The Berlin film festival opens, uncluttered but with an audience

The Berlin International Film Festival opens Thursday with a new film from French director Francois Ozon and a clean format designed to bring audiences back but reduce the risk of COVID-19 infection.

The first of Europe’s major film festivals of the year last took place in its usual format in 2020, just before the pandemic hit. Last year it was split in two – with a largely online version held in March and an event with public screenings in June.

This time, the “Berlinale” is back to something a little more normal, although the omicron variant is still pushing coronavirus infection rates to new daily highs in Germany and many restrictions remain in place.

“We have developed a very reduced format, in consultation with the health authorities here in Berlin,” festival executive director Mariette Rissenbeek told Deutschlandfunk radio. The main activity of the festival has been reduced to seven days, with four days at the end reserved for rehearsing public screenings.

Theaters will only be half full and moviegoers will need to present proof of vaccination or recent recovery from COVID-19, as well as a booster shot or a negative test. And they will have to come to the screenings with masks.

The festival opens with a world premiere of Ozon’s “Peter von Kant”, the first of 18 films competing for the event’s Golden Bear award. A seven-member international jury led by American filmmaker M. Night Shyamalan plans to announce the winners of this award and others on February 16.

German government spokesman Wolfgang Buechner said last week that the festival taking place despite the pandemic is “a brave step” and a signal to the cultural sector that “we will not let corona bring us down”.

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