I used to be a film fest junky. I would travel to obscure film festivals, get in line for hours to get tickets and even sleep outside on the ground when hotels were booked. I've seen world premier films in San Francisco, Dublin, London, Karlovy Vary and Berlin. I've shaken directors hands after sitting through double features and impossibly long film lectures with other pasty-faced film geeks.
Then I discovered Berlin's underground cinema scene. After planning to spend way too much money on films no one else would ever see at the Berlinale (Berlin Film Fest) last week, my eyes were opened and I saw the flickering light: Squat Cinema. That's right, bootleg copies of scratchy anarchist films projected through gray smoke clouds onto cracked bar walls. Drinking semi-warm bottles of the cheapest German beer while watching films with characters who fight the police, fight the landlords, fight the U Bahn ticket inspectors and fight the system. Watching these films in German when I don't speak 10 words of the language.
Many of these ad hoc cinemas have sprung up in the grungier areas of Berlin: Kreuzberg, Friedrichshain, etc., where punks and anarchists find refuge in grafitti-ridden block house squats. Often you wouldn't even know there was a cinema--let alone a functioning bar--in these buildings if you were leaning on the front door. From the outside, many of these bars have shuttered windows plastered with punk posters and about 450 layers of spray paint. One such Friedrichshain squat cinema down the street from where I live has impressive red velvet curtains which are ceremoniously parted at showtime to reveal the weathered plaster wall which will receive the evening's images of anarchy. Once you've snaked your way through the bowels of the squat/bar/cinema, you can see an eclectic mix of Berlin characters: punks, anarchists, leftist intellectuals, unemployed slackers and shiftless night owls.
And maybe in the corner, a former pasty-faced film geek, wondering how he might look in a mohawk at age 42.