Berlinale 2014: reflections on a key Antipodean stage

The fact that Australian and New Zealand productions are honoured so frequently in the young people's space at the Berlin International Film Festival is both charming and intriguing. Who better to dis
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The fact that Australian and New Zealand productions are honoured so frequently in the young people’s space at the Berlin International Film Festival is both charming and intriguing. Who better to discuss it than Maryanne Redpath, who runs the Generation program?

Maryanne Redpath, head of the Generation section of the Berlin International Film Festival, and the official Berlinale delegate for Australia and New Zealand, is a delight to encounter as she makes her rounds of the films and festivals.

Her background gives her perspective a particular depth. She was born in New Zealand in 1957, studied drama at university, moved to Sydney, made experimental films, was active in theatre, became a multimedia performance artist, and somehow learnt to be a Feldenkrais teacher as well.

Meanwhile, she moved to Germany with her partner and infant son in 1985 as an illegal immigrant until she was deported in 1987, only to return in 1989 with a German husband. Her daughter was born just as the Berlin Wall came down.

I grabbed her at the Adelaide Film Festival to ask a question which has been nagging at me for several years. Why do Australian films do so well in the Generation Section of the Berlinale? While films like 52 Tuesdays and Galore, both in Generation 14plus in 2014, feature young people, they are made for adult audiences.

“A lot of people have asked me that,” she said. “I have a few theories but none of them are enough to explain the phenomenon. The last four years in a row, a short film from Australia has won a Crystal Bear – but they are not the only ones. There are Crystal Bears sitting on mantlepieces and in cupboards and under beds all round Australia.”

She suggested it may be do to with coming of age stories. They are rich with conflict and drama, we all share them. But, she said, “It can happen when you are seventy years old. I don’t think we ever stop coming of age.

“I wonder if Australia as a nation is going through a coming of age drama – being born, and being reborn again, coming to terms with its identity and what that means, and I wonder if it is being expressed in a lot of films.”

As the Berlinale delegate for Australia and New Zealand, she also has a certain sensitivity to our films, and their possibilities for a young audience. But at the same time, she pushes them towards the adult sections of the Festival. While she hopes that an Antipodean film can make the rarefied heights of the Competition Section in the next few years, The Turning has been selected for the Berlinale Special section.

But the Generation section is still a fabulous showcase. Sixty thousand young people are joined by a healthy smattering of sales agents, distributors and film industry creators.

Said Maryanne, “A lot of people say we are educating the audiences of tomorrow, and that is where they are wrong. We are really fully recognising our audiences as the audiences of today.

“Anyone who has a film in Generation comes away saying it was the most amazing experience – those young Berlinale audiences are so film savvy, and ask just the right questions and we have great discussions.”

She has no truck with the theory that films for young people have to be improving. Indeed, when the section started in the 1970’s it was so trapped in that notion that the children were filmed watching the films, and then studied for their reaction. That sense of pedagogy and moralism was dismantled, until now the Generation section will encourage confronting films.

“People ask us whether we are worried that the children won’t like the film. I say, that’s not really the point. Children, young people, teenagers – whatever you want to call them – should be allowed and enabled to go to the cinema and have the full experience. It could mean that they will laugh, or cry, or be really scared or that they will be made to think – just like adults. Or just get lost in some really amazing entertainment while they forget the world around them.

“In our world, so many children are not allowed to be children. We show what in Germany are called really hard core films, about dysfunctional families, about children growing up in war.. I never expect every child to like every film, but the ones that do often write to me or come up to me afterwards and say, ‘Thank youy for showing me that film, I know exactly how that girl feels.” They don’t feel alone, they feel supported.

“I think film is really powerful. It can change lives. We have contact with a first stop home for young asylum seekers, including ex child soldiers from places like Somalia, really really damaged people with terrible, terrible lives. We give them tickets to come and see the films.

I talked to one of the carers, and said, ‘I’ll; give you tickets to whatever you want. Entertainment? The hard stuff?’ And she said, ‘Give them the hard stuff, that’s good. Even if they can’t understand the language, it is very healing for them, and they can start talking about whatever they have been through.’”

Fort some time, Maryanne Redpath has been developing a section in Berlinale focused on Indigenous cinema, supported by discussions with filmmakers and activists around Native American , Maori, South Pacific and Aboriginal filmmakers. She was supported by the Indigenous Branch of Screen Australia.

This led to the first ‘NATIVe – A Journey into Indigenous Cinema’ section at the Berlinale in 2013. This year, the festival highlights two features, and will take this further in 2015 with a focus on Latin and South America.

Because she has been so uprooted herself – “drifting about two feet off the ground ” – she found the experience of Indigenous filmmakers, their cultures and histories, very illuminating. “They have been totally colonized, and brutally and forcibly uprooted, but there is still this amazing relationship to where they come from.”

“The image that helps me along the way, because it is a bit of a question mark, is that I carry my home inside me. I’m a snail, and my house is on my back.

“You have to have a place you call home, and that helps me with my family, that is all around the world.”

Her daughter is in Berlin, where Maryanne has spent more time than any other place, her son is in Melbourne with her grandchild, and her parents are in Christchurch, dealing with the aftermath of the earthquake.

“I do feel solidly where I am at the moment, and I realize it’s got something to do with dealing with the feeling of home, with relationship, to country, with where you come from and who you might go back to, and family and tradition and ancestors and all those things that can help you in your everyday life. I’ve thought about that a lot.”

Then Maryanne Redpath finished the interview, and left the Hilton Hotel in Adelaide and caught a plane.

David Tiley was the Editor of Screenhub from 2005 until he became Content Lead for Film in 2021 with a special interest in policy. He is a writer in screen media with a long career in educational programs, documentary, and government funding, with a side order in script editing. He values curiosity, humour and objectivity in support of Australian visions and the art of storytelling.