Berlinale Forum

The Berlinale Forum, or the International Forum of Young Cinema to give it its full name, is an event organized by Arsenal – Institute for Film and Video Art as part of the Berlin International Film Festival. It is regarded as the section of the Berlinale most willing to take risks and stands for new trends in world cinema and innovative narrative forms, bringing together the avant-garde, the experimental, film essays, long-term documentary projects, political reports and cinema from countries off the beaten track; anything that explores new avenues and unconventional ideas from beyond the mainstream can be found at the Forum. Since 2006, Forum Expanded has extended the program to include video art, installations and performances at home both in the cinema and in exhibition spaces.

Although the Forum places a focus on young filmmakers, works by well-known filmmakers with a unique artistic signature can also be found alongside debut films from promising new directorial talents. Other hallmarks of the Forum include the now-legendary discussions between audiences and filmmakers as well as the comprehensive catalogue containing background information, interviews and reviews for every film. The Forum’s approach to subtitling also sets it apart from other festivals: a large number of films in the selection are subtitled in either German and English in order that they can be taken on by the in-house distributor arsenal distribution after the festival and thus made available to the public. The unique structure of Arsenal – Institute for Film and Video, which brings together a cinema, distributor and festival, provides the ideal platform for sustained work with Forum films.

The Forum has been led by Christoph Terhechte from 2001 - 2018, following Ulrich and Erika Gregor’s 30-year tenure as the directors of the Forum. Currently, Milena Gregor, Birgit Kohler and Stefanie Schulte Strathaus function as directors of the Forum. The selection committee is made up of Anna Hoffmann, Hanna Keller, Birgit Kohler, James Lattimer, Anke Leweke, Stefanie Schulte Strathaus, Ansgar Vogt and Dorothee Wenner.

Barricades and Ivory Towers

The profile of the Forum program and its political and avant-garde alignment are a product of the situation from which it emerged. As political debate began to make itself felt in ever wider sections of society at the end of the 60s, it was Erika and Ulrich Gregor and the Friends of the German Film Archive that founded the International Forum of New Cinema; the “Friends” was an association founded itself in 1963 and re-launched as Arsenal – Institute for Film and Video Art in 2008.
The foundation of the Forum can be traced back to the crisis at the Berlin Film Festival in 1970, when arguments concerning the screening of Michael Verhoeven’s cinematic parable on the Vietnam War O.K. led to the festival being cancelled halfway through. The Friends of the German Film Archive had already reacted to the shortcomings of the official festival by putting on a “supplementary program” at the Akademie der Künste in July 1969. The following year, this “underground festival”, as it was called by the Berlin press, moved to the recently opened Arsenal cinema, showing a program intended to “coincide with the Berlin Film Festival” that included the first ever Fassbinder retrospective. The program was so successful that, at the end of 1970, the Friends of the German Film Archive were given the task of putting on the International Forum of New Cinema as a “parallel event on equal standing” alongside the Competition.
The first Forum took place in July 1971 as an independently organized event in affiliation with the Berlinale and immediately distinguished itself from the Competition by means of a different understanding of cinema as well as its own individual selection and presentation criteria. The Forum focused on “films which advance the development of film as a medium and evoke the new functions that cinema has in society.” The cinema was intended to serve increasingly as a place for political discussion and cultural exchange far away from stars and glamour.

Forum Film History

The Forum has written film history ever since. Numerous directors who have gone on to receive great international attention first received a platform by showing their debut films at the Forum. Jacques Rivette, whose 4 and a half hour film OUT ONE SPECTRE was shown as a world premiere at the Forum in 1973, is just one of the many extraordinary filmmakers whose early works were shown at the Forum, often paving the way to an international breakthrough. Early films by Chantal Akerman, Theo Angelopoulos, Jim Jarmusch, Béla Tarr, Aki Kaurismäki, Ken Loach, Nagisa Oshima, Yilmaz Güney, Atom Egoyan, Michael Snow, Manoel de Oliveira, Yvonne Rainer, Andrei Tarkovsky, Derek Jarman, Raoúl Ruiz, Ousmane Sembène, Wong Kar-wei, Helke Sander, Margarethe von Trotta, Peter Greenaway, Avi Mograbi, Claire Denis, the Dardenne Brothers and many more were also selected for the Forum program.
Some of the more recent Forum discoveries include such diverse filmmakers as Sharon Lockhart, Nuri Bilge Ceylan, David Gordon Green and Jia Zhang-ke. The Forum also provided a platform for the films of Angela Schanelec, Thomas Arslan, Christoph Hochhäusler and Henner Winckler long before any talk of a “Berlin School”.
The Forum’s role as a laboratory for the cinema of the future does not, however, prevent it from expressing a deep reverence for film history at the same time, such as by screening restored copies of films shown at the Forum previously or otherwise. The Forum has always defended the role of cinema as form of artistic expression and continues to do so today, backing the new, the unusual and even the unwieldy, regardless of whether seeking to assert the role of cinema as an area of experimentation or to generate interest in cinema from countries still off the beaten track.
After the Forum focused its attention on European and Eastern European cinema, the American independent movement, international avant-garde cinema and Latin America (Brazil, Argentina, Venezuela) in the 70s and 80s, it has turned towards discovering independent cinema from Asia (Hong Kong, India, Vietnam, Taiwan, Thailand, Japan, Korea, the Philippines) from the late 80s up until now. The Forum still also keeps a special eye out for the less well-known regions on the world cinema map.
The following anniversary publications can provide a more detailed insight into Forum Film History: “Zwischen Barrikade und Elfenbeinturm – Zur Geschichte des unabhängigen Kinos: 30 Jahre Internationales Forum des Jungen Films” (2000) and “Dialogues with Films – 4 Decades of the Forum” (2010, including a DVD).

Film Prizes

No official prizes are awarded at the Forum. In the early years, this reflected the Forum’s desire to set itself apart from the competitive nature of the Competition. In the meantime however, many independent juries now award prizes to films showing at the Forum.
The Caligari Film Prize, which was founded by the “Bundesverband kommunale Filmarbeit” (The German Art-House Cinema Association) and “film-dienst” magazine, has been awarded since 1986 to a stylistically and thematically innovative film from the Forum program. The first Caligari Film Prize was awarded to Claude Lanzmann for his film SHOAH in 1986, which still represents an outstanding event in the history of the Forum. Other directors to have been honored with the Caligari Film Prize include Béla Tarr for SÁTÁNTÁNGO (1994), Néjia Ben Mabrouk from Tunesia for SAMA (1989), Alan Berliner for NOBODY’S BUSINESS (1997), Anja Salomonowitz for KURZ DAVOR IST ES PASSIERT (2007) and Brillante Mendoza for TIRADOR (2008).
A look at the winners of the Wolfgang-Staudte-Prize, an award presented by the Gesellschaft zur Wahrnehmung von Film- und Fernsehrechten (GWFF) between 1990 to 2006 to a first or second film in the Forum main program, also reflects the history of the Forum, including such titles as S.E.R. by Sergei Bodrov, XIAO WU by Jia Zhang-ke (1998), WESH WESH, QU-EST-CE QUI SE PASSE? by Rabah Ameur-Zaïmeche (2002) and RENGETEG (Forest) by Benedek Fliegauf (2003).
The Wolfgang-Staudte-Prize was expanded in 2007 to include films from all sections of the festival including the Forum and renamed the Best First Feature Award as such. The winning film in 2008 was the Japanese Forum film ASYL – PARK AND LOVE HOTEL by Kumasaka Izuru. In addition, the FIPRESCI Jury and the Ecumenical Jury each award one of their prizes to a film from the Forum. And since 2007, the “Tagesspiegel” newspaper has also assembled a readers’ jury that awards a prize to the “best” film showing at the Forum.

Forum Expanded

Although the area where art und cinema meet as well as experimental work of all kinds have always traditionally had a place at the Forum, the Forum Expanded program was launched by Arsenal and the KW Institute for Contemporary Art in 2006 as a response to new cinematic formats which challenge what cinema actually means. Cinema now often leaves the actual cinema auditorium, occupies the foyer, goes out onto the streets and moves through galleries, museums, studios and theater stages. New perspectives on cinema emerge at all of these places.
The Forum Expanded program connects both the Forum and the Berlinale as a whole with other artistic disciplines that explore questions of cinema in an innovative manner. Since its inception, Forum Expanded has always had a shifting focus and taken place at different locations in Berlin, thus creating a cartography aimed at mapping out the reciprocal fascination between art and cinema in all its many forms. Discussion events on current topics and a look at the history of experimental and underground film form a fundamental part of the program. After artist Meggie Schneider converted the atrium of the Filmhaus into an installation space during the Berlinale from 2004 – 2006, different individuals and project groups have been invited to redesign the atrium and to run a bar there every year since 2007. b_books is also a regular presence in the foyer with a book stand.