Let's face it: most film festivals take place off-season in overpriced resort towns, where the deluge of film industry types, with their blissful ignorance of the value of the local currency, sends the price of a glass of beer into double figures.
Not so the Berlin Film Festival, or Berlinale, which kicks off today in the German capital, and promises plenty of big screen treats without the bank-breaking premiums. It's also the world's largest publicly-attended film festival. Unlike the industry-only exclusive likes of Cannes, films in the festival will screen to audiences of close to half a million film fans.
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And on this year's roster, plenty of fresh films aiming to compete for the coveted Golden Bear, which last year went to Iranian film 'A Seperation', now hotly-tipped to take home this year's Best Foreign Language Oscar. Jury president Mike Leigh and his team, which includes actors Jake Gyllenhaal and Charlotte Gainsbourg, and directors François Ozon and Anton Corbijn, will sit down to consider 18 titles in the main competition.
Perhaps the most recognisable name in the competition is Billy Bob Thornton, whose directorial effort 'Jayne Mansfield's Car' – his first time behind the camera since 2001 – stars Thornton, Robert Duvall, Kevin Bacon and John Hurt. The “'Sling Blade'-like” comedy is the tale of a culture clash between two families, one American, one British, against the backdrop of rural life in 1969 Alabama. Thornton says the title is just a metaphor for the movie, and the film won't have anything to do with Jayne Mansfield herself. Best remembered for starring in films like 'The Girl Can't Help It' and 'Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?', Mansfield died in a car crash in Mississippi just a couple of years prior to this film's setting, in 1967.
Awards hopefuls 'Young Adult' and 'Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close' are among the high-profile Out of Competition selections, but all eyes will be on the world premiere of Robert Pattinson's latest, 'Bel Ami'. The 'Twilight' heartthrob plays an amoral social climber in 19th Century Paris, sleeping his way into a fortune by carrying on with Uma Thurman, Kristen Scott Thomas and Christina Ricci. Nice work if you can get it.
Pattinson will go head-to-head with Angelina Jolie to see who can make the most media impact. Jolie brings her passion project, directorial debut 'In the Land of Blood and Honey', to Berlin for a European premiere, after a tepid response on its US release. Set during the Bosnian war, the controversial production is about the romantic clash between a Serbian soldier and his Bosnian captive.
Among the more original entries is buried Timo Vuorensola's 'Iron Sky', starring Udo Kier, about a secret base on the moon, constructed by the Nazi's, where they're hiding out as they hatch a plan to return to power. It's already proving to be one of the festival's hottest tickets, although a box-office report for the first day's ticket sales suggested Bollywood fans had been camping out to secure tickets to Shah Rukh Khan's latest, 'The King is Back'.
Documentary fans will be thrilled by the premiere of Werner Herzog's 'Death Row', a portrait of five individuals awaiting the death penalty. The 188-minute festival version will be split up for its TV rollout, but we don't doubt Herzog will make every minute utterly compelling. Another doc with a prison theme, getting its European premiere, is 'Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry', about the titular artist and activist who was arrested last year by the oppressive government of his home country, China.
And that's to say nothing of 'Marley', Kevin Macdonald's portrait of the great reggae icon Bob Marley. Or James Marsh's 'Shadow Dancer', with its all-star cast of Clive Owen, Gillian Anderson, Aiden Gillen and Andrea Riseborough. Berlin's nothing if not eclectic in its choices, and there's plenty on offer to suit all tastes. You can find a complete programme on the festival's website.