The 72nd Berlin Film Festival begins in physical form today with M. Night Shyamalan leading the main competition jury. Also notable among panelists is Oscar nominee Ryusuke Hamaguchi whose Drive My Car this week became the first Japanese movie ever nominated for the Best Picture Academy Award. Hamaguchi was actually on a plane heading to Berlin when the nominations were announced, and only learned of the results upon landing.
Today, he and the other jury members recalled the cinematic experiences that first sparked them to filmmaking. For Hamaguchi, it was Robert Zemeckis’ 1989 Back To The Future Part II. “It was a discovery for me. I never imagined such an interesting film existed in the world,” he said. “I was rather introverted, but inside the space of a movie theater I was able to be released from daily life and it was an important experience for me. What I’m doing now is totally different, but movies have the power to change your life and this message I will never forget.”
Shyamalan also recalled finding inspiration from the 80s with Steven Spielberg’s Raiders Of The Lost Ark, a film he initially was reluctant to see, thinking it was “about science.” He said, “I was a super shy kid and sitting in a 1200-seat theater, the couple next to me could see I was very scared so they bought me popcorn and drinks… Then the logo comes up and the mountain for Paramount and it turns into Raiders Of The Lost Ark… I speak of religion about cinema and I was indoctrinated that day by something so inspired and fun. I was transported. At that moment I said I need to recreate this feeling in my life.”
Some of the other jury members’ varied inspirations included Saturday Night Fever, Christiane F, Rear Window and To Sir, With Love.
Speaking to the issue of the importance of festivals and the gap between arthouse and mainstream movies, Hamaguchi said, “When we look at the past, there was no gap, so the role played by the Berlinale is to declare there is no gap, even though it might look like an arthouse film or have a commercial tinge.”
Wonder Woman and Gladiator star Connie Nielsen noted, “For actors, it’s great for us to participate in blockbusters with the hope that when doing less accessible films or less pleasure seeking films… the audience will go with you and watch more difficult-to-approach storylines.”
Shyamalan commented that when making commercial movies “storytellers are entirely acknowledging the audience, that’s wonderful to see the audience. When they leave the theater, though, they’re not necessarily changed. Independent cinema is almost the world view of a very specific person, so specific that they’re not saying, ‘We see you.’” Instead, it’s “‘I want to tell you my point of view of this story’… When you walk out of the theater, you’ve changed, you weren’t necessarily seen, so sometimes it’s a little harder to watch. You change because of that. My hope has always been you can see me a little bit and I see you guys.”
Zimbabwean filmmaker Tsitsi Dangarembga recalled that Sidney Poitier’s early films were big studio movies that were also issue-based. “So, the question becomes, ‘When did this separation occur?’ The fact that we now see the two coming together — not the blockbusters, but commercial and issue-based films converging — I think this is due to the dedicated work of festivals. I think people who lead those festivals know the transformational power of cinema.”
The Berlin Film Festival opens tonight with François Ozon’s Peter Von Kant and runs through February 20.
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