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Fest shines in rain

Fans cheer Berlinale opener 'Man to Man'

BERLIN — A cold rain drizzled on the Berlin Film Festival’s opening night Thursday but failed to dampen expectations that this will be a key year for the German fest.

True, there will be fewer Hollywood movies and stars than in previous editions, with the Feb. 27 date of the Academy Awards, in particular, changing studio priorities.

Fest kicked off with the Franco-British co-production “Man to Man,” about the search for the missing link between man and ape, with helmer Regis Wargnier and pic’s Pygmy co-stars drawing loud roars from fans lining the red carpet.

Others walking the carpet included Jerry Lewis, Kristin Scott Thomas and Joseph Fiennes.

Lewis, along with Bruce Willis, Goldie Hawn, Tina Turner and Bryan Adams, was in town not for the Berlinale but for publishing giant Axel Springer’s Goldene Kamera Awards held Wednesday.

Still, many believe Berlin’s burgeoning European Film Market — boosted for the first time by the American Film Market’s shift to fall — is going to do wonders for the fest, if it doesn’t end up overshadowing it.

Attendance this year is up by 1,000 to 17,000 as record numbers of buyers and sellers with nowhere else to do business descend on Potsdamer Platz.

The number of companies registered has risen 40% to 165 and the number of films on offer is up 33% to 530, with more than 800 market screenings.

But as for the Berlin mart’s ability to fill the spring AFM’s role, attendees say they are waiting to see how wide a spread of films and genres are brought to the market.

Meanwhile, the opening ceremony got off to a subdued start with the usually jovial Berlinale director Dieter Kosslick breaking the news that prominent Gallic film industryite and Unifrance VP Humbert Balsan had died in Paris on Thursday.

“He was my very close friend and a great friend of a lot of the people in this room,” Kosslick said, reminding guests that Unifrance topper Daniel Toscan du Plantier, French cinema’s international ambassador, died of a heart attack at the Berlinale two years ago.

The mood in the Berlinale Palast theater lifted thanks to a witty double act between Kosslick and German TV personality Anke Engelke, who joked about the fest’s themes of “soccer, sex and politics” and the uniqueness of Berlin over other festivals.

“It’s always cold and it rains. You don’t get that in Venice and Cannes,” Kosslick said.

On the difficulties of finding the fest’s e10.5 million ($13.5 million) budget, Berlin Mayor Klaus Wowereit joined in the ribbing by telling Kosslick, “They’re cutting so much, they didn’t even give you a bowtie.”

The stage appearances of Wowereit and Culture Minister Christina Weiss gave the informal proceedings a local, unglitzy feel.

Thesp jury members Ingeborga Dapkunaite, Franka Potente and Bai Ling upped the glamour quotient, the latter attired in a black sheath dress whose neckline plunged to the waist. Berlin’s jury prexy and helmer Roland Emmerich addressed the aud in his native German.

After “Man to Man,” which met with a mixed reaction, opening night festivities continued with a cocktail party.

As hotels filled up with execs on Thursday, the business of buying and selling films was due to get under way in earnest today.

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