Before going to the cinema these days, some people ask themselves a question of which after two years of pandemic one can be more than tired: Am I going? Or am I not going?

The corona virus is still weighing things down. With the Berlinale, one of the biggest film festivals in the world begins this Thursday (February 10). And the decision sparked controversy.

When the festival management presented its program in January, a statement by Federal Minister of Health Karl Lauterbach (SPD) made the rounds. At the time, he expected the wave of omicron infection to peak in mid-February. How the Berlinale can take place has long been discussed.

The directors of the festival also asked themselves this question. You have been developing hygiene concepts for a long time. Journalists constantly receive e-mails, which must be taken into account. There are also some changes for the public.

How should the Berlinale take place?

“We really thought about how this festival could be implemented in the smallest way possible, so that it still has the publicity function,” said managing director Mariette Rissenbeek of the dpa in Berlin. “The films that are screened here need this attention.”

Stricter rules should apply. Only half of the cinema seats are occupied. Only people vaccinated against the virus or cured have access to it. Anyone who has not yet received a booster shot also needs a test. You have to wear a mask in the cinema. Tickets are only available online. Gone are the days of people camping in front of the counter with their sleeping bags.

Opening night is also expected to be smaller than usual. About 800 guests are expected, about half as many as in other years. The new film by French director Francois Ozon will be shown – “Peter von Kant”, based on Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s film “The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant”.

There should be no parties and receptions. Even after the opening, the Berlinale does without a big party. A “seated dinner” with juries, opening film team, policy and festival management is planned, said a spokeswoman. “Of course, we want to meet the needs of our guests on opening night, otherwise they would have to go to the restaurant.”

Is it a secret party?

When asked how they want to prevent them from celebrating in secret, Rissenbeek replies: “Well, we don’t celebrate in secret like a festival. And we have also asked all our partners to manage this accordingly. That’s like that they also do. They could cook dinner or lunch for a smaller number of people.” But of course they couldn’t stop people from going to the restaurant – maybe even 20 of them.

Who comes and who doesn’t?

There will be a red carpet, but some faces will be missing. “Nick Cave won’t be able to come, it’s sad – he loves the city and the festival, but he has to work,” Chatrian said. The Berlinale wants to show a documentary about the musician. “And Sigourney Weaver and Elizabeth Banks won’t be able to travel.” But the actresses Emma Thompson, Juliette Binoche, Isabelle Huppert and Charlotte Gainsbourg are there.

Chatrian says he thinks traveling from the United States is more complicated. Also because a twelve-hour journey means a greater risk for people. “Our policy is very clear this time: we don’t want to force anyone to come if they don’t feel well. A festival should be fun, not just work.”

Guests from all over the world usually come to the Berlinale. This time too, a number of film crews are expected, who must comply with German entry rules, as Chatrian says. Sometimes the problem is the opposite: “Guests from other countries must be quarantined when they return from Germany. It can be a problem.” In addition, the situation can change every day and the airlines have reduced the flight offer.

Why is a change complicated?

Chatrian and Rissenbeek have been leading the Berlinale for three years. Last year they had to postpone because of the pandemic. At that time, pundits had watched movies online through a platform in March – people in the film industry will have that opportunity again this year, but not for media people.

Film screenings for the public were then caught up in the summer. If the Berlinale has trouble moving to another date, it’s also because the world of cinema is on the run.

“The Berlinale is an incredibly important film festival for Germany, for Europe, all over the world and of great importance for our cultural life,” said Minister of State for Culture Claudia Roth (Greens ). “If we were to cancel, we would have lost important films to Cannes and Venice, which also could not have been shown in Berlin this summer. As a result, the cultural and political significance of the Berlinale would have suffered overall. Roth also sees the Berlinale as an important sign of optimism, hope and encouragement.

What films are shown?

A total of 18 films are in the running for the Golden Bear, including the project “Rabiye Kurnaz against George W. Bush” by Andreas Dresen and the film “AEIOU – The Quick Alphabet of Love” by Nicolette Krebitz . Films by Ulrich Seidl, Claire Denis, Hong Sangsoo and Denis Côté are also in competition.

Rissenbeek says she understands when people worry about the infection situation because they don’t know exactly what will happen next. “At the same time, it must be said that the cinemas are open. Concert halls are also open. Football matches are played. It’s not like public life has come to a standstill like a year ago.”

According to you, formats are necessary for culture. They all tried to make culture possible. “And it would have been very difficult to say for the Berlinale, which is also a platform for cinemas, of all things: ‘We prefer to cancel,’ Rissenbeek said. was the right solution.”

They would have agreed the conditions with the health authorities from the start. “If we had been told: ‘Mrs. Rissenbeek, you cannot have a festival in the event of a pandemic. Forget it”, then of course we wouldn’t have done it.” (dpa)