Berlin Film Festival Forging Ahead With February Event Despite Omicron COVID Variant Forcing Contingency Plans (EXCLUSIVE)

Berlin Film Festival
Berlin Film Festival

The Berlin Film Festival is forging ahead with plans for an in-person celebration this February, though the new Omicron COVID-19 variant is forcing conversations about contingency plans, multiple individuals familiar with the matter told Variety.

While festival insiders described the group as “determined” to gather in-person, there have been talks about pushing the event as far out as June from its current scheduled run of February 10-20, 2022. A delay is widely seen as preferable to mounting a virtual festival, sources said, which Berlin did in 2021 as the Delta variant ran rampant around the globe.

Rumors of the potential changes started swirling this week when Medienboard, Berlin’s film and TV fund, announced it was pushing its lavish annual party tied to the festival. This week, the Berlin-based European Film Awards also announced it would hold a digital ceremony on Dec. 11.

A spokesperson for the Berlin Film Festival told Variety that the event and its companion European Film Market were still preparing for a physical edition and would not be discussing contingency plans at this time. Regarding a spring delay, the spokesperson said this option was not currently on the table and added that German leaders are expected to reexamine the country’s current health protocols — called the 2G conditions — and potentially set stricter rules this week.

The local government recently limited the audience capacity of concert halls and night clubs to 50%. It also restricted access for public places to vaccinated people, people who previously had COVID, and people who recovered from COVID as part of new measures aimed at speeding up the vaccine rollout and curbing the skyrocketing number of infections.

Should movie theaters remain open, the festival could proceed, though perhaps scaled down with a reduced roster of international guests. Several countries have begun implementing tighter travel restrictions to reduce the spread of Omicron.

Key U.S. executives, like Arianna Bocco, IFC Films CEO, and Glen Basner, Film Nation Entertainment CEO, have been planning to go after Sundance and are now keeping an eye on the evolution of the situation.

Basner said Film Nation was “planning to travel to Berlin but [it] obviously depends upon [the] Covid situation on the ground.” Bocco, meanwhile, said IFC Films was “waiting to hear what the options are for Berlin.” “I think everyone is a little nervous about the spikes in Europe now and what might be coming over here, so it’s difficult to plan,” said Bocco. European sales agents, meanwhile, have been booking their stands at a steady pace.

Berlin held a smaller, red-carpet event in June this year to complement its 2021 virtual festival, which was considered highly successful by the German film industry, and the government, which is the Berlinale’s main backer.

“The Berlin Film Festival is mainly a public event and its main focus is attract local crowds in theaters rather than shine abroad like Cannes Film Festival, so having a festival in the spring wouldn’t be so terrible. It would mean that Cannes and Berlin would be close to one another, but they’ve never played in the same league so it wouldn’t be such a big deal,” noted a German industry insider.

This year’s Berlinale might also boast a smaller selection of films, partly due to the fact that one of the main cinema venues is going through renovation works. Only a few titles have been talked about for the upcoming edition, notably Claire Denis’s “Fire” with Juliette Binoche and Vincent Lindon.