February 10, 2009 / 1:30 AM / 10 years ago

Berlin film fest honors can be a career boost

BERLIN (Hollywood Reporter) - Berlin’s Golden Bear is actually just gilded bronze, but its true value can be immeasurable.

Just ask Jose Padilha. The Brazilian director was an unknown with a single documentary under his belt when his first feature, “The Elite Squad,” took Berlin’s top prize last year. Now he’s being chased by the U.S. studios, with projects in development at Universal, Lionsgate and Brad Pitt’s Plan B production company.

“All these American projects came after Berlin and the Golden Bear,” Padilha told The Hollywood Reporter. “It made a big, big difference to my career. I’m an independent filmmaker and it suddenly got a lot easier to finance my projects. I won’t say people started calling me to give me money but now, when I call, they pick up the phone.”

Or ask Fatih Akin. The German director went from being an insider’s tip to one of the hottest European talents overnight after his hard-hitting romance “Head-On” won gold in 2004. European Film Awards followed. As did invites to Cannes — first on the jury then in competition with “The Edge of Heaven.” Akin’s position on the international cadre of directors was confirmed again when he was invited, alongside luminaries including Mira Nair, Scarlett Johansson, Brett Ratner and Natalie Portman to shoot a short for the omnibus film “New York, I Love You.”

U.S. deals sometimes trail in the path of the Golden Bear: Paul Greengrass went from doing British TV drama to “The Bourne Supremacy” after his “Bloody Sunday” nabbed Berlin’s top prize in 2002.

But even for those majority of winners who never go Hollywood, the Golden Bear can be an important asset in getting your next film off the ground.

“After I won, it became so much easier to get my second feature made,” said Bosnian director Jasmila Zbanic, a 2006 Golden Bear winner for “Grbavica.”

“My first film took almost three years to finance and now, when I went around I was able to talk to all the funding bodies, all the producers right away.”

“For me, it meant that I was a proper filmmaker,” Sir David Hare said of winning the Bear for his directorial debut, “Wetherby,” in 1985. “At the time, British cinema was going through a very, very stultifying, dull commercial period which I, as British filmmaker, was made to feel like a complete arty idiot back at home. Anyone like Derek Jarman and those people who were trying to make interesting films back then were being really looked down on by the conventional British industry. And so winning in Berlin was a big thing.”

There’s less evidence of a Berlinale Bear box office bump. While a win is certain to boost international sales, the eclectic tastes of Berlin juries, and their tendency to favor the political over the commercial, means there are few out-and-out hits on the festival’s honor roll.

To get the full benefit of a Golden Bear, it’s best to win early in your career. The Berlinale trophy can take little credit for Terrence Malik (winner in 1998 for “The Thin Red Line”), Bernard Tavernier (“L’Appat,” 1995) or Milos Forman (“The People vs. Larry Flint,” 1996).

But if you’re a first-timer from an out-of-the way territory, the Golden Bear can be your ticket.

“In Brazil, when you win the Golden Bear, it’s all over the papers, it’s on TV, on the news. Suddenly you and you’re film are everywhere,” Padilha said.

“In my country, Bosnia, it was hugely important, not just for me but for the whole community of filmmakers,” Jasmila Zbanic added. “You have to understand. In Bosnia, there are no 35mm cameras, there are no film labs. For a Bosnian filmmaker to win in Berlin created this energy. People suddenly believed they could do it.”

For Zbanic, the Golden Bear proved even more precious that recognition or success. “Grbavica,” is a harrowing story about the aftermath of the mass rape of Bosnian women during the Yugoslavian war. A few short months after her film won in Berlin, Bosnia changed its laws, making rape a war crime.

“It was Berlin that did it,” Zbanic said. “It was with the help of the Golden Bear.”

Reuters/Hollywood Reporter

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