What was reported earlier this week has come true—the 2021 Berlin Film Festival is going virtual in March with a (planned) in-person “celebration” in June. This hybrid strategy is something that differentiates it from the upcoming Sundance Film Festival and this year’s TIFF and Venice festivals. And as the Berlin Film Festival artistic director Carlo Chatrian said in an interview with Variety, this decision was made out of necessity but also the desire to make sure both the business behind the film industry and the fans of the medium both get an opportunity to celebrate.
“We have two goals to fulfill: one is to support the film industry through our selection, but also give them a space to meet, even though this meeting won’t happen face-to-face, but rather online,” said Chatrian. “The other goal is very particular and very dear to Berlin: it’s to be able to offer a theatrical experience to our audience. From the moment we understood that these two elements couldn’t stay together because of the way the pandemic is evolving in Germany, we took the only decision possible, which was to separate them with two distinct events.”
So, here’s how it will work: The main competition lineup for Berlin 2021 will be announced early next year and will have an industry-only virtual unveiling in March. This is similar to how some of the festivals were handled this year, with press and industry folks getting access to the films via screeners. Then, in June, there is what is being called “Berlinale Summer,” an event that will showcase those very same films but allow for the filmmakers, actors, and fans to join together to celebrate the projects and act as a sort of pseudo-festival. However, it’s important to note that the June event won’t have any new premieres, as it is most definitely there as a celebration and not a festival.
“We call it a celebration, and to celebrate an event you need films, but also the people who made them, as well as the audience. It is our wish to have the filmmakers [and] the people who worked on the films to be celebrating with us,” said Chatrian. “For us, it is a wish, and we are working to have that in place. Of course, the Berlinale Summer is not the festival — it’s a different model. Not only because of the number of films, but because the goal is a different one…And depending on how the pandemic evolves and how things will be in April/May, it can have a more international profile, or less so. But this is not the goal: we don’t want to have a festival with new titles happening in June. The titles that we are going to show in June are the titles that will be unveiled in our lineup [in March].”
Of course, with Sundance going largely virtual this coming winter and Berlin doing the hybrid approach, it’ll be interesting to see how the other major spring festivals begin to plan for 2021. SXSW was famously canceled last year in March due to COVID and it’s really starting to become apparent that a full in-person event is unlikely. Then, of course, there’s Cannes, which has already announced a flurry of ideas for how to postpone the event and avoid a cancellation like what happened in 2020.
All that to say, the film festival lineup is still on shaky ground as we enter 2021. But as of now, we’ll have a virtual Berlinale starting on March 1.