A walk on the wild sides at Berlinale


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BERLIN -- The Rolling Stones are hogging all the headlines as Martin Scorsese's concert film "Shine a Light" gets the 58th Berlin International Film Festival rocking. But off Potsdamer Platz, the Berlinale's Panorama and Forum sidebars are revving up with a little less show but a set list as impressive and eclectic as any Stones gig.

Panorama opened Thursday with the international premiere of Anna Melikian's "Mermaid," a magical realist drama that looks at life in modern-day Moscow through the eyes of a young girl.

"When you are playing against the Stones, you need to offer an alternative program," Panorama director Wieland Speck joked. "And this is definitely something different. It is also an extraordinary film that touches on many of the themes we see throughout this year's lineup, in particular the world of children. Which isn't the same as saying it's a children's film."

While "Mermaid" fits solidly in the realm of art house drama that has always been a specialty of the Panorama, many of the hottest titles in this year's lineup are genre films, including the political thriller "What No One Knows" by Denmark's Soren Kragh-Jacobsen; the gangster films "Jerusalema" from South Africa's Ralph Ziman and "Chiko" from German director Özgür Yildirim; the science fiction of Alex Rivera's "Sleep Dealer" and the Spanish productions "Before the Fall" from Javier Gutierrez and "Shiver" by Isidro Ortiz.

"It is almost the anti-Dogme," Speck said, referring to the no-frills, anti-genre style of filmmaking pioneered by Danish filmmakers in the early 1990s. "That style seems to have run its course. Now we are seeing directors fitting their challenging messages in much more audience-friendly forms, which could mean these films could have a better chance of getting released."

"My Winnipeg," Guy Maddin's personal look at his Canadian hometown that opens the Forum sidebar Friday already has U.S. distribution in place. But boxoffice concerns have never played a big role in the Forum lineup, which prides itself on finding the new, the obscure and the downright weird.

Where else would you find not one but three films from the Philippians: Brillante Ma's "Slingshot," "Balikbayan Box" by Mes De Guzman and "Tribe" from Jim Libiran.

"There is a wave of new films being made in the Philippines at the moment, all low-budget films shot quickly," Forum director Christoph Terhechte said. "We really wanted to shine a light on this, to highlight an area that is not usually thought of as a film country."

With this year's Forum lineup, Terhechte also is highlighting another trend among young filmmakers: the crossover between documentary and drama.

"Guy Maddin's ‘My Winnipeg' is a documentary, but the narrative structure and the style is very close to his feature films, and it explores very similar themes," he said. "The same goes for 'United Red Army' (from Japanese director Wakamatsu Koji), which mixes documentary and drama sequences in telling the story."

Other Forum films that balance on the edge between drama and documentary include Juan Manuel Sepulveda's immigrant drama "The Infinite Border"; the Irish feature "Seaview" from Paul Rowley and Nicky Gogan, about would-be migrants to Ireland; and "Son of a Lion" from Australian director Benjamin Gilmour, which features a ripped-from-the-headlines story set in modern-day Pakistan.