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Forum still feisty at 40

Low-key celebrations concentrate on the pics

“Celebrating our 40th anniversary at the same time that the Berlin Film Festival is celebrating its 60th is a bit like having your birthday at Christmas,” said Christoph Terhechte, director of Berlin’s Intl. Forum of New Cinema.

The Forum’s identity as an alternative to the more commerce-driven main event makes its four-decade existence something to take note of, but Terhechte isn’t about to throw a bash. “At the Forum, it’s about showing and discussing films,” he said.

The celebration actually happened last June when Dialogues With Films’ Four Decades of the Forum unspooled at the Forum’s home base at Berlin’s prime alternative-cinema venue, the Arsenal. The show comprised a dozen films launched by the Forum — three from each decade — selected by filmmakers with Forum roots themselves. Pics will also show during the Forum’s run.

The 40-year mark compels Terhechte to reflect on the Forum’s affinity with Cannes’ Directors’ Fortnight. Both were created out of the political-cultural tumult of the late 1960s and early 1970s, rejecting the stodgy nature of the main festivals in favor of innovative and experimental work with a broad, international platform.

Created two years after Fortnight, Forum “has been influenced by the Fortnight, but their histories are quite different I think,” Terhechte said.

“The Fortnight is still fundamentally independent, while Forum is an integral part of the Berlinale. The Forum has maintained a program of experimental and independent cinema, whereas the Fortnight has had past problems distinguishing itself from (Cannes sidebar) Un Certain Regard.”

The Forum’s original rebel tone has toned down considerably over time, though the creation in 2006 of Forum Expanded, an adjunct showcase of experimental film and multimedia work under the direction of Arsenal co-programmer Stefanie Schulte Strahaus, has helped revive the section’s original radical spirit.

While there was open warfare between former Berlin topper Moritz de Hadeln and then-Forum head Ulrich Gregor before Terhechte’s 2001 appointment, “that doesn’t exist any more,” said Terhechte.

His arrival coincided with that of Dieter Kosslick at the Berlinale, which made for an ideal arrangement, since Terhechte had previously worked with Kosslick as a programmer of the European Low-Budget Film Forum.

Such a close relationship has raised criticism, however.

German film critic and longtime Berlin observer Olaf Moller wrote in a Film Comment magazine analysis of the fest’s three major components that “Kosslick is El Supremo, and while Terhechte and (Panorama director) Wieland Speck may assemble their sections’ lineups, they’re lieutenants at best. Neither is exactly known for standing up to Kosslick and they usually agree with him about which films go where.”

This may result in a certain degree of predictability, but Terhechte said, “There are many aspects to Forum that keep it dynamic, not only our core program but especially what Stefanie does with Forum Expanded and our focus on rediscoveries of classical films, because we’re not just about new work.”

Latter is highlighted by a trio of rarely seen silents by Japanese master Shimazu Yasujiro.

Terhechte is particularly intrigued by the number of films in this year’s lineup that reflect on the global economic crisis, explore existential dilemmas and those by directors such Thomas Arslan (“In the Shadows”) and Sharunas Bartas (“Native Eurasia”) — hardly known as genre helmers — stepping into pure genre territory.

Over at Forum Expanded, Strathaus said he’s excited by this year’s expansion of live performance mixed with film and video projection.

Examples include filmmaker James Benning reading accompanying text to his “Reforming the Past,” and Ela Troyano’s and Uzi Parne’s “The Silence of Marcel Duchamp” backed with music by John Zorn.

“We need to reconsider how we present films,” said Strahaus, “and by showing work in galleries, cinemas and performance spaces, it compels audiences and programmers to question what is ‘proper’ for a film presentation.

“Gallerygoers now come to the festival, and festivalgoers find themselves in galleries. Its an exciting time in Berlin.”

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