The 74th edition of the Berlin International Film Festival, also known as the Berlinale, kicks off on Thursday, Feb. 15, featuring three films by CalArtians premiering in this year’s lineup: Pepe by alum and School of Film/Video special faculty Nelson Carlos De Los Santos Arias (Film/Video MFA 14), “Remote Occlusions” by Utkarsh (Film/Video MFA 25) “O Seeker” by Gavati Wad (Film/Video MFA 22), and Through the Graves the Wind is Blowing by Travis Wilkerson (Film/Video MFA 01).
Screening in the Competition Program, Pepe is a documentary feature about a hippopotamus that is brought from Africa to Colombia to live in the private zoo of drug baron Pablo Escobar, head of the so-called Medellín Cartel. The film uniquely presents the animal as a narrator, reporting on its life experiences. Berlinale Artistic Director Carlo Chatrian describes Pepe as a “mixture of genres and styles” and the least “classifiable” entry in this year’s competition. Pepe is the fourth feature film by the Dominican documentary and feature film director.
This year’s Forum Expanded Program features a curated selection of films that draw attention to communities threatened by outside constraints and under pressure to secure their continued existence. A common thread between the films in selection is how they evoke solidarity, cohesion, and hope.
“Remote Occlusions” is an avant-garde short premiering in the Forum Expanded Program. Utkarsh’s work is composed of selected portions of images that have “no flickering, noise or artifacts. No fog, clouds or trees. No objects similar to the target in the area of interest. No objects causing continuous modification of the image,” according to the synopsis.
Also premiering in the Forum Expanded section is Wad’s 16mm film “O Seeker.” Set in a post-pandemic world, the film uses conversations about grief, loss, and real and imagined events to examine science, politics, spirituality, and superstition in India. Born in India and currently based in Los Angeles, Wad’s primary medium is 16mm celluloid, using both camera and cameraless techniques to generate sound and image. She is a co-founder of the Artists in Revolution Collective (AIRC), which is dedicated to programming art and cinema from underrepresented communities across the world.
Debuting in the Encounters Program is Wilkerson’s feature film Through the Graves the Wind is Blowing. The story unfolds in Split, Croatia, where the lingering effects of Yugoslavia’s dissolution are evident. The narrative centers around Ivan Peric, a determined detective grappling with the challenge of solving a series of tourist murders. Faced with widespread disdain for the victims, Ivan finds himself isolated without any assistance. As he navigates through the bureaucratic maze, crucial evidence disappears. Publicly and online, he endures humiliation, while the local press goes so far as to brand him an “uhljeb” – a Croatian derogatory term for a “lazy bureaucratic parasite.”