Melbourne filmmakers Matt and Andy Mullins’ report from the Berlin Film Festival

25 February, 2011 by IF

Melbourne brothers Matt and Andy Mullins won the Jury Special Mention in the Generation Kplus section at the Berlin International Film Festival for their independently-funded short film Minnie Loves Junior. Here is an entertaining report from them about their first experience at an overseas festival.

By Matt and Andy Mullins in Berlin

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There’s one thing you need to know about Berliners: they’ll take any excuse for a party.

There’s one thing you need to know about the Berlinale: it’s the ultimate excuse for a party.

So there’s one thing you need to know about us: we have hangovers that we’ll carry to our graves.

The Berlinale is over and we’re taking our battered, contented, overjoyed selves home. We don’t enjoy international plane travel at the best of times. We don’t take sleeping tablets. We’ve never flown business class, let alone first.

All we can do is sit bolt upright in cattle class, legs around our ears, doing our level best to catch fitful moments of sleep between trays of god-awful food. And yet despite all that, we cannot wait to get on that plane. Not that we want to leave Berlin mind you. We could stay here forever.

Berlin has given us memories that will make us smile with pride until the day we die (in fact, god-willing, the memories may just outlast the hangover).

So, no, leaving is not what we’re excited about. It’s the peace. It’s having nowhere to go. No one to meet. No one to drink with.

Berlin has been a 20-hour-a-day whirlwind of events, screenings, Q & As, parties, and meetings.

Each day started at a breakfast meeting before 9am, and most days ended way too close to dawn to get anything like a good night’s sleep.

Not for one second did we feel anything other than deeply honoured by the opportunity we’d been granted. But man it hurt! Because this sort of experience is a double-edged sword. The more Berlin makes your dreams come true, the harder it is to get up the next day. Seriously, we’ve run marathons and felt less exhausted.

We arrived in Berlin a little over a week ago, with our producers Tom Birch and Doug Maskiell, and our wives and girlfriends (you try telling your wife you’re going to Berlin for a week with your best mates and she can’t come).

We arrived with jangling nerves and bags-full of winter clothes that didn’t stand a chance against real cold. But our Berlinale experience had begun a month before, with word from Germany that our short film Minnie Loves Junior had been selected in competition in the Generation section.

It was a genuinely surreal moment. Like the hottest girl in school, the one you’d loved and admired for years but had accepted could never be yours, walking up while you were playing footy with the boys, asking you to follow her to the back of the bike-shed before planting a kiss on your cheek so warm and lovely you fell to the ground in sheer unadulterated delight.

The Berlinale screenings are actually quite surprising in their lavish scale. Being ushered from our hotel toward the waiting line of black BMWs, speeding through the streets of Berlin while the snow fell lightly on the Brandenburg gate, the Reichstag and then finally the extraordinary 1950s cinema complex at which our film was premiering, was – sorry to say it! – like a scene from a film (no film we’ll ever make mind you, having sworn off autobiographical material forever).

Each of our three screenings was packed, and without fail the audiences were deeply passionate and enthusiastic about their cinema.

Q & As afterward never failed to raise genuinely considered debate. Our final, but earliest screening, happened to come at 10am after a particularly festive night which had ended not long before at the Brazilian film commission’s annual Berlinale free-for-all.

Now, needless to say, those Brazilians sure can party, and it was a very sorry lot of directors who found themselves onstage that morning. In a cruel twist of fate that we’re preferring not to put down to malicious intent, the moderator had missed the party, was therefore as fresh as a daisy, and took great delight in stringing the Q & A out for hours while the rest of us slowly fell off the stage.

Alongside the Berlinale screenings, behind a typically Germanic edifice resting proudly between Checkpoint Charlie and a lone remaining stretch of Wall, is the European Film Market, a seething, heaving mass of official stands, spruikers, sales agents and distributors. At least that’s what we think it was. It might just have been a DVD swap meet. Hard to tell. Either way, whoever invented the lanyard, clipped an ID tag to the bottom of it, and sold it in the million to every festival, convention and motor race on earth deserves our respect, if not our gratitude. When your purely utilitarian invention becomes a status item happily pairing with Chrisian Dior at a fashionable DVD swap meet, you’ve made it.

In the shadows of the Film Market sits a Spiegeltent, well known in Australia as a place to see weird things in. We ducked in there for a drink one afternoon – early on, when drinking in the afternoon still felt like a good idea.

Expecting to find a rowdy crowd, beer, and naked women on stage in the great Spiegeltent tradition, we were surprised instead to find a somewhat austere panel discussion on the role of the sales agent.

The crowd wasn’t at all unruly, and no one was nude, but there was beer, so we settled in, the role of the sales agent being a subject we’d been attempting for years to get our heads around. Turns out it’s quite simple: getting a film financed is easy; getting it made is even easier; getting it seen is the hard part, and that’s why we need sales agents. Of course what’s so scary about that for a filmmaker who’s put his heart and soul into getting a film funded and made, is that it’s absolutely true.

Now, much is made of German organization, of the almost pathological efficiency inherent in all Germans. And as our host happily confirmed, having been greeted with stunned awe from the gathered Australian contingents for simultaneously arranging all of our evening transport and dinner bookings, iPhone in one hand, Blackberry in the other, and Skype on the laptop on her desk: “ze stereotype is come true, ja?” There was one fascinating exception to this rule, so obscure we’re not surprised it’s slipped under the radar all this time.

It took our admittedly unusual penchant for swimming laps in foreign countries to discover the hotbed of disorganisation that is the German swimming pool. Before dipping a toe, you pass through five separate stations, each one perfectly designed to aid you in the process of removing and storing your clothes, until you find yourself in the world’s grandest swimming hall with a pair of Speedos, a locker key, and no idea just how you got there. So far, so German.

But the moment you hit the water, chaos reigns. And as we were ducking under large geriatric breaststrokers and being swim over by former East German Olympians we wondered how it was that the people who invented the binary numerical system, aspirin and the Christmas tree had somehow missed swimming lanes.

That small exception aside, Berlin is a wonderfully organised city, and a guest of the Berlinale sits squarely in the eye of the storm of that efficiency. But all that organisation would mean nothing if it weren’t actually just the warm-up act for hospitality so warm, so inviting, so genuine, you feel the whole city is the living room of old family friends you’ve known your entire life. And so committed are these friends to your happiness, they’re insisting on sleeping on the fold-out couch while you’re upstairs in the master suite.

From the Festival office, who greeted us with hugs and kisses each time we’d duck in to ask a stupid question (this was a several-times-a-day occurrence); to the nightly lounge with its open bar and casually-strewn bean bags, perched above Potzdamer Platz; from Generation Director Maryanne Redpath, who has created a beautiful family of her festival, and was like our second mother, constantly caring for us; to our host France, who is German, from France, and who was like our big sister, constantly telling us what to do, we were humbled by the care and attention we received.

And so we’re about to board our plane, an after-awards glow the only thing keeping us from slipping into catatonia.

Last night’s ceremony was a big night for us, but also a big night for Australian films. Our film Minnie Loves Junior was awarded the Jury Special Mention, and Kasimir Burgess’ film Lily was awarded the Jury’s prize for Best Short.

Both films were made on the Victorian coast, from production offices within a kilometre of each other in Richmond, Victoria.

Both were independently funded. And both have received great support from Film Victoria and Screen Australia as they’ve traveled around the world. For either of our films to be awarded one of these prizes would have been wonderful. To take out both awards is just incredible.

We share our award with the amazing men and women who made the film with us. Particularly, we share it with the beautiful, magical children who inspired the film, and whose performances have made it resonate with audiences young and old, right around the world.

The glitz of a Berlinale awards ceremony is a long way from their community of Port Augusta, to which our best mate, EP and composer Russell Smith first invited us many years ago. But however far away we are, we never forget that the real story of our film resides with the children and families with whom we made it.

Matt Mullins and his brother Andy co-wrote and co-directed Minnie Loves Junior, while Tom Birch produced.

Matt Mullins and Tom Birch at the awards ceremony

Tom Birch and Matt Mullins celebrate

 

 

 

 

 

 

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