Berlin Film Festival Kicks Off With COVID-Testing Buses and Strict Vaccine Checks
Art and Experience:
You can’t say we weren’t warned.
When the omicron wave hit in December, the Berlin Film Festival frantically pivoted to ensure a physical event went ahead, and organizers cautioned that heavy COVID restrictions would be in place at the 72nd edition of the fest.
True to form, those measures are keenly felt on the ground in Berlin, where COVID-testing buses and strict vaccination and booster checks will be de rigueur over the next week. Depending on where you’re coming from, that may be a shock to the system, but it appears to be a lot more straightforward than it looks — and rest assured you’ll be spared the indignity of spitting into test tubes.
A day before Thursday’s opening ceremony, which screens Francois Ozon’s “Peter von Kant,” the main festival grounds are noticeably subdued, with the Berlinale Palast red carpet still in the process of being set up. Registration isn’t taking place at the adjacent Hyatt as in previous years, but rather at a new Berlinale Service Center up the road (where you can pick up the festival’s official red fanny pack in lieu of a bag).
It’s been two years since the last physical edition of Berlin — which wrapped on March 1, 2020, just weeks ahead of lockdown in most countries — and much like Cannes and Venice, its operations have recalibrated to meet the requirements of pandemic times.
Anyone strolling into a festival site with a flimsy blue surgical mask, for instance, will likely get a polite but stern warning to leave the premises and come back with a heavy-duty FFP2 mask, which is mandatory across Germany and easily available in most pharmacies. Meanwhile, vaccination records are checked at most restaurants, with some insisting on seeing evidence of boosters as well.
Also new on the scene are COVID-testing buses and mini testing stations dotted around the grounds. It’s a relatively painless solution to the festival’s strict daily testing requirement for high-mobility delegates such as journalists.
After quickly registering your information via a QR code posted on the side of the bus, rapid antigen testing inside at a makeshift counter takes just two minutes and involves a couple of nasal swabs. Crucially, results are emailed in less than 20 minutes. What’s key, however, is ensuring you’re at the right testing center, as there are a few private testing sites on the ground that aren’t operated by the festival, which is sure to confuse delegates.
As Berlin hasn’t officially started yet, it was simple enough to get tested on Wednesday, but as things get busier, it’s unclear how easy access to testing might be, or how long wait times for results may take. As with any festival in pandemic times, it’s wise to give yourself plenty of time to get COVID duties out of the way.
When Berlin gets underway, all ticketing will be done online and movie theaters will be at 50% capacity. If the festival experience of the last two years has taught us anything, that may pose some problems for critics and delegates hoping to catch key screenings of films from the likes of Claire Denis, Hong Sang-soo and Dario Argento. But unlike Venice, which didn’t have the omicron wave to contend with, there seems to be much less industry footfall in Berlin anyway, as many chose to skip the live edition when the European Film Market went virtual.