Featuring both famous names and relative newcomers, the Berlinale shorts are a fascinating array of satires, documents and political testaments, speaking to the depth and breadth of the smaller form. More easily available to survey, pause, rewatch and ponder due to the festival moving to a digital platform, their works feel intimate and personal, their messages hand-delivered from one computer to another. Both satisfying and confounding, off-putting and mysterious, the Berlinale shorts, curated by Anna Henckel-Donnersmarck, are a strange bunch. Not everything was to my liking, but not a single film felt cookie-cutter or unoriginal. I also had the chance to check out the offerings at Forum Expanded, an off-shoot of the forum selection originally intended for installation form. Here the political met the philosophical to startling effect. Read on for some choice picks from both selections.
// Berlinale Shorts //
My Uncle Tudor by Olga Lucovnicova
This startling, Golden Bear-winning film sees the filmmaker return to her childhood home in Moldova, confronting traumatic secrets with powerful directness. It hinges on a powerful conversation with the film’s eponymous uncle, a shocking demonstration of the banality of evil.
Vadim on a Walk by Sasha Svirsky
Sasha Svirsky, also spotlighted last year, creates constantly moving animations that feel ‘extremely online’, taking a ever-shifting approach to one man’s bizarre, metamorphic trip that effortlessly uses transfiguration to satirise office drudgery, political futility, and police brutality. Another miniature epic from one of Russia’s best animators.
Rehearsal by Michael Omonua
The inner-workings of a Nigerian miracle church are ruthlessly (and hilariously) exposed in Michael Omonua’s slow-burn critique, with rehearsed revivals and exorcisms executed with cutting precision; showing the artificial bonds between drama and religion.
Your Street by Güzin Kar
A sleepy street in Bonn is the site of this affecting doc exploring the ways we remember the victims of terrorist attacks. Featuring plain images and exploratory voiceover, the film’s power lies in its poetic simplicity.
International Dawn Chorus Day by John Greyson
36 screens interplay simultaneously in John Greyson’s International Dawn Chorus Day, which interplays footage of birdsong with a paean to queer activists in Egypt, drawing a powerful comparison to the spreading of new birdcalls with the power of positive messages across the world. You’ll need a big screen for this one!
Les Attendants by Minh Quy Truong
Definitely NSFW, this explicit story of men cruising the French woods for anonymous sex is an oddly touching fable about land, identity and the true meaning of home.
One thousand and one attempts to be an ocean by Yuyan Wang
There might literally be one thousand images in Yuyan Wang’s kaleidoscopic survey of water and all its forms, spanning from tidal waves to droplets in the purest forms, crossing boundaries and galaxies with ease. Accompanied by a strange, repetitive voice, this is deeply hypnotic viewing.
// Forum Expanded //
Autotrofia by Anton Vidokle
Surveying an ancient tree-based ritual in the south of Italy, whereby locals cut down an old tree, drink wine directly from the flask, and put up a new tree, Autotrofia uses this unique festival as a springboard to explore ecological cosmism — the strange belief that mankind can gather energy from the sun alone. An inquisitive reverie on alternative possibilities.
Zahlvaterschaft by Moritz Siebert
Gerson Liebl is on hunger strike. This is his last resort having been denied citizenship for the past 30 years. This is despite the fact that he is the direct descendent of a German colonial officer in Togo. Filmed in austere black-and-white, the film overlays his struggle with texts and testimonies from the turn of the century, as well as recent understandings of the horrors of German colonialism.
Ahorita Frames by Angelika Levi
This playful and touching film starts with footage of Jon Stewart campaigning for justice for 9/11 frontline responders before hopping over the border to Tijuana, hiring Mexicans to re-stage the work of undocumented women working in asbestos-heavy environments while clearing ground zero. A fascinating portrait of forgotten heroes.
Find more unmissable films in our Best of Fest collections.