Out of every film festival I’ve attended so far, Berlin Film Festival has been one of the most inclusive and prolific film festivals. They have a crap tonne of films programmed and you have the opportunity to see virtually any of them.
Not as a celebrity, not as a member of the press. Just plain old you and me are able to see any of the films showing. If we’re organised, that is.
This is a short guide to the Berlin Film Festival (or the Berlinale Film Festival) and features some tips and hints that I’ve picked up over both of my visits to Berlin (in 2012 and 2016). This is more for festival goers coming from overseas as there are a few more options for people who live in Berlin.
Top tips for the Berlin Film Festival
Before you go to the film festival – buy some tickets online
When I visited the film festival briefly in 2012, it was really easy to get tickets on the day. Sure, they were obscure films we hadn’t heard of, but tickets were readily available.
Fast forward to 2016 and it was slim pickings. I was scraping the bottom of the barrel just to make sure I could see at least four films. I ended up watching a programme of short films at the local art school that was literally called ‘Programme 3.’ I couldn’t even get hold of Programmes 1 and 2 for crying out loud.
So, I really recommend if you’re only going for a weekend to buy tickets beforehand. Not all of your tickets, but at least for the first day. I shared a hostel room with an American girl who had easily managed to buy tickets for a lot of films I wanted to see and it was like a hard slap in the face.
Tickets are released around three days before the screening and it’s four days for films in competition.
Tickets bought online have a €1.50 booking fee and you can either print them off, get them on the Berlin Film festival mobile app or show your booking confirmation to the box office and get a shiny branded tickets. Even though it’s a faff, I’d go for the latter because I like to keep my tickets and the ones for Berlin are shiny and nice.
Head to Potsdamer Platz before you do anything else
Potsdamer Platz is the main film festival hub in Berlin. It has an abundance of cinemas as well as being a hang out for journalists and film professionals. It’s also home to the main box office for the film festival.
Try and tick off these Berlin Film Festival activities while at Potsdamer Platz…
- Pick up a festival programme (more like a phonebook but useful)
- Take a picture with the Berlinale bear
- Have a wander around and see who you bump in to!
If you’re there for the opening night gala – Berlinale Palast at Marlene Dietrich Platz is where you need to be
The opening night gala is on a Thursday night – the first night of the festival. It’s usually a big name film (this year it’s Isle of Dogs (2018) directed by Wes Anderson) and is almost like a premiere. Lots of reporters, fans waiting outside, etc.
This is also where the big awards ceremonies at the end of the film festival will be held. I’ve never waited outside of the red carpet for any of the big film events but you definitely can if that’s your bag.
Buy your tickets at the Arkaden Shopping Mall
This is where the main box office for the film festival can be found. The booths are set up on the ground floor and honestly, you can’t miss them. They will have big screens above the kiosks letting you know what films are sold out and which still have tickets left.
Buying tickets for the festival can be a little bit stressful. Almost everyone in the queue for tickets is frantically flicking through their programme and glancing up at the screens in order to be prepared when it’s their turn to buy tickets at the kiosks. Just as I was! The queues were pretty long so there was plenty of time for deliberating.
Top tip: Don’t forget to bring a pen! You’ll need a pen for circling films in your programme and to make notes.
Buy your tickets at the cinema (if you’re a daredevil…)
I never did this because I was already freaked out by how many screenings were sold out at the main box office, but you can buy tickets on the day directly at the cinema where the film is playing. If there’s any left, of course. Concessions pay half price for same-day tickets. And if you aren’t a concession and manage to snag a ticket half an hour before the film starts, it’s also 50% off!
Try and see films playing in a few different cinemas
I think part of the experience of going to film festivals in different countries is getting out and about to different cinemas. I watched films in Haus Der Kulturen Der Welt and Kino International and I thought they were both fantastic cinemas. Especially Kino International, which is a bloody gorgeous cinema.
All non-English films have English subtitles
…Just worth mentioning, right? One less thing to worry about. The ignorant Brits have been pandered to once more!
However, if you’re going to watch a film on the kids’ programme that isn’t German or English, be prepared. The film will, of course, remain in it’s intended language and will be subtitled in English but may be dubbed (but lagging behind) in German. I’ve seen two films on the children’s programme and both of them were screened like this.
Speaking of programmes…
Every film festival I’ve attended is split into programmes. It just gives the festival a bit of a theme, you know?
Of course, there are films in Competition, the big releases. Then there’s Panorama which is just under Competition in terms of Prestige. Then there’s Forum and Forum Expanded which are your younger, riskier, edgy films. Generation is the kids’ programme I was talking about. But like I said, I have seen at least two Generation films are Berlin and still enjoyed them. So while they are suitable for children, they aren’t necessarily kids films.
Plus, the Generation films were only €4 in 2017. Score! Other films are more like €8.
Wrap up warm (but use layers)
It’s Berlin in February, so the weather could be anything from below freezing and snowy or chilly and drizzling.
It will no doubt be cold outside, but if you’re going to be in cinemas all day you better be able to strip. All the warm bodies and heating mean it’s going to get pretty toasty.
And that’s my first-timer’s guide to the Berlin Film Festival! Have you ever been to the festival? Anything you’d add? Let me know in the comments below!