Berlin Forum eshews mainstream fare

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With a line-up that features a Bollywood gangster film ("Don"), a Serbian film-noir ("The Trap") and a World Cup documentary from the perspective of someone who never got to play ("Subsitute"), you know this year's Forum isn't making any claims to be a feast of mainstream crowd pleasers.

But the Forum's alternative cred can be deceptive. The last two Golden Bear winners -- Jasmila Zbanic's "Grabvinca" and "U-Carmen e-Khayelitsha" from Mark Dornford-May, both were originally selected for the Forum sidebar, before being upgraded to the Competition section.

Forum director Christoph Terhechte also points out that 24 of the 40 films that screened in the Berlinale sidebar last year found theatrical distribution in Germany.

"That's a pretty good hit rate," Terhechte said. "We work very closely with distributors to help them find ways to promote these films that, at first glance, might seem challenging or difficult."

While there is nothing one would call mainstream in this year's Forum, several of the titles premiering have already peaked the interest of specialty buyers.

These include "Madonnas" from German director Maria Speth, which features a starring performance from Sandra Huller, her first film since winning the Silver Bear last year for "Requiem."

Another Forum film generating heat is "Shotgun Stories," from first-timer Jeff Nichols, a bare-bones portrayal of alcoholism, poverty and violence in rural Arkansas.

But the Forum wouldn't be the Forum if it didn't also screen a few proudly anti-commercial films. Frederick Wiseman's three-and-a-half-hour documentary "State Legislature," about day-to-day law making in Idaho or Guy Maddin's tribute to silent cinema "Brand Upon the Brain!" are unlikely to be coming to your local multiplex anytime soon.

Going beyond cinema and into the rarefied world of installation art are the works screening in the Forum expanded series. These include Deidre Logue's video installation "Why Always Instead of Just Sometimes" and "Interzone," from Anne Quirynen with music by Enno Poppe, which was originally conceived as an opera.

But likely to be the most popular of the Forum events is the "Gossip Studio," a cocktail bar/party hangout set up in the underground atrium of the Filmhaus and designed by L.A. drag queen artist Vaginal Davis along with the artist collective Cheap.

"We want it to be a place to start gossip, spread gossip and generally have a good time," Techechte said. "Really its to remind people to have fun, not to take everything so seriously."

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