It always intrigues me to see how people queue. For there are different ways to do so. Allow me to use generalisations, just this one time, to make it easier. The English have a culture of queuing. At bus stations in London, you come across lines of people that go for hundreds of metres. There is this unspoken rule, a societal code, that this is just what you do. In Germany, you have what they call “grapes of people” – stressful, tight formations that gather around the point of interest. Unlike the English queues, German grapes are dynamic. There is shuffling, pushing, shoving – elderly women are champions in these disciplines. And even if you pretend to stand above this, you are in it, knee-deep, and you may find yourself using an elbow or two, whilst shaking your head at human stupidity. It gets really interesting when different cultures of queuing mix. At airports for example. While I was waiting to board a flight from Glasgow to Berlin, a German was held back by security for having skipped the line with quite some brutality (he might call it ambition). Another interesting case are film festivals. Just like in every other queue, people have the same goal. But at festivals, this goal is a pleasant, entertaining, intellectually stimulating one – the members of the queue share a common interest. But this doesn’t keep them from practicing what we Germans call elbow politics. At the Delphi, an old cinema with a relatively small foyer, it was so crowded that the waiter of the cinema’s café had to block the passage from the café to the foyer to keep people from pushing. Obviously, all he got was shouts of outrage. I was standing right in front of him, a little black belt separating us. Behind me were around thirty people. As they became more and more agitated, fearing that they wouldn’t get a decent seat in the cinema, he insisted that he was only blocking the way because there was no more space in the foyer, and that once people would move into the cinema, he would let us through. He was what you now elegantly call “passive aggressive” – a mixture of overly friendliness with heavy aggression bubbling beneath the surface. I felt sorry for him. People were shouting if there were still tickets left, when the film would start, and why they had to wait, and he kept repeating, “I am the café, not the cinema. I can just about spell Berlinale.” We were all waiting to see the film by Israeli director Silvina Landsmann, Soldier / Citizen. The man behind me asked his partner, “so, is this a film for or against Israel?” Sociologically, a queue is a microcosm of its own. It reveals people’s behaviours and fears, attitudes and political opinions. And even though queues are one of the most horrible formations to be in, they are great for watching, talking, and listening.
Today, on the last day of the festival, the woman behind me in the queue said, “it was a strange Berlinale. With 20.000 accredited guests, it seems as if there was little space for the average Berliner.” It is true – Berlinale has definitely become more of a hype. It is more difficult (and more expensive) to get an accreditation than a few years ago, though the number of accredited visitors seems to have risen. Everyone is in the same boat: to grab tickets to the film of your choice before the others do. People without accreditation can get their tickets three days in advance. On a Monday, you are already thinking about the Thursday. Accredited guests elbow their way to tickets one day before a film. As a result, everyone is constantly confused as to which day it is. I got to Berlin on Friday, the first full-on day of the festival. When I got to the accreditation centre in the afternoon, the lady behind the counter smiled and informed me that there were no tickets left for the day, nor for the Saturday. I asked her at what time I should arrive in the morning to make sure to still get tickets to the films of choice. She advised me to get there half an hour before opening. At 8.00 in the morning, on a Saturday, in the freezing cold – lest we forget it was -18 °C in Berlin – I will be one of very few mad people, I thought. But when I arrived, 200 people ahead of me had thought the same. Every night, there was the internal battle: to rise at 7.00 to get what I want, or to sleep and take what is left, that was the question. And whatever I decided, I constantly found myself surprised at the fact that it was “only” Sunday, only Monday, only Tuesday. And suddenly, it’s over. I was lucky enough to see most of the films that I was interested in. Those that stuck with me were Edwin’s Postcards from the Zoo (for the minimalistic shots, the dreamlike atmosphere and the extraordinary plot), Silvina Landsmann’s Soldier / Citizen (for the Wiseman-like observation of an intriguing subject matter), Ami Livne’s Sharqiya (for it’s strong story, impressive acting and subtle dialogue), Matthew Akers’ Marina Abramovic: The Artist Is Present (for effectively capturing a captivating personality), Radu Jude’s Everybody in our Family (for the painful depiction of fragile family dynamics and impressive acting by Șerban Pavlu), Marten Persiel’s This Ain’t California (for a fast-paced, inspiring piece of documentary filmmaking) and Kim Nyugen’s Rebelle (for clean images, extraordinary acting by Rachel Mwanza and a great soundtrack).
And as we all know, the last day of the festival is always a little strange. Time slows down again, you know longer live a day ahead, or see through someone else’s eyes. You are left with a little void. The head is full, the body slumped, and both whisper: “go to sleep”. That’s a queue, um, cue, I’ll willingly take.