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Media mayhem makes film festival a scrum

Covering one of the world’s top film festivals may seem like an enviable assignment, filled with leisurely afternoons spent in plush cinemas and evenings at cocktail parties rubbing elbows with the stars.

True, it’s hardly the world’s worst job — but no one believes a word when you explain it’s actually 11 days of hard work dashing for a seat from one packed screening or news conference to the next.

The pressure to get a story or a photograph has risen steadily at the Berlin Film Festival since I first covered it 13 years ago, but I was unprepared for the violent outbursts from some of the 4 000 journalists at the event this time.

Some irate reporters, acting like barbarians at the gates, threatened, pushed and shoved festival ushers or security staff when denied entrance to events that were already full.

One man, an Italian, screamed obscenities at an usher the other day when she tried to explain that the 3.30pm press screening for Notes on a Scandal was full, but that another screening upstairs was set for 4pm.

He didn’t care, and insisted on getting in as if this were a seat in a lifeboat on the Titanic. He barged past the woman and knocked over her male colleague before two security guards stopped him and held him in a choke-hold.

The Italian journalist looked like he was in pain. I don’t think he made it into either screening and he wasn’t at the news conference.

There was a similarly unruly mob of journalists waiting for Robert De Niro a few days earlier.

It was standing-room only up and down the aisles but outside, screaming men and women with press badges banged on the door, demanding to be let in.

Rather than follow the news conference on a TV monitor, they made so much noise that journalists at the back of the room couldn’t hear what De Niro said.

At another press briefing, an Asian journalist stood up to ask the fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld to sign her hat.

Clooney tunes

It wasn’t always like this.

The festival, which wound up on Sunday, seemed somehow more civilised a decade ago, when the only angry outbursts came from German actors incensed with local film critics.

The Berlinale is no longer a cosy gathering of filmmakers and print journalists. Once a festival for films and their directors, it has grown into a showcase for celebrities.

About 19 000 professionals were accredited this year and a record 1 200 films were entered for 22 competition slots.

The change seemed to gain pace at the turn of the century. George Clooney set the tone at one news conference in 2003 when he reacted testily to a Turkish journalist who said his movie Solaris was boring.

”You just wanted to get up and be a rat, you know that?” Clooney snapped. ”What a jerk!”

Dull films, unfortunately, outnumber the ones you would pay to see and staying awake through the more tedious entries is a challenge that I too have failed to meet.

There are cocktail parties, but most are set up along a tight two-hour rotation: many of the actors and directors disappear to the next one just when things are warming up.

Should you drink too much, the next day can be hell as you try to stay alert through four movies from 9am.

While rushing to finish a story the other night, I was distracted by the heavy breathing of a not-quite-sober journalist to my right who sat there picking his nose and smelled like he had been to one cocktail party too many.

I quickly completed my story and fled to the next screening. – Reuters

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Erik Kirschbaum
Erik Kirschbaum works from Berlin. Author, Journalist & Executive Director of non-profit German-American exchange program RIAS. Latest book: "Soccer Without Borders" about Juergen Klinsmann. Erik Kirschbaum has over 1009 followers on Twitter.

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