Mission accomplished: 13 films in 7 days (minus four for which I was unable to get tickets). Only 3 put me to sleep; not bad considering I found the summary blurbs to be rather poor this year, erring on the side of overly enthusiastic. I met my goal of seeing the most obscure but good cinema possible -- none of the films I chose won any awards, meaning they likely won't go into commercial distribution post-festival (which typically includes the entire Competition category). I also didn't see anything in a language I speak that I would have any chance finding later as a rental. Here's what to expect in theaters post-festival:
Survival tips for future Berlinales:
*As soon as the website is finalized in late January, begin reviewing interesting prospects on-line, ranking films as top-priority or back-up.
*Expect to score tix to about half of what you'd like.
*On Tuesday morning prior to the festival, when ticket sales begin, immediately go to Potsdamer Platz to have any chance at tickets for the first two days of the festival. Grab the main program guide to review in line, and plan to spend at least an hour queuing.
*While at P-Platz, go to the Arsenal to pick up a detailed description of the Forum category films; they will be some of the best alternative film and this is the only category with a decent printed guide.
*Pretend the festival begins on the 1st Friday because Thursday opening night tix are very hard to score; particularly in the Competition section, they nearly all go to famous people.
*Go to P-Platz to queue for tickets again starting the 1st Friday (for the following Monday when things finally loosen up a bit) and at least every other day following.
*Before finalizing any purchase, make the ticket person print out your choices. If you have gone through a wish-list of 6 or 8 films and only gotten half, while resorting to some back-up choices, chances are high you will have slipped up and scheduled a conflict.
*Don't be intimidated by any staffer who tries to hurry you up -- tell them that you waited in line for 45 minutes, by God, and you'll take your own good time because they certainly could have opened more than two windows (for this whole festival I never saw more than two sales windows open at P-Platz. BASTARDS)!
*Be very careful when making substitute choices because the ticket seller will NOT know how the film is subtitled -- unbelievable but true, at least for 2008. If you must deviate from your plan, check your program to be certain the subtitles are correct. Repeat several times in particularly broken German, "Wie es ist möglich daß Sie nicht wissen, welchen Untertiteln die Filme haben?!?" -- Roughly, "How is it possible that you don't know how the films are subtitled"?!?.
*If you buy tickets on the Internet, you have to pick them up at P-Platz where you may have to stand in an equally long line.
*Don't believe it when you see tickets marked as sold-out on the Internet; you may still be able to get them at a ticket window or the theater on the day-of. I attended several films marked sold-out on-line that definitely were not!
*Don't let Germans cut in line no matter how much they whine. Ask all the Germans standing in line with you if they don't agree that "daß ist nicht in Ordnung?!?" I guarantee they will -- this is a hard-wired Pavlovian response.
*An important source of tix is hawkers that regularly make the rounds of those queuing at P-Platz; they may have had "ins" that we poor schlubs in line did not.
*Bring cash; no credit cards accepted (and definitely not by hawkers)!
*After getting what tickets you can, use every spare moment of your substantial time going to- and fro- on public transit to reconcile your original plan with your successes, back-ups and future schedule possibilities. You MUST stay ahead of the rolling three-day advance sale period. Go home and research films on IMDB to garner information on directors', actors', and writers' previous work.
*Don't buy tickets for any award ceremonies or you might, as a friend of mine did, end up seeing a repeat of a film you attended earlier.
*Festival fatigue begins to set in by the 6th or 7th day; at that point good tickets can be found on the day-of, by going to the theaters (which can sell same-day tickets to their own events).
*Never lose patience with German Philistines that you may encounter at the festival complaining if they have to read subtitles. Think of yourself as an international cultural ambassador. Patiently explain that film involves two elements: audio and visual. Refrain from saying that only the most Dummkopf idiot could think it's a good idea to nullify one-half of the performance by dubbing over with the voice of some hypermacho Schweinfleish-eating moron.