Barnaby in Berlinale

Berlinale is amongst the most prestigious festivals in the film calendar, attracting some of the most renowned and respected names from the world of film to the German city each year.

This year Directors UK member Barnaby Southcombe was one of the lucky few chosen by the organisers to screen his film at the festival. I, Anna, Barnaby’s debut film, stars Gabriel Byrne and Charlotte Rampling. Barnaby was kind enough to keep a diary of his time at Berlinale, documenting his experiences with the press, audiences and the festival in general...

Berlin Day 1 - Thursday

On the train to Gatwick: 178 emails a day relating to the festival preparation and that's half what the producers are getting. It's been like this for a couple of weeks now, since the announcement that we got selected in Berlinale Special category 2012. I think I prefer the shooting part. One email a day and that's the callsheet. Respect for the producers though who have been getting this sh*t since the beginning of prep apparently. When do you get time to produce when there is so much typing to do?

...Advice to first timers like me: make sure you request the 'copy' for the festival catalogue to check BEFORE it goes to print. 17,000 copies or something crazy- Names are misspelt, synopsis is some weird translation from German by God knows who. I didn't write the script apparently, some German director did. My only listed credits are a 3rd AD job I did in '93. Anyway, on-line copy has been amended thankfully, I've just got 17,000 catalogues to find and burn when I touch down...

Met off the Easyjet flight by Sarah from the Festival in a huge black BMW and whisked off to swanky Hotel also courtesy of the festival. Made to feel even more ridiculously self important by having a welcome committee of a PR team on arrival. They run through the schedule for the next few days. Tomorrow, Friday, day off. Well that’s a good start.

Berlin Day 2 - Friday

Sneak into press screening of competition film 'a moi seule', a novelty at a festival to actually watch films. It's weird, I'm really noticing the ones that are projected on 35 mm as opposed to DCP. The flicker of the projector and the way the picture weaves is becoming a rarity. The lab I'm using in Hamburg for instance is shutting down the huge processing side of its operation in June. ‘I, Anna’ may well be the last film that I make on celluloid.

Straight from the screening of this intimate little art house movie to the Hollywood gala event of the night Extremely Loud... just in time to see Max Von Sydow, Stephen Daldry and the precocious kid from the film do the red carpet. It's too cold for a Cannes style reception. There are very few punters who can brave it long enough to hang around for a gawp and even the photographers are thin on the ground.

The evening takes a surreal turn as Chris (one of my partners in Embargo Films and a Producer on I, Anna) has to decide what to do about this Jennifer Aniston film we are hoping to announce (to be directed by Paul Andrew Williams). Her ‘team’ have been stalling the approval on the press release, which we were promised, and suddenly everything seems up in the air.

New thing learnt: the key announcements in the trades are in the opening weekend of a big Fest. Most buyers and sellers are only there for 5 - 6 days so all the main deal making and hyping happens then. Its crucial we get the official go ahead so that we can build buzz and pre sell the film enough to get it financed. All the sales you see in the opening weekend are in fact deals brokered well before the festival has started.

Anyway, we just need the announcement to start the ball rolling with all the buyers. Chris takes the decision that he can't wait any longer. Email goes off; either they give us the go ahead now or we offer to someone else.... Insane. No one is going to sleep tonight.

Berlin Day 3 - Saturday

Wake up completely parched. These German hotels are insanely insulated and over heated... or is that last night's refreshments?

Off to see our sales agents who have organised a market screening for the film ahead of the press and world premiere. Directors are strictly not allowed, or at least strongly discouraged. They are brutal experiences, usually poorly attended; the buyers have countless films to see and very little time. They tend to talk throughout, spend half their time on iPads and BlackBerrys doing deals, and rarely sit through the whole film. Reports are good though. The screening was packed to the rafters and you could hear a pin drop after the first line of dialogue. We have 5 distributors from Australia who want to buy the film. Let's hope we can keep this up.

Charlotte Rampling, the star of my film and more informally known as my mum arrives from Paris. Sadly she is the only cast member who is able to attend the premiere. Gabriel Byrne is booked solid on two films, Eddie Marsan is also filming and Hayley Atwell is presenting an award at the BAFTAs. Shit timing. Apparently this happens a lot although I suspect if this were a Lars Von Trier premiere the turn out might be different..!

Back at the hotel, an official invitation to the Berlinale Dining Club is hand delivered and signed by the festival director Dieter Kosslick- so exclusive not even my missus is invited. Huge honour apparently. Ok, sounds like I should go then.

Finally meet up with Chris to get the low down on 'Jen' as she is now referred to. It's all back on. Emails back and forth through the night. The press release has been approved and we can officially announce her attachment to the project. Phew. More emails...

Dinner is not quite the intimate affair I had imagined peopled by the likes of Brangelina and Charlize Theron (who are in the same section as us). It’s big and impersonal for about 80 people, most of which are corporate tables for the sponsors. Even the Festival Director hasn’t shown. I guess he knew what we were in for. I end up sitting next to someone quite fun though who I'm later told is a huge German movie star. I also get a bag of lavender from an elderly lady sitting across the table from me. I smile politely and her PA tells me that she has just selected my film for the Jerusalem Film Festival. So is that how it works...?

Berlin Day 4 - Sunday

Press screening was last night. Chris went to check the print and to sample the mood in the room. People were laughing... Weird feeling to get a laugh from such a dark film. I'd forgotten that there were a few moments of levity. Screening was too late to make the print deadlines for the reviews this morning so we're safe for another day...

Our sales agent have taken out the cover of Screen International with our poster of I, Anna, which is mental, and then we’ve bagged first page news with our Jennifer Aniston story. Nice start to the day.

We go for a second breakfast, to show our face at the Hamburg Film Fund brunch. They supported the film financially so we are happy to show up. Honest.

The interviews start in a more formal way today ie they have booked a couple of rooms in the Movenpick Hotel. The PR people are breaking us in gently apparently with a 3hr stint of German press. Tomorrow it’s 8 hrs of Tv interviews and International broadsheet press and then another half day after that. I do my first couple with Charlotte which is a nice way to limber up. It's actually quite fun playing off each other. The response to the film seems positive from our interviewers but then you never know what they’re going to write.

Back to the hotel to change, grab an early dinner and get ready for the press conference.

Press Conference starts with a firing squad of photographers in front of a sponsors’ wall. It’s a pretty overwhelming and blinding experience. Then it's straight into a line-up in front of video cameras, this time with questions. A Canadian kicks off with what seems like a dissertation on the film. I'm kind of taken aback but pleased with the level of her questions. I was half expecting the 'so what's it like to work with your mum?' so it sets a good tone for the Q&A (I think you can still find the video of the press conference on the Berlinale website if anyone can face it)

Quick drink after that with some of the festival selection committee and I meet the German distribution company. We leave in convoy for the premiere. It’s an amazing cinema In East Berlin called the Kino International – straight out of The Lives of Others. It’s got the coolest bar and lobby area. I’d been banging on and on about wanting to check the DCP before the premiere but we could never find the time so when we arrive, everyone has been kept in the lobby, but they can’t hold them much longer. We run to the projection booth but it’s too late, someone has started to let them in – I have a bit of a wobbly until the projectionist tells me via someone who speaks English that there is nothing he can change in the settings anyway – a DCP has light and contrast settings embedded and can’t be altered, not even the brightness. Oh. I knew that of course… I have to introduce the film in front of 600 people (I can’t even remember what I said now) and then the film starts… It looks just like what I graded in Hamburg, thank f**k and the sound system is good.

This is the first time I see it without being able to change anything. It’s a different experience to have to watch it like a punter… albeit one that has seen this particular film about 300 times! I’ve never had the chance to work on anything for this long… and as I watch the film play out I realise that I wouldn’t have it any other way. There have been so many versions and so much great material I had to cut to get to where I wanted it. Entire character arcs were pulled out; the grade entirely redone, twice; the music completely re-scored – but as I sit here and watch it on this giant screen, I see this is the one. This is the cut. This is my film.

Barnaby Southcombe