Alumni Head to Berlinale 2020

Felix Van Kann
February 12, 2020

February 20th marks the return of the Berlin International Film Festival, one of the world’s oldest and most acclaimed film festivals, in their 70th edition. Three Columbia filmmakers—alumni Mehrnoush Aliaghaei '13Konstantinos Antonopoulos '12 and Valerie Castillo Martinez '16—were chosen to participate in the festival’s Berlinale Talents development program, and a number of others will be showing films.

Berlinale Talents is a program for 250 emerging filmmakers and drama series creators from all over the world. In addition to the extensive summit programme of master classes and panel discussions with top-notch experts, Berlinale Talents also provides Studio programmes and workshops for specific groups of film professionals. As an initiative of the Berlin International Film Festival, the entire event is closely linked with the programmes of the festival sections and the European Film Market.

Mehrnoush Alia is a filmmaker and theatre producer working between New York and Tehran. Alia has produced over a dozen short films, one feature film, and two of Mohammad Aghebati’s plays. Her directorial debut Scheherazade won several awards and screened at over twenty film festivals. She is the co-founder of Maaa Film, a production company that utilizes the cinematic language to bring stories of Iran and Iranian immigrants to the world. 

Konstantinos Antonopoulos is a Greek filmmaker based in Athens. His first short film Can't Play The Piano premiered at Zagreb Film Festival 2017 and since then he has directed several other shorts such as: Postcards From The End Of The World (Sarajevo Film Festival 2019), Lea (Honorary Distinction at Athens International Film Festival 2013) and Without Glasses (Special Award at Drama Film Festival 2009). He co-wrote the feature film Symptom (Torino Film Festival 2015) and edited the feature film My First Kiss And The People Involved (L.A. Film Festival 2016).

Valerie Castillo Martinez grew up in the Philippines and moved to the US in 2001. She has written, directed and produced several projects set in the US and international locations such as the Philippines, Spain, Lebanon and Indonesia, with themes dealing with military, anti-bullying, LGBTQ and political issues. She has received grants from institutions such as Doha Film Institute, Katharina Otto Bernstein, National Board of Review and Caucus Foundation. She won the Entertainment Partners Best Producing Award at the 2016 Columbia University Film Festival, while her first feature, Death of Nintendo, received Faculty Honors at the screenwriting competition. She started her company Indieflip with a vision to make films on underrepresented subjects and cross cultural themes. 

In addition to participating in Berlinale Talents, Castillo Martinez is showing the film Death of Nintendo, which she wrote and produced and was edited by alumnus Cyril Aris ’17. The film will run as part of the Generation Kplus selection. Death of Nintendo is about four 13-year-olds who can only be kept from their computer games by something truly earthshaking: the eruption of a volcano, the first feelings of falling in love, the dreaded initiation into manhood.

Regarding her selection, Castillo Martinez commented: “Being selected to Berlinale Talents means a lot to me, especially that they are putting emphasis on the "Collective" this year because Film for me is truly the most collaborative of all art forms. I've found in all my films that putting creative minds together brings out a better outcome. I'm excited to play my first feature as writer and producer Death of Nintendo at the Generation competition, and present our "baby" to the world as a testament of our hard work as a collective. I'm happy to carry on the gift of collaboration beyond school and into different collectives across the globe.”

With a comprehensive programme of contemporary films exploring the lives and worlds of children and teenagers, Berlinale Generation is in a unique position as the instigator of a convention-breaking young people’s cinema. Headed by Maryanne Redpath since 2008, the section is simultaneously a home for outspoken young audiences and open-minded adults. 

A woman behind a string of plastic

This is My Desire (Eyimofe), a film co-directed and co-written by alumnus Arie Esiri ’19 and edited by alumnus Andrew Stephen Lee '18, will premiere as part of the Berlinale Forum. The film is set in Nigeria, where two Lagosians work to better the lives of their families as tragedy and fate intervene.

The Forum and Forum Expanded stand for reflections on the medium of film, socio-artistic discourse and a particular sense for the aesthetic. The programmes of the Forum and Forum Expanded aim to expand the understanding of what film is, to test the boundaries of convention and open up fresh perspectives to help grasp cinema and how it relates to the world in new ways. 

Two older Asian men walking in a market

After premiering at the Busan Film Festival last year, the feature film Suk Suk, by alumnus Ray Yeung '13 was selected to participate in the Panorama section. The film is a quiet portrayal of a gay relationship between two men in their twilight years. Pak, 70, a married taxi driver who refuses to retire meets Hoi, 65, a retired single father. Suk Suk studies the subtle day-to-day moments of the two men as they struggle between conventional morals and their personal desires. Suk Suk also recently won the Best Film and Best Actor awards at the Hong Kong Film Critics Society Awards.

Panorama screens extraordinary cinema, is a traditional audience favorite and—with its own audience award—has the festival’s biggest jury. Panorama is explicitly queer, explicitly feminist, explicitly political—and at the same time seeks to think beyond these categories—always looking for what is new, daring, unconventional and wild in today’s cinema. 

Capital Roar (Ruido Capital), a new series by alumnus Mauricio Leiva Cock '13, has been selected to participate in the Berlinale Series Market. The show follows two 13-year-olds dealing with the trepidations of young teens in ’90s Bogota and will premiere in Spain through Movistar+.

Berlinale Series Market pulls together the key elements that are essential for attending industry: networking opportunities, thematic panels analyzing international trends, pitch sessions and a hand-picked selection of high-quality episodic content for acquisition, pre-sales and co-production. 

The Berlinale is a unique place of artistic exploration and entertainment. It is one of the largest public film festivals in the world, attracting tens of thousands of visitors from around the globe each year. For the film industry and the media, the eleven days from February 20th to March 1st 2020 are also one of the most important events in the annual calendar and an indispensable trading forum.