2013 Berlin Film Festival Day 1: Intro & I Used to be Darker
This is my first time at a large film festival. I honestly arrived not knowing what to expect. Albeit, I have been in and about the independent film community for several years now, and have had my taste of low profile, fledgling films on a local and regional level; but nothing like this.
What I have always loved about independent film and those who are involved with the art is the energy. The excitement. Sure, it can be glamorous, and everyone dreams of red carpets and photo backdrops, but in the end we are here because we belong. It’s a convention of the craft. Everyone here is present to either hear or tell a story, possibly–and likely–both. The film festival is a stepping stone. Whether it is the first or the last depends on the artists dreams and ambitions; but for everyone here, this has been a goal at one point or another and we are here to celebrate the accomplishment of ” getting there.”
Berlin brought me on board in a pool of sunshine–a welcome in the midst of the typical cloudy German winter. I walked to my hostel from the Bellevue S-Bahn station loaded with gear and clothes to last the 11 days of the festival, checked in to my modest 15 Euro a night room, and made my way to the press center at the Hyatt Berlin right across form the Berlinale Palast where many of the films will premiere. Having been a journalist for the past two and a half years, it is a warm welcome to finally enter a media circus that has a positive focus.
After receiving my credentials, I spent much of the afternoon getting my bearings. Certain press screenings require nothing more that a flash of the credentials, while other higher profile films require you to obtain press tickets a couple of days in advance, and certain tickets are only available at the specific venue on the day of the screening. Fortunately most of the venues are all centered around the Berlinale Palast and press center. I grabbed my tickets for the the red carpet events I wanted to attend between Thursday and Friday–most notably being Don Jon’s Addiction, the feature directorial debut of Joseph Gordon-Levitt–and made my way to the theater.
The regular program for the first day of the festival only included three films in the regular competition, and much of the hubbub was for Wong Kar Wai’s film, The Grandmaster, a Kung Fu epic. Visually breathtaking, the film juxtaposes the external actions of the characters with their own internal struggles.
I Used to be Darker
My first press screening for the festival was for the film, I Used to be Darker from Matt Porterfield. The film tells the story of nineteen year old Taryn, who ran away from her home in Ireland to work the boardwalk in Ocean City, New Jersey. After discovering she is pregnant, she rushes to Baltimore where her aunt, uncle, and cousin live. Upon her arrival, she realizes this family–which she has always pictured as ideal–is in the midst of being torn apart. Her aunt and uncle are in the beginning stages of a separation, while her cousin, whom she has always been able to relate to, is rejecting her parents and the lie she feels she has been told all her life.
The film strives on long takes, which is fun to see after years of fast cutting films. The pace brings a powerful sense of melancholy to the film, and gives the audience the time to reflect on the moment along with the characters. Profoundly long periods of silence also add to this effect, some lasting nearly 10 minutes without a word of dialog as the characters interact with their environment and emotions. Original musical interludes serve as soliloquy, as well as providing an enjoyable soundtrack.
In all, not much is resolved in I Used to be Darker, and the piece serves more as a “slice of life” style of portraiture. The audience is able to poke their heads into the world of the characters, witness this period of conflict, and then return home. We are not left with unanswered questions, because no real questions were raised. Well produced and finely executed, I Used to be Darker is an enjoyable film on a technical level, though I would have liked to have seen more epiphany within the characters.
COMING UP: Friday, things really take off at Berlinale with the screenings press conferences of Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Don Jon’s Addiction, Gus Van Sant’s Promised Land, and Ulrich Seidl’s Paradise: Hope. All three are much anticipated films from familiar faces on the film circuit. It will be great to see what direction these filmmakers are taking to define themselves in early twenty-first century cinema.