Photo: Berlin International Film Festival
The Berlin International Film Festival will be awarding gender-neutral performance awards starting with its upcoming festival in 2021. Berlinale festival directors Mariette Rissenbeek and Carlo Chatrian announced the change to the annual event: “We believe that not separating the awards in the acting field according to gender comprises a signal for a more gender-sensitive awareness in the film industry,” they said.
“Instead of the awards for the Best Actor and the Best Actress, a ‘Silver Bear for Best Leading Performance’ and a ‘Silver Bear for Best Supporting Performance’ shall each be awarded on a gender-neutral basis,” read the statement released by the festival.
Previously, the Silver Bear acting prizes, which have been handed out since 1956, were awarded in both the Best Actor and Best Actress categories, with the most recent recipients being Elio Germano (“Hidden Away”) and Paula Beer (“Undine”) from 2020’s festival. Now, these categories are being replaced, as beginning next year, two Silver Bear prizes will be awarded during each year’s festival – one for Best Leading Performance and another for Best Supporting Performance.
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Berlin International Film Festival Leads the Way for Gender-Neutral Acting Awards
This is a huge step forward for the nonbinary and transgender community in film. Award categories for individual performances are very limiting in terms of gender identification, whereupon being nominated actors may feel boxed into a gender they do not identify with. With the prominence of this community in media, it is imperative to recognize and support them through whatever means possible, and this is a great start for the film industry.
The change makes the Berlin Film Festival the first major international film festival to alter how acting awards are given based on gender. The Cannes Film Festival as well as the Venice Film Festival still currently have their separate categories for Best Actor and Actress, with the Volpi Cup awarded to each category in Venice.
In addition to these two new main Silver Bear categories, the ceremony awards the Golden Bear award for the best film, which is awarded to the film’s producers, as well as multiple Silver Bears for director, screenplay and outstanding artistic contribution. The Silver Bear Jury Prize will also be introduced in this upcoming festival, adding to the Silver Bear Grand Jury Prize that is awarded along with the other prizes by the international jury.
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Prior Director and Festival Controversies
Co-directors of the festival Mariette Rissenbeek and Carlo Chatrian have made several strides since their arrival as heads of the event, with the implementation of gender-neutral awards being one of them. In 2019, former festival director Dieter Kosslick left after 18 years, after the backlash that included an open letter signed by 79 German directors calling for his removal from the position. They reportedly criticized a lack of programming standards and deemed the festival was in critical need of an “outstanding curatorial personality” who would be able to propel it to the same heights displayed by rivals Cannes and Venice.
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Chatrian stepped in as the artistic director, arriving from his six-year position as head of the Locarno Film Festival, and Rissenbeek took over as executive director, taking charge of the business aspects of the festival that Kosslick reportedly struggled to balance with the programming demands. After he took over the position, Chatrian expressed his readiness to give the festival a fresh start and leave behind its older elements. “I don’t know how the festival programming did it before, and frankly, I don’t care,” he said. “It’s not my concern. This is a learning process. I think the audience is in tune with the festival and its many identities. As we just started, I hope there won’t be many misunderstandings about the choices we made.”
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In another recent change to the festival, the Alfred Bauer Prize, which was named after the late founding director, was permanently suspended after revelations about Bauer’s apparent prominent role as a member of the Nazi Party. The award was immediately revoked and renamed as “The Silver Bear – 70th Berlinale.”
Berlinale and the coronavirus pandemic
Along with the announcement of the creation of the gender-neutral acting categories and the suspension of the Alfred Bauer Prize, the Berlin Film Festival directors also stated that the 2021 festival will in fact occur as a regular in-person event, and not a virtual one. Known to draw hundreds of thousands of people over the course of the event, the festival is one of the biggest film events to take place in Europe, as filmmakers, actors, and fans flock to the capital city.
This year, Berlinale was one of the last of the major events that took place before Germany shut down as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Cannes, the world’s biggest film festival, was forced to cancel its annual showcase in May, also as a product of France’s shutdown to combat the virus.
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But Berlin is determined for the show to go on in 2021. “In times of the corona pandemic, it has become even clearer that we still require analogue experience spaces in the cultural realm,” said directors Rissenbeek and Chatrian. “We are pleased that festivals with physically present audiences are slowly taking place again around the world, and we wish our colleagues much success.” While the festival is currently set to be a physical event, the city is planning a hybrid event for the European Film Market, which typically takes place alongside the event. The hybrid model will allow for industry executives to virtually screen and sell movies in the case that they are unable to travel to the festival itself. As Germany begins to resume life as normal as it has slowly reopened after the virus-induced shutdown, changes to its biggest event and source of pride continue to be underway. The decision to forgo the typical male and female performance award categories is an impactful one and will hopefully pave the way for such a change to become the new standard among other high profile film festivals as well as award ceremonies.
The 71st Berlin International Film Festival will take place on February 11-21, 2021.
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