries and short films, Berlin’s one and only vanity film festival centers around the competition section “Made in Berlin-Brandenburg”, in which around 50 films compete in various categories for the New Berlin Film Award. Other sections include “Berlin Highlights”, for non-mainstream films; “Heimat Dokumente”, which explores the concept of ‘home’ in very different ways; and, for the first time this year, a “Retrospektive” section.

In the “Best Feature Film” category, Andreas Schaal’s romantic horror-comedy Must Love Death tells the story of life-weary Norman, who decides to join a suicide group. Of course, there’s a change of plan – on the way to an isolated cabin in the woods to kill himself, he meets the girl of his dreams. The suicide group reveals itself to be a collection of sadistic killers Norman must fight to escape. By combining true romantic moments with extensive blood and guts, Schaal has created a bizarre but extraordinary low-budget film, shot in Brandenburg.

Other features include R.P. Kahl’s Bedways, an erotic arthouse film about love and sex in the murky zone between games and reality; Anke Hentschel’s Unbelehrbar, about an illiterate woman who travels to Berlin to learn to read and write; and Andreas Arnstedt’s Die Unentbehrlichen, a drama about a working class family’s struggles with alcoholism and unemployment.

The documentaries also seem promising. Jacob C. Rühle’s Lychenerstr. 64 draws attention to an issue close to the hearts of many Berliners: gentrification. Focusing on a run-down apartment block in Prenzlauer Berg, he fondly portrays its inhabitants and the effect the unwanted renovation of the building had on them. The neighbors band together to fight against the destruction of their home. Ms. Senior Sweetheart takes us stateside (with Berlin film director Sabine Steyer and Berlin money) and documents the weird world of senior-citizen beauty queens. Following three charismatic contenders as they prepare for America’s most prestigious “senior beauty pageant”, the film turns out to be a compelling portrait of grannies who have retained their beauty (it’s all relative), but above all health, energy and a contagious lust for life.

In addition to its artistic merits, Achtung demonstrates that there’s a growing market for international films produced and shot in Berlin, be they English-language or Turkish productions: another Best Feature nominee worth watching is Asli Özge’s Men on the Bridge (photo).

ACHTUNG BERLIN, April 14-21 | For showtimes and venues, visit www.achtungberlin.de