BERLIN (Feb. 8) – Despite a bitter chill in Berlin, crowds here at the opening night of 58th Berlinale warmed up quickly when all four of the Rolling Stones arrived on the red carpet for the world premiere of Martin Scorcese-directed concert feature “Shine A Light..” Keith Richards bounded out of the limo first, followed by Ron Woods and drummer Charlie Watts. Finally, a huge roar from the crowd met Jagger when he jumped out sporting a long wool scarf and started hobnobbing with a long lineup of TV microphones stuck in his face. And there was Scorcese, darting around in front of them signing autographs.
Along with its star power, “Shine A Light” made the festival record books by being the first documentary ever to be selected for competition in the festival’s 58-year history.
That may seem strange, considering how potent a force documentaries have been in programming this festival and the large crowds they draw with the German public. (This year’s competition also includes Erol Morris’ Abu Grahib documentary “Standard Operating Procedure.”) But the picture perfectly fits the qualities of star-draw and auteur credentials that the Berlinale and its sponsors love. It certainly makes up for the critical spanking the festival and its affable director Dieter Kosslick took last year for programming the less-than-high-pedigree “300.”
At any rate, by the time the Stones and their handlers were whisked into the bowels of the Berlinale Palast to attend the opening night gala, the crowd outside seemed to have forgotten all the other celebs that had just arrived. Among them: a goofily-beaming Goldie Hawn, Armin Mueller-Stahl, a tuxedoed Patti Smith (here for her documentary “Patti Smith: Dream of Life”), Brian De Palma and competition jury chief Costa-Gavras. Most of the legions of German TV and film stars preening on the carpet would elude the radar of the average American filmgoer, but cineastes might recognize local notables like Tom Tykwer, the director of the international hit Run Lola Run and extraordinary Perfume (which vanished in theatres Stateside), his Lola star Franke Potente and the actress Maria Schrader, and Hollywood-proven producer (and sometimes director) Berndt Eichinger.
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What was the ceremony and opening night party like? Excellent question. Thanks to the CIA-level security and crowd-control, most journos (such as myself) who otherwise could nab a ticket any other year were left without an invite. The best I could do was wangle two tickets to the overflow screening of Shine a Light at the Zoo Palast cinema, where a packed hall shouted and clapped along to the Stones’ performance.
Snappily edited and shot with 16 cameras by Scorcese and a long list of Oscar-winning or nominated cinematographers, the Stones’ performance – culled from two shows at New York’s Beacon Theatre in 2006 — didn’t disappoint. Neither did the all-too-brief footage of past Stones interviews, which were peppered with some great lines. (Interviewer to Keith Richards: “Who’s the better guitarist? Ronnie or you?” Richards: “We’re both pretty lousy, but together we’re better than 100 others.” Interviewer: “What goes through your mind when you jump on stage in front of 100,000 people?” Richards: “I wake up.” Or this question to a 20-something Jagger from Dick Cavett: “Can you picture doing what you’re doing now at the age of 60?” Jagger: “Oh yeah. Easily.” Jagger today is just five months shy of 65.
Even Bill and Hillary make an appearance in the movie, proving that you can’t escape primary season even when you’re 4,000 miles away. Clinton got a big laugh from the Berliale crowd when he turns to Jagger to introduce him to a fan: “Mick, this is Mical Kominski, who’s just finished being president of Poland.”)
Winning the extra ticket to see the movie with me was my old pal Tanja Mediing. Tanja’s a film producer who has worked many years with the legendary documentarian Albert Maysles (Grey Gardens), and she took delight in nudging me whenever “Al” popped up on screen as one of the cameramen in Scorcese’s film. I’ve hijacked Tanja to help me shoot video for my Berlinale, and she’s already saved me from forgetting the microphone a couple of times.
Speaking of which, the biggest nightmare any video blogger can face is having his mike give out, which is exactly what happened while Tanja and I were interviewing veteran fest-trotter Al Migrom, director of the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Film Festival. Too bad, because Al waxed both profound and funny about the state of international filmmaking when we caught up with him in Potsdammer Platz. He was scurrying to catch a rather obscure Romanian picture– he’s an expert on East European cinema and has made it the specialty of his own festival — when I asked him if he, like Jagger, would still be doing what he’s doing when he turns 60.
“Well, since I’m in my 70s now, the answer’s pretty definitely yes,” he mused. “But international cinema in the States has gone down so much in the past years, it’s almost impossible to get these movies seen. That’s why old timers like me still have to go to places like Berlin – the excitement for this stuff is so terrific here, audiences really thrive it.” Or something to that effect, since on tape poor Al is utterly mute, unlike his impact on the Twin Cities, where he’s brought cutting-edge global cinema as the fest director for the past 23 years.
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Breaking news: As this column goes to bed, two female members of the Costa-Gavras’ competition jury have dropped out and won’t be serving. Director Susanne Bier (Oscar nominee After the Wedding) is leaving for the States immediately “due to unforeseen circumstances related to her next film,” according to a fest press release, and French actress Sandrine Bonnaire has to exit “for family reasons.” Press chief Frauke Greiner tells me that despite the loss, the festival still meets the minimum jury requirements for an A-class festival, which is six (the jury is now reduced to seven). “And there’s still two ladies (Germany’s Diane Kruger of National Treasure: Book of Secrets and Taiwanese actress Shu Qi ) holding up the fort.”