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Art at the 2017 Berlinale


Film being the seventh art, all moving image falls under this category. But there are numerous ways that art is expressed, even at a film festival. At the 2017 Berlinale, art was present in all forms. Art films, films about artists – fiction and non-fiction – as well as museum exhibits.

There are, obviously, many museums in Berlin, all with their own programs that have nothing to do with film or the film festival. In fact, the Staatliche Museen, or State Museum, is a group of 17 institutions throughout the city, focusing on different areas and including libraries and research facilities. And of course, some have nothing to do with art, but with history, science, etc. However, from time to time there are exhibits at art museums that run concurrently, or take advantage of the festival’s presence and timing to install filmic projects.

beuys posterOne example was “The Gold Projections,” an installation by American artist Joe Ramirez was in the Exhibition Hall at the Kulturforum, one of the Berlin state museums. Ramirez is an American artist who has studied in Chicago (at the Art Institute of Chicago) and London (at the Royal College of Art), and who now lives and works in Berlin.

For "The Gold Projections," Ramirez projects film onto wooden panels that he gilds by hand to create a 3D surface that affects how the projected film is seen. The projections take place in a darkened room so it becomes a total, meditative environment. The moving images are abstract, and some appear as thought they were giants gems floating in space. You could call this animation, but it is so much more. His work is reminiscent of fresco painters of the Italian Renaissance,

At the festival itself, there are many art films of course, but this year two films in the official selection highlighted two different artists, Joseph Beuys and Alberto Giacometti: one as a narrative feature, the other a straight documentary.

A documentary in the competition,“Beuys,” by film and theater director and writer Andres Veiel does a workman-like job of presenting the biography of this ground breaking artist, with a special focus on those years in the late 70s, early 80s in New York when creativity sprouted from every crevice of sidewalk. (Literally: take a look at “Boom for Real: The Late Teenage Years of Jean-Michel Basquiat” by Sara Driver).

final portThis is a great film for a viewer who doesn’t know Joseph Beuysor his work. But it doesn’t always go deep into his work or his artistic philosophy. Nonetheless, good use is made of archival footage – showing his installations and also freewheeling talks that he gave at the time.

Veiel takes us through various phases of Beuys’ life, including time his younger days, and his time in the Luftwaffe during WWII when he was injured in a plane crash. Even that injury speaks to his later work as an artist, but still Veiel paints Beuys with very broad brush strokes.

Actor/director  has only directed a handful of films, but each seems like a special project, tenderly wrought (some more so than others). His fifth directorial effort,“Final Portrait,” is taken from writer James Lord’s book “A Giacometti Portrait” that focuses on one act, as it were, of Alberto Giacometti.

The Swiss artist achieved fame with his sculptures, but he also painted, of course, and the film follows a period when Lord sat for the Swiss artist in Paris. What was supposed to be an afternoon became a few days and turned into weeks as Giacometti painted and re-painted Lord in his studio in 1960s Paris.

Geoffrey Rush plays Giacometti and Armie Hammer plays his subject and biographer, James Lord (Lord wrote another book on Giacometti as well as a Picasso biography). But while Giacometti puts Lord’s image on canvas, Lord is observing and capturing more than a sitting. He captures the essence of the artist, and of the time in which he lived. “Final Portrait” is a “small” film, but it harnesses a large life.

“Beuys” was presented in competition and “Final Portrait” out of competition. Both were picked up for U.S. distribution (“Beuys” by Kino Lorber; “Final Portrait” by Sony Pictures Classics), and due for release in the States in 2018. No word on whether Ramirez’s “The Gold Projections” will be seen outside of Germany any time soon.

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