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On the eve of the 58th Berlinale, Nick Roddick sums up the mood as the red carpet crowd anticipate the arrival of not just Martin Scorsese but the subjects of his new film, gladiator rock band The Rolling Stones, gathering the moss of adulation.

The Berlin Film Festival, which gets under way for the 58th time tonight, (Thursday, February 7) has had to cope with two major (albeit very different) problems in its middle age: the fall of the Wall and the change in the date of the Oscars ceremony. When the Wall came down almost 20 years ago, West Berlin lost its politically-heightened status as an outpost of 'the West' buried deep in the Eastern bloc. With that status came a lot of Deutschmarks to ensure that the city's cultural flags - among them the Film Festival - continued to fly high.

Nowadays, Berlin may be the capital of Germany; but, culturally, it's just another city and the flag-flying funding that kept the Film Festival sleek and glossy had been sharply reduced. That's Problem One.

But Problem Two - the shift in the date of the Oscars four years ago, from March to February - hit the Berlinale even harder. It used to be that the nominations were announced the day before the Festival opened. That made Berlin the perfect platform for the studios to strut their stuff, with its red-carpet photo ops and press junkets guaranteed to keep the contenders fresh in the minds of the Academy voters back home in Beverly Hills. Now, the nominations are out in mid-January and the campaigns are all but over.

As a result, of the three 'big festivals' (Cannes and Venice are the other two), Berlin now finds it hardest to get the big films - and big stars - that attract local attention and maintain the Festival's status. Last year, the Festival opened with La vie en rose - a crowd-pleaser, to be sure, but not one to get front-page coverage around the world. The year before it was Snow Cake, a rather small Canadian film starring Alan Rickman and Sigourney Weaver.

"Berlinale director Dieter Kosslick has struck gold"

This year, however, Berlinale director Dieter Kosslick has struck gold: on the red carpet tonight it’s not just one of the world's great directors, Martin Scorsese, but 'the greatest rock 'n' roll band in the world' - or that, anyway, is what the PA announcement at Rolling Stones' concerts has said since the early 1970s. Mick, Keith, Charlie and Ronnie are scheduled to show up to support the world premiere of Shine a Light, the documentary Scorsese has made about them. The much-talked-about film - a kind of sequel to Scorsese's Bob Dylan film, No Direction Home - has been in post-production for what seems like forever (it was due to premiere in Toronto last September) but is a definite coup for Berlin. The crash barriers will be up; the TV crews will be out; the politicians will be there; and everyone will be happy.

But, in terms of international profile, Kosslick rather seems to have maxed out his credit card on Wednesday's splurge. Only one other high-profile Hollywood flick - Paul Thomas Anderson's multi Oscar-nominated There Will Be Blood, which is already a Golden Globe winner - features in the line-up. And it probably would have been there anyway, since Anderson is a Berlin regular, having won the Festival's top prize, the Golden Bear, for Magnolia in 2000.

Elsewhere in the line-up are a few other star-supported films, including Fireflies in the Garden, a mid-Western family saga starring Julia Roberts, which is directed by first-timer Dennis Lee; and the new film from Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind director Michel Gondry, which was unveiled at Sundance. It's called Be Kind Rewind and is a typically oddball tale starring Jack Black as a video store clerk who manages to wipe his entire stock, then tries to hide the fact by re-enacting everything from The Lion King to Back to the Future while his friend videos him in the store's back yard.

Franco-German friendship being back on the agenda, there is the usual line-up of French films - including Lady Jane, the latest from Marseille director Robert Guédiguian, another Berlin regular; and the English-language debut by Eric Zonca, who made a name for himself on the arthouse circuit a decade ago with The Dreamlife of Angels. His new movie is called Julia and stars Tilda Swinton as an alcoholic driven by desperation to a criminal act.

"Most speculation prior to the prize giving..."

Most speculation prior to the prize giving in 10 days time, however, is likely to be on whether Brit director Mike Leigh will pull off the film festival equivalent of a trifecta. Leigh won the Palme d'Or in Cannes in 1996 for Secrets & Lies, following it up with the Golden Lion in Venice in 2004 for Vera Drake (a film which, ironically, Cannes turned down). Now, he could become the first director in history to win the top prize at each of the three major festivals if he scores with Happy-Go-Lucky, which stars relative newcomer Sally Hawkins as Poppy, a young London teacher whose easygoing charm and confidence have got her through every problem she has encountered… until now.

Festival director Kosslick - a man who exudes charm and confidence and has done much to secure the foundations of the Berlinale in the current climate - will doubtless be hoping to do the same.

Published February 7, 2008

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Martin Scorsese with The Rolling Stones' Mick Jagger

Nine Australian films screening at Berlin – see our NEWS story of 24/1/2008

Sally Hawkins stars in Mike Leigh’s Happy Go Lucky

If there's a bear on it, the Berlinale can't be far off: Teddys, T-shirts, zipper jackets, ski hats, scarfs and gloves, the official Berlinale bag, a key chain, a suitcase strap as well as the popular mug can be found in the Berlinale shop in the Potsdamer Platz Arkaden from February 5. Above: Dieter Kosslick with not a golden bear….

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