The Berlin International Film Festival opened on Thursday with a new movie from French director Francois Ozon and a pared-down format designed to bring audiences back but reduce COVID-19 infection risks.
The first of the year’s major European film festivals last took place in its regular 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 screenings for the public in June.
This time, the Berlinale is returning to something a bit more like normal, although the Omicron variant is still pushing coronavirus infection rates to new daily records in Germany, and numerous restrictions remain in place.
“We have developed a very reduced format, in consultation with health authorities here in Berlin,” the festival’s executive director, Mariette Rissenbeek, told Deutschlandfunk radio. The festival’s main business has been reduced to seven days, with four days at the end reserved for repeat public screenings.
Cinemas will only be half-filled, and moviegoers will be required to show 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 screenings with masks.
The festival is opening with a world premiere of Ozon’s “Peter von Kant,” the first of 18 films competing for the event’s top Golden Bear award. A seven-member international jury led by American filmmaker M. Night Shyamalan plans to announce the winners of that and other prizes on February 16.
German government spokesman Wolfgang Buechner said last week that the festival going ahead despite the pandemic is “a courageous step” and a signal to the cultural sector that “we won’t let corona(virus) get us down.”