Boddinale Review: Fringe festival fights its corner

Still from Smart User featured on indieberlin

A garish projector, hotchpotch seating, candlelight: the Boddinale is the Berlinale’s hippy cousin, offering a far edgier, and cheaper, experience. Jem Bosatta found what he was looking for.

Over that fortnight, the excitement of the international Berlinale film festival spread to every corner of the city. Shameless sci-fi addicts, film buffs and boffs lined up alongside average Johannes and critics with weird hats, all trying to land that final advance ticket for a near-Hollywood, ex-Hollywood or anything-but-Hollywood screening.

Meanwhile in Kunstbar, Boddinstraße, a dimly lit barman pours a Berliner Pils and ambles over to a projector. On his laptop, a file folder stands open on the screen, showing a jumble of mp4 files. He twiddles with the focus, double clicks; closes, reopens in VLC; los geht’s.

Fringe feels

The first thing to note is that every Boddinale evening was completely free. Well, the first drink of the night (if you were drinking) had respectful €1 levy for the admin. People walked in, walked out, smoked and spoke in hushed tones: it had none of the frigidity of the high art stratosphere.

I picked a night at random. Well, it was hard not to, since they didn’t seem to be thematically unified. Moreover it proved impossible to predict what kind of quality you could expect from each film. I’m not talking about budget, either. Because for me, this night showed that passion trumps money at every turn.

Don’t think me a hipster who glorifies underfunding. Even forget the fact that promoting independent art is my actual job. It was obvious enough anyway: the Boddinale was at its best when an exhibited film’s vision outstripped its means. This was epitomised the documentary Rupa, a testament to Indian women who survive acid attack.

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Quiet bravery, loud mediocrity

A disturbingly prevalent crime, acid attacks leave survivors’ faces and lives in tatters. The journey to rehabilitation is long and painful. But Rupa doesn’t dwell on either of those things. Instead, with all the understatement of a French Nouvelle Vague feature – along with the poignant symbolism and subtle score to boot – this film shows the survivors wrinkling their noses as they chortle, stretching their lips around a huge slice of cake, having their cheeks distorted and buffed by a beautician. Essentially, being ordinary.

Still from Rupa featured on Indieberlin

Rupa‘s production team is clearly aware that in real life, something truly shocking will shock by itself. Acid attacks don’t need dramatic music, a ‘big reveal’ moment, heart-rending narration. They’re also aware that portraying the survivors as Beautiful with a capital B, getting a professional makeup team to glam them up for the cameras, isn’t all that helpful either. Getting on with life is a huge victory for these women; this fly-on-the-wall depicts that with huge success.

The Boddinale was a celebration of shoestring cinema, and this became even more apparent when the bigger-budget submissions came on. Queen among them was a fifty-minute drama called Blank in the Fleabag/Women on the Verge vein of charismatic (white) anti-heroines revelling in their haplessness. Despite good performances, the cinematography felt formulaic and the script half-hearted. Maybe Blank was disadvantaged by the fact that it followed Rupa and two other engaging fact-based documentaries showing far more extreme circumstances. In that context, its humour fell flat and its drama weakly fizzled out.

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Surveillance & the State

The biggest event of the evening is upon us after the interval, so I nip down the road to the main festival venue Loophole. Both ground-floor rooms are almost full, and there’s a buzz in the air. Cackles of laughter pierce the low-hanging smoke. This is the rawness and excitement of the fringe experience; this is why I’m at the Boddinale, not the Berlinale.

The film itself, Nothing to Hide, is fascinating in a disconcerting way. Social media consumption is a near-universal experience in our culture. This documentary exposes the sheer amount of personal data we make available to cybergiants, including our governments, through our habits. It illuminates this with historical insight from the KGB era (all the more pertinent for a Berlin-based picture); with modern-day testimonies, where a number of activists find themselves on the sinister side of the state; and most memorably, with a creepy social experiment run on a consenting member of the public.

It’s impossible to look away, mostly because of how high the stakes are if what they say is to be believed. Like they say in the film, the tin foil hat brigade might not be as crazy as it seems. But considering how persuasive the sociological and historical analysis is, Nothing to Hide spends far too much time postulating a totalitarian dystopia and wallowing in the smug despair of the ‘awoken’. It really doesn’t need to: the reality’s scary enough without.

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I won’t call it overdramatic, rather overdramatised. I’d say it could take a leaf out of Rupa’s book on that one. But maybe that’s just the way with small productions. As soon as there’s a decent sum of money involved, you sacrifice subtlety for attention: you leave the graffiti- and smoke-saturated backroom and you’re on Potzdamer Platz in front of a huge illuminated bear.

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You see, there’s a certain elegance in innocuity. Some call it ‘charm’, but that sounds patronising and romanticist. For me, the slight fraying around the edges isn’t so-called rustic appeal. The Boddinale’s minor imperfections remind me that this project, and its crowning jewels, are only realised year on year thanks to an uncommon amount of drive from its organisers, producers and directors, in the face of financial improbability. And that’s what we go to the Boddinale for.

Header photo from Smart User, a hilarious one minute short by Mobtik.

Student small fry, country boy in the big city, with inky fingers and a travel guitar.

Student small fry, country boy in the big city, with inky fingers and a travel guitar.

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