Since getting back from our European summer, I have, in the partly cynical interest of securing airfare in the winter (so as to get to some other screenings), sent off requests to a number of festivals for waivers on any entry fees, since on principle I don’t accept them though not so long ago it was simply a fiscal matter – I couldn’t afford them. Most replied favorably, and I’ve sent off DVDs of Swimming to the San Jose Maverick festival, Ann Arbor, Sundance. Those aren’t going to get me to Europe though. So I wrote the Berlinale Forum, where some time ago, I was a regular, having shown many films there, though the last were back in 1993, Frameup and The Bed You Sleep In *. I shifted back then to Digital Video and it took a while for them to face reality and not side-line DV to a video sidebar, which I declined to allow with my work. Rotterdam didn’t take such an attitude, so I went there instead. In turn I later got the impression, when the Forum had shifted policy and decided to accept video work on an equal footing with celluloid, that I had along the way become persona non grata. At least they rejected some films I sent them, I don’t recall which. This year I sent a few emails, requesting a waiver, and at first got no answer and then a few further attempts got a bounced-back email – perhaps consigned to a spam filter. Inquiring with a Berlin film-world friend, I got assurances the emails were right, and then yesterday I got this:
Dear Jon Jost, Thank you for your email. I can't explain why it hadn't reached us, most likely because of the attachments?! Concerning Swimming in Nebraska, unfortunately it is not possible to submit a film twice. Concerning the fee waivers, I fully understand your request but unfortunately I'm sorry to inform you that it won't be possible for us to waive the fee this time. The rules have changed last year, we must observe them really strictly, for this festival fee is an essential part of the financing of the selection process. I truly hope that you will find a way to submit your films, and we would be happy to watch them then. (As a reminder for the Forum: films submitted for screening at the Forum must have been completed within the last 12 months before the start of the festival; must be at least 60 minutes long; must not have been screened at any other German or European festivals; and with the exception of the country of origin, must not have been shown in European cinemas or broadcast on television.) Sorry for not bringing better news. Best regards from Berlin, Cécile Tollu-Polonowski
Though I would not have paid in any event, I looked up to see what the submission fee was: 125 Euro, or about $170 or so. And I wrote them this:
I guess, unless Forum policies change in the future, I long ago saw my last Berlinale. It is bad enough, especially in the current cultural climate, to have to pay with one’s own money to do your work, as I do. To have to pay to roll the dice on whether others will choose to show it merely compounds the matter. I, and I am sure many others, won’t be paying 125 Euro for the privilege of participating in cultural Lotto. All things change in time, and I guess the Forum is no exception. [I’d note that for many from more economically deprived parts of the world the 125 Euro buy-in is truly prohibitive – I have some Philippine and Malay filmmaker acquaintances who would choke on this.]
While I know they no longer run or perhaps even participate in it, kindly pass along my regards to Erika and Uhlrik Gregor.
Actually these days the once vaguely practical utility of festivals, at least for the kinds of things I do, is pretty much gone: there is no little tiny niche market one might make a sale to, at least not that I know of, so it pretty much boils down to wanting to visit the place. I like Berlin and have friends there I’d like to see, so I’d go if invited, but not if it costs a little bundle to bet on it. I guess we’ll have to find some other reasons for going to Berlin some time.
Long ago, the first time I went to Berlin, at one point I found in my hotel room a special Berlin kinda item, (s)he was one of the party sort that gravitate to festivals. Nothing happened, except I guess a glimpse into a certain Berliner life-style. Later I moved there and spent a few years, and have been back many times. Nice city in my book.