I first came to the Berlinale in 1995, which makes me a veteran by some measures and a virgin by others. Variety reporter Eddie Cockrell has been coming for 25 years, according to Vancouver programmer Jack Vermee, who's himself hit year 16. I run into Jack at the café in the CinemaxX theatre -- the last X is capitalized to emphasize the maxiness of it -- and every time I see him I think of Terzo Mondo. That's the Greek taverna in West Berlin that stays open all night. There's a guitar, and tall pints of beer, and massive indiscretions. Sometimes a blonde sales agent comes to town from London looking for trouble on her father's dime. A lot can happen in 12 years, and it used to happen at Terzo Mondo.
But Terzo Mondo is in West Berlin, which has been left to overtanned Berliners and their questionable taste since the Wall came down. The festival moved to the shiny, rebuilt Potsdamer Platz seven years ago, which means Berlinale veterans could leave their wicked memory places safely out of sight in the west.
Actor Arsinée Khanjian is here this year with Toronto avant-gardist Gariné Torossian, who directed her in a tactile experimental documentary, Stone Time Touch. Khanjian last came to Berlin in the old days when the Savoy hotel in the west used to be a great place to stay. Right next to the glorious, smoky Delphi cinema, it's where Mina Shum launched Double Happiness into Europe. This year Khanjian's finding it tough shuttling between west and east, which is only fitting given the exquisite ache of entering Armenia from afar that both she and Torossian take on in Stone Time Touch.
Torossian has been awarded one of Berlin's legendary DAAD artists' residencies, which means she'll be living in Berlin for six months, camped out in a great apartment with only her art to think about. Vancouver artist Stan Douglas and former Toronto filmmaker Helen Lee have also done the DAAD and, for Canadians, it's often hard to leave. Which makes it no surprise at all that I sit down at Torossian's screening to find Canadian audio artist Janet Cardiff two seats over.
Cardiff joined the expat crowd in Berlin years ago and still hangs out here. She's just back from opening a show in Barcelona. Somehow it's Berlin -- more than any other city save New York -- that exerts some dark liberation on Canadian artists, filmmakers and rock stars. Berlin releases the id in people, especially on winter nights.