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Wednesday, February 11, 1998 Published at 10:01 GMT


Berlin Film Festival: Bigger isn't always better
image: [ The 48th annual Berlin Film Festival opens on February 11 ]
The 48th annual Berlin Film Festival opens on February 11

In 1993, the Taiwanese film director Ang Lee shot to stardom with his film "The Wedding Banquet." It was no easy feat for a virtual unknown whose film script was written in Mandarin Chinese - often a death knell for films trying to break into the European and American markets.

But Ang Lee had one advantage: the top prize from the Berlin International Film Festival.

After Berlin, the "Wedding Banquet" went on to make more money per screen than any film in the United States, a gross of $6.93m (£4.15m). But more important, it gave Mr Lee instant recognition.

His subsequent films - "Eat Drink Man Woman" and "Sense and Sensibility" garnered Oscar nominations. His latest film, "The Ice Storm" was critically acclaimed at Cannes.

The role of film festivals has grown tremendously in the last few years. And the Berlin festival is one of Europe's most important.

[ image:
"The Boxer" is making its European debut in Berlin on February 11 (Picture courtesy: Sony)
True, it lives in the shadow of the glittery Cannes Festival and it does lack the romance of Venice. Nevertheless, Berlin is the launching pad for many of the American studios' big releases. The festival also gives recognition to art films and for film makers from small countries it provides a springboard to get into the world-wide distribution market.

And the winner is....

[ image: British actor Ben Kingsley is Berlin's jury president]
British actor Ben Kingsley is Berlin's jury president
Cannes may be better known, but the jury at the Berlin International Film Festival has a proven track record for picking quality films. (This year, the jury's chairman is the acclaimed British actor Ben Kingsley.) 1997's top prize, the Golden Bear, went to Milos Forman for "The People vs Larry Flint". Ang Lee's "Sense and Sensibility" won in 1996 and established French director Bertrand Tavernier took the prize in 1995 for his film, "L'appat".

The rules of the competition require that the films must be premiering - at least outside the country of origin. This year, Jim Sheridan's "The Boxer", Gus Van Sant's "Good Will Hunting", and Quentin Tarantino's "Jackie Brown" all will have their European debut in Berlin.

Foreign films also weigh in heavily in the competition. A Russian film, "Strana Gluchich" (The Country of the Deaf) is the first film to compete, followed by "Trop (Peu) D'amour" (Too Much (Little) Love) and a Danish film, "Barbara".

The winners will be announced on February 22, the last day of the festival. The Jury will award the Golden Bear for the best feature-length film and the Silver Bear as the special Jury prize, as well as prizes for best director, best actress, best actor, outstanding single achievement and outstanding contribution.

"People's" film festival

[ image: Berlin '98]
Berlin '98
More than 3,000 journalists as well as 11,000 film buffs will attend the festival, according to its organisers. That's the same number of journalists but only one-third the number of film-goers that swarm Cannes every summer.

That means that film aficionados stand a good chance of getting tickets to the best screenings, according to Lizo Mzimba, a British film critic.

"As an ordinary person, the chance is remote that you will get to see a hot, new film in Cannes," he said. "Cannes is a media feeding ground. In Berlin, there simply aren't as many people trying to get in and see things."

The 48th Berlin International Film Festival runs from February 11 through February 22, 1998.

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