Scroll To Top




Advocate contributor Lawrence Ferber reports back on all there was to see and hear at this year's Berlin Film Festival -- including everyone who took home the top prizes at the 22nd Annual Teddy Awards, honoring queer work in the festival.

At the 22nd Annual Teddy Awards, the Berlin Film Festival's officially recognized ceremony honoring its LGBT titles, Oscar nominee Tilda Swinton took the stage to great applause. Recipient of a Special Teddy, along with Isaac Julien, Simon Fisher Turner, James Mackay, and Keith Collins, for keeping the work and heritage of trailblazing U.K. queer filmmaker-artist Derek Jarman alive, Swinton added a touch of glitz and excitement to a festival and films that oscillated between gritty and glamorous.

Or would that be filth and wisdom? One of the most ballyhooed premieres on tap this year was Madonna's directorial debut, Filth & Wisdom, a surprisingly lean indie-style ensemble piece about a group of struggling artists in boho Peckham, London. Several characters are queer or friends of queers: Eugene Hutz, the Ukrainian Vincent Gallo doppelganger front man of gypsy-rock outfit Gogol Bordello, plays a philosophy-spewing musician-hustler who abuses masochistic gay johns, while Richard E. Grant portrays a creatively stunted blind gay author.

Eugene Hutz, Filth & Wisdom

The film is a slight, amateurish affair in the vein of Mike Leigh's improv-born narratives. But Madonna betrayed no pretensions of grandeur regarding its cinematic merits: She dubbed it her version of film school.

Madonna's arrival at the festival epicenter of Potsdamer Platz, which the Berlin Wall once ran through, was met with a concert-like frenzy of media and eager fans alike. Packed to capacity, the press conference was lively, especially when Madonna took jabs as journalists whose attempts to be witty fell flat.

She revealed that Filth & Wisdom was originally intended as a 20-minute short but grew into a feature when she "fell in love with the characters." The film's title arises from the concept of duality. "Filth and wisdom sound as if they're at complete opposite ends of the spectrum," she shared, "but in fact they're not that far apart -- and you can learn and find enlightenment in either place."

She nipped in the bud speculation regarding the meaning of her use of Britney Spears's "...Baby One More Time" during a scene in which a stripper dressed in a schoolgirl outfit works the pole. "Honestly, the music I used was made by people I know and wouldn't charge me a lot of money, and Britney was one of them. She's very generous."

Madonna also shared an anecdote about the profound impact a gay dance teacher had on her. "I grew up in a world where people weren't encouraged to be different," Madonna said, "and I became very good friends with my first dance teacher and discovered he was gay and that was the first time I understood what that word meant. I went to gay clubs for the first time. I always felt like an outsider growing up, and I saw how different everyone was and yet accepting of everyone's difference. I suddenly felt at home." The conference was capped by Hutz's live performance of Gogol Bordello's "Immigrant Punk."

Other celebrities making a clamor on Berlin's red carpets included Natalie Portman, Scarlett Johansson, and Eric Bana (of The Other Boleyn Girl), the Rolling Stones (of the festival opening night film Shine a Light), Patti Smith (subject of Patti Smith: Dream of Life), and of course Tilda Swinton.

Besides appearing in Isaac Julien's Derek, a clip-filled documentary on the late Jarman's work and life, Swinton steals the show in Julia, a reenvisioning of John Cassavetes's Gloria. She plays the titular booze-swilling loudmouth, who takes charge of a young child and ends up in dangerous and quite outrageous predicaments.

Among the queer films, repression in conservative/religious fundamentalist nooks of the world -- including Russia, Turkey, and Iran -- was a major theme. James Bolton's Dream Boy, adapted from Jim Grimsley's novel, tracks a tortured romance between two teens in the southern United States. Dondu Kilic's The Other Side of Istanbul follows Turkish gays as they face homophobic violence and repression from police and children alike. Gustav Hofer and Luca Ragazzi's Suddenly, Last Winter charts the struggle for gay marriage in Italy. And Jochen Hick's East/West -- Sex & Politics documents the turbulence of recent gay pride efforts in Moscow.

The televised 22nd Annual Teddy Awards ceremony (clips are viewable at were a blend of politics, cabaret-style acts, and special presentations. The makers and a subject of Parvez Sharma's A Jihad for Love, a documentary about gay Muslims around the world, took the stage for a brief Q&A. Tanaz Eshaghian's Be Like Others, a verite documentary on a handful of Iranian gays who resort to sex-change operations -- which are legal and even supported by the government, while homosexuality is punishable by death -- snagged a special jury award and the Siegessaule Reader's Choice Award. Best Short went to Felipe Sholl's sexy tale of two boys in a restroom, Ta.

Best Documentary and the Volkswagen Audience Award went to David Assmann and Ayat Najafi's Football Under Cover, a documentary following Iran's national women's soccer team. And Best Feature went to Olaf de Fleur's The Amazing Truth About Queen Raquela, a docudrama about a Filipino transsexual who makes her way to Iceland with help from a smitten (and quite obnoxious) American Internet entrepreneur.

Yet despite all the challenges and losses suffered by the subjects of Berlin's and the Teddy winners' queer films, Swinton reminded the audience that the event was a celebration. "We miss so many people, and it really would be a dishonor to them to miss them so much we stop being focused, functional and joyful," she said. "Because if there's one thing Derek taught us, and encouraged us all to be, it was to be really full of joy. The best revenge is to be happy."

Advocate Channel - The Pride StoreOut / Advocate Magazine - Fellow Travelers & Jamie Lee Curtis

From our Sponsors

Most Popular

Latest Stories

Lawrence Ferber