Berlin 2013: Wong Kar-wai's Competition Jury Looks For the Positive

The 2013 Berlinale competition jury, from left: Tim Robbins, Andreas Dresen, Shirin Neshat, Wong Kar-wai, Susanne Bier, Athina Rachel Tsangari and Ellen Kuras
The 2013 Berlinale competition jury, from left: Tim Robbins, Andreas Dresen, Shirin Neshat, Wong Kar-wai, Susanne Bier, Athina Rachel Tsangari and Ellen Kuras
 

Berlin International Film Festival jury president Wong Kar-wai is channeling Johnny Mercer's 1945 song "Accentuate the Positive" when it comes to his jury duties.

The Hong Kong auteur with a reputation for being a perfectionist told his fellow jurors on first meeting them that he wants to concentrate on the good points and not get bogged down by critical complaints about this year's competition lineup.

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Danish filmmaker Susanne Bier, whose In a Better World won the best foreign-language film Oscar and Golden Globe in 2011, said Wong suggested the strategy when they all met up in advance of their 10 days of moviegoing together.

"He suggested we only talk about what we like in the movies we see and not what we don't like, or hate," she said.

Bier said she was looking forward to enjoying watching other people's lives and cultures and enjoying the intimacy that movies can provide.

Describing the prospect of 10 days of watching fellow filmmakers' efforts as a "real treat," Bier noted that films that allow the viewer into a world "they might otherwise never experience" was a big part of what film can do.

At a press conference for the Berlinale jury Thursday, Wong said he and his jurors were not there to judge movies but to celebrate them.

"I think Berlin is a very intimate festival, and I want to maintain that," Wong said, adding that he and his jurors had a responsibility to help shine a light on the films that have made it into competition.

Wong said there was no cause for alarm despite the fact that, aside from his own movie The Grandmaster opening the festival, Chinese films are conspicuous by their absence from this year's lineup.

"I think it is really about cycles -- sometimes we have a good year and sometimes we have a bad year," Wong said on behalf of the Chinese industry.

He said he fully expects Chinese films to be unspooling at next year's festival.

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Iranian filmmaker Shirin Neshat, a Muslim who has spent her entire moviemaking career being prevented from traveling to or working in her own country, said she thinks that Iranian community inside and outside Iran will be focused on this year's Berlinale because of the inclusion of Jafar Panahi and Kamboziya Partovi's Closed Curtain in Competition.

Iranian filmmaker Panahi, invited in 2011 to be on the Berlinale jury but prevented from leaving Iran and incarcerated for six years for "propaganda against the system," made the film from jail with Partovi's help.

"It shows great courage on [Panahi's] part to have made the film," Neshat said.

She said she would aim to assess the film "as an outsider" and look at its merits "outside the political context."

Neshat said she maintained links with the artistic community and was constantly hearing horror stories about the difficulties filmmakers face from the Iranian state.

"Censorship is a major issue," she said. "Filmmakers have been given the state's OK to go ahead and make it, then the film has been prevented from release when it is finished."

Greek filmmaker Athina Rachel Tsangari said that given the economic woes her country is enduring, "film may be the only thing Greece can export" at the moment.

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She said that the collapse in backing for the arts and filmmakers two years ago actually helped galvanize moviemaking efforts and cajoled people into productive collaborations.

"I know it has been called the Greek new wave, but probably better to call it the Greek weird wave," Tsangari said. "I feel very fortunate to be making films and feel a big responsibility to support the efforts made by filmmakers."

The seven-member jury, in which women outnumber men four to three, also includes German director Andreas Dresen, U.S. cinematographer Ellen Kuras and Oscar-winning actor Tim Robbins.

Kuras said she would be looking at the stories and how they are told as her main jury duty focus, while Robbins said he was relishing the prospect of watching movies for the next 10 days in such good company.

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