Berlin Film Festival Set to Go Virtual for 71st Edition (EXCLUSIVE)

Berlin Film Festival
Courtesy of Richard Hubner/Berlinale

The Berlin Film Festival, one of the world’s leading gathering points for the international film industry, is set to radically alter its 71st edition, Variety has learned exclusively.

The festival was originally scheduled to run as a physical event from Feb. 11-21, but rising COVID-19 infections in Germany have forced a rethink. The festival is now looking to present the festival selections to the film industry in early March, Variety understands, with the European Film Market running as a digital event at the same time. A mini-festival with a series of onsite world premieres is being planned for early June.

A spokesperson for the Berlinale declined to comment, but said the festival will be announcing their plans later this week.

The Berlinale had been looking to run the festival as a physical event in April instead, but the government — which provides much of its funding — didn’t want to commit to the cost when it’s unclear whether COVID-19 rates will have improved by then. The Berlinale’s annual budget was €27.2 million ($33 million) in 2020.

Furthermore, an April edition would have clashed with the release of “No Time to Die,” and Variety understands that local movie theater owners were reluctant to allow the festival to book screens they’d like to devote to the highly anticipated James Bond film.

For industry players, having the EFM go virtual in March would be preferable to waiting for a hypothetically physical market in April, and ensures that at least one major market will be hosted during the first quarter of 2021.

While most professionals have been hoping that the EFM could take place as a physical event, many have argued that April would be both too soon for everyone to travel, and at the same time too far away for dealmaking purposes. Also, keeping the EFM in early March prevents any potential clash with the Cannes Film Festival, whether or not it moves its May edition to late June or July.

News of the changes follows a week when the COVID-19 infection rates in Germany have hit record levels. The country’s disease control agency, the Robert Koch Institute, reported a record 952 deaths on Wednesday, the country’s highest daily death toll since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. Germany also recorded 27,728 new infections as it entered a stricter lockdown, which closed schools and most shops nationwide, according to Deutsche Welle.

The festival is both a major event for the film business, with 18,518 industry guests from 132 countries attending in 2020, as well as 3,447 journalists from 82 countries, and a massive event for the Berlin public, with admissions totaling 479,365.

There were 341 films in the public program, and 732 films in the European Film Market, which runs alongside the festival. The festival occupied 15 movie theaters to stage its public screenings, totaling 29 screens. With market screenings included, the total was 40 screens.