Watching films in jail

Updated: Feb 10, 2019, 09:28 IST | Meenakshi Shedde

The Berlin film festival has always been an extraordinary festival by any account

Watching films in jail
Illustration/Uday Mohite

GuideI'm freezing here at the 69th Berlin International Film Festival, which runs from February 7-17. Temperatures run to minus one and below. But there is something I'm looking forward to and greatly hope it works out. I have put in a request to see a special screening of a Berlinale film from the Competition section, System Crasher by Nora Fingscheidt — to be screened inside the JVA Plötzensee penal institution, or jail. Fingscheidt, lead actress Helena Zengel, and producers Peter Hartwig, Jonas Weydemann and Frauke Kolbmüller will be present after the screening for a discussion with the audience.

The film, very aptly, is about a young girl, who is called a 'system crasher', because she breaks every rule in the book, and becomes impossible to manage — simply because she wants to be able to live with her mother again. By all accounts, it is a thoughtful film on how our society deals with what is deemed deviant or non-conformist behaviour.

The Berlin film festival has always been an extraordinary festival by any account. You may say I am biased working with them for 21 years as their India and South Asia Consultant. But even objectively, apart from showcasing first-class films from all over the world, its politics, and initiatives like this, set it apart. It has had film screenings in former graveyards, inside swimming pools, and now in a jail. It is always finding ways to engage with diverse communities. It has had initiatives for refugees, where refugees were invited to screenings via NGOs, and escorted to the screenings with volunteers who spoke their language, and eased them into these events, and made it a sort of picnic.

The prison screening is part of a 2010 initiative called Berlinale Goes Kiez (Berlinale Comes to your Neighbourhood) that has brought the festival to the art-house cinemas of the city and suburbs. It encourages art-house cinemas, and honours those who run them. On seven evenings, the red carpet team moves from one Berlin neighbourhood to another; and the cinemas and their audiences are the stars of the festival. International film guests also get a glimpse into the local cinema landscape and can directly interact with local audiences.

Some of the most exhilarating film screenings I have ever been to in my life have been at Berlin. One year, I attended a film screening inside a swimming pool. Yes, you read right. We had to change into swimsuits and enter a pool: you were given inflatable armbands if you couldn't swim; film images were projected on the dome of the pool and you could hear the sound only if your ears were immersed in the water. Sooo Berlin!

A number of the film screenings, including some current Berlinale films in the Forum Expanded section, is held in a former graveyard. Yes, again, you read right. It is called the Silent Green Kulturquartier. After a certain number of years, when the buried bodies are understood to have turned to dust, the graveyard is formally decommissioned, so to speak, and now is a lively arts centre of the city. Can you even imagine this in India?

Meenakshi Shedde is South Asia Consultant to the Berlin Film Festival, award-winning critic, curator to festivals worldwide and journalist. Reach her at meenakshishedde@gmail.com

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