Berlin Festival Set to Go Virtual for 2021

Berlin International Film Festival — Getty — H 2020
Omer Messinger/Getty Image

The Berlinale had been hoping to hold an in-person event in February but a new COVID-19 lockdown has forced some major changes for the 71st festival.

The Berlin Film Festival is expected to announce this week that it will be pushing back the dates of its 71st edition, originally set for Feb. 11-21, 2021, and will run as an online-only event.

As COVID-19 infection rates shot up in Germany in recent weeks, speculation has grown that Berlin would be forced to move or go virtual.

On Wednesday, Germany went into full lockdown, shutting schools and all nonessential shops and businesses.

Sources near the festival report that Berlin will shift the 2021 edition two weeks to early March and go online-only. The European Film Market (EFM), the industry event that runs parallel to the Berlinale, is expected to follow suit.

The EFM had already announced plans to incorporate online screenings and market events into its 2021 edition but had hoped to have some form of physical presence as well. That now looks unlikely.

In place of the regular festival, Berlin is reportedly looking to screen its main competition section online-only and to hold a mini-festival with on-site premieres in the German capital this summer. The model would be Cannes' three-day festival this past October, which wrapped up just as France entered its second lockdown.

It's understood the Berlinale floated plans to push the festival to April and hold an in-person event but that the festival government — which provides much of the festival's funding — wasn't willing to commit to that given the uncertainty around novel coronavirus infection rates and how effective Germany's second lockdown will be. 

April would likely be too early in any case for international visitors, which would have made the 71st Berlinale a largely European affair. A later date could also conflict with the Cannes festival, which is still tentatively scheduled for May but has laid out plans to move to late June or early July if COVID-19 conditions aren't favorable. 

The film industry, in any case, would prefer a market in the first quarter of the year, at the midpoint between this year's (virtual) American Film Market in November and the Cannes market, virtual or not, in late spring or early summer. 

Variety was the first to report the news of Berlin's 2021 changes.