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Le Panoptique

Expires on 26 December 2024 at midnight (EST)

10 Years of Berlin Critics' Week

By Dennis Vetter

The Berlin Critics’ Week is an event dedicated to films and debates which asks in poignant ways how film culture works today. We show films to spark debates on how cinema is produced and which aesthetics are currently important, but also to inspire debates about broader society, politics and philosophy. Every screening is accompanied by such a debate, during which international guests from different fields of culture, art, and cinema meet for an in-depth exchange.

Since the 10th edition of the event is coming up in 2024, Mathieu Li-Goyette — a past member selection committee — invited me to curate a focus on the Berlin Critics’ Week for Le Panoptique to elaborate on the basic ideas of the event. So former Artistic Director Frédéric Jaeger and I went once more through the film programs of the past festival editions. We picked seven films which are available for you to stream now, as a kind of tiny retrospective on the curatorial line of the festival. What we hope for is that you will watch these films together with others who won’t refuse discussing them with you. When we selected the films we could only speculate on the questions which will now arise from the encounter of these films in the digital sphere, on your screens. Who knows, maybe they will merge into each other, creating a new cinematic creature. The result would be a schizophrenic film. A film which reveals itself as a construction. A film which challenges the world in a very particular way. A film which asks what critical art can mean and achieve. A film which refuses to end. A film which is remarkably tender. A film which is remarkably harsh. A film which is too demanding. A film which is popular and not. A film which remains ambiguous. A film which exists beyond time and space. A film which dares to reimagine cinema. A film which revives cinema. A film which will outlive us all. A film about which there will be many more conversations.

The film programs of the Berlin Critics’ Week are curated by international critics; often an evening consists of more than one film. Since the first festival edition, each program has been presented under a title and for each program of the past you can find a debate online. Searching for Oscar by Octavio Guerra was presented under the title IRONY OR ANARCHY? Waiting for April by Olivier Godin we presented under the title HUMOR AND FRAGILITYLet the Summer Never Come Again by Aleksandre Koberidze we presented under the title VERTIGO. Entire Days Together by Luise Donschen we presented under the title COLLAPSING DISTANCEThe Human Surge by Eduardo Williams we presented under the title FUTURE. Aren't You Happy? by Susanne Heinrich we presented under the title STAGING FEMINISM88:88 by Isiah Medina we presented under the title ZEITGEIST.

To not let the films we showed travel into the digital realm on their own I was asked to provide some editorial framing in written form. I suggested some writing which was published in print during the past editions of the Berlin Critics’ Week: essays by Erika Balsom and Abby Sun on film festivals, the work of curators, and film criticism, as well as a roundtable on digital film culture and simultaneity hosted by Nicolas Rapold, who was in conversation with Nick Davis, Diana McCarty, Abhishek Nilamber, and Marie-Pierre Duhamel — a long-time supporter of the Berlin Critics’ Week and an essential voice of film culture for many years, who recently passed away. These pieces are all published for the first time in French translations. In the name of the writers, I would like to thank the editorial team of Panorama-cinéma for their efforts to cherish these words again and make them available to a larger public.

We also commissioned and translated some additional writing for this occasion: You will find at Panorama-cinéma a freshly written piece on each of the selected films of this focus. In an essay Heidi Salaverría describes the beauty of a good debate, and we translated a recent lecture by Senthuran Varatharajah on poetic reason and his notion of critical writing. I also invited former guests and collaborators of the Berlin Critics’ Week to look at film culture of the present by revisiting the past: Dana Linssen wrote about the Critics’ Choice in Rotterdam and the Berlin Critics’ Week, which have been twin events and always in a close relation. Alexandre Koberidze travelled back in time to February 2017, when he presented and discussed his film Let the Summer Never Come Again at the Berlin Critics’ Week for the first time. And I had an in-depth conversation with Giona Nazzaro about his past role as Artistic Director of the Venice Critics’ Week, his ongoing passion for writing, and his current work at the Locarno Film Festival.

I hope that, both in the seven films we selected and in the written pieces to accompany them, some questions will appear that can echo well into the future. Questions which can help us all shape film culture to the better. The need for curating as an extension of criticism remains crucial in a time when the ecosystems of the moving image grow continuously. And so does the need for critics to take action and actively shape film culture. Their role as independent observers makes them well-suited to become activists, curators, programmers, or decision-makers who can defend the art of cinema with passion and knowledge.

Profound shifts at important film festivals around the world are happening on a regular basis in a time when cultural work remains precarious and unstable, while organizations behind film festivals cling to traditional and hierarchical models of work. The most recent and visible shifts are taking place at the Berlinale, which might again lose its artistic identity. We must remain aware of such shifts within film culture and carefully observe their political and cultural implications. And we need to question political and financial decisions if they affect artistic freedom or the autonomy of cultural institutions. The German Film Critics Association, which is hosting the Berlin Critics’ Week, is actively taking part, together with many other associations and initiatives, in the public discussions around the appointment of a new Berlinale director — since the festival’s current Artistic Director Carlo Chatrian will not have the opportunity to continue his work there after the 2024 edition due to a decision of Claudia Roth, the current Minister of State for Culture and the Media in Germany. Against the political decisions, an international network of filmmakers has recently launched a letter of solidarity and supported Chatrian’s work. They demanded his contract to be extended, while a committee (consisting of mostly filmmakers and not a single festival organizer) was installed to appoint a new festival director. Discussions are ongoing, in Berlin and elsewhere.