Helmer: Fest always a place for political, socially progressive pix

What could be more appropriate than a Golden Bear for lifetime achievement to someone who’s been making films for as long as the Berlinale’s existed?

Though Andrzej Wajda, who picked up his award Wednesday, had already received a special Oscar in 2000 for his life’s work, he feels a special connection to the Berlin fest. He’s been a frequent guest here, with films such as “Pan Tadeusz” (2000) to “Miss Nobody” (1997), as well as a former prize-winner for “Holy Week” (1996) and a jury member in 2000.

But it goes much deeper than that.

“The Berlinale has been tremendously important for all of us in the east because it’s always been a place for political and socially progressive films. That was our genre. People wanted to know what was behind the Wall, so our films were not just seen as cinema, they were seen as a political phenomenon.”

And just as important was the city itself, he added. “It was the one place of freedom closest to Warsaw. Coming to Berlin meant coming to freedom.”

And the concept of freedom had a lot to do with his choice of the film to be screened at the awards ceremony, “Pilate and Others” (1972).

Of all his films, Wajda considers his often forgotten “Pilate and Others” (1972) — originally broadcast on German TV by ZDF — one of his most interesting works.

“If you watch this film today,” he explained, “you will see what degree of freedom there was on German television at that time. We came as Polish filmmakers to this free country, with free television, and they allowed us to do what we wanted.”

And he couldn’t help but add, “I think this is a good time to remind the ZDF of what they did back then.”

With the political edge removed, does the Golden Bear carry the same relevance for Wajda that it once did?

“The Golden Bear is always a Golden Bear,” he said. “It’s an excellent award for me because it’s not only for film, but it’s a prize from Berlin.”

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