For four weeks in January and February I returned to my previous profession and worked as a film checker and projectionist for the Berlin International Film Festival (Berlinale). You can never say never, but I am pretty sure that this has been my swan song, at least as far as the festival is concerned. I started working as a projectionist at the old Alhambra back in 1996 when I still dreamt of becoming a filmmaker. After a brief spell at a multiplex, I made the rounds through the projection rooms of Berlin’s independent cinemas, including the Filmbuehne am Steinplatz, the Kant Kinos, and Germany’s oldest cinema, the Moviemento, where I took refuge after a long and finally unpleasant stint with the Kinowelt company. Before I left Germany, I then worked for six months at two UFA cinemas in Hamburg. In London, I quickly found work at the Electric Cinema, located in the famous Portobello Road in Notting Hill. Soon enough it was bought by Soho House and from then on I worked for them for three years, interrupted by long stints in South Korea and a year with a British five-star hotel chain, where I worked as a projectionist and events technician. Sadly, I only worked very briefly for an independent cinema in London, the lovely Rio in Dalston. I loved it there but had to leave when the hotel job came along.
In Berlin, most independent cinemas have an agreement that their staff can watch movies for free at each others’ venues. To that end, they even created an independent cinema ID card. Thus, the independent ciname scene is a bit like a big family. You won’t know everyone, but usually each of your colleagues will know some colleagues at another cinema. It was through one of those connections that I got to know staff at the now derelict Sputnik Wedding, a contact that later helped me to get recruited as a projectionist for the European Film Market at the Berlinale. That was back in 1999. Since then, I have worked ten times at the Berlinale, missing it only when I couldn’t free myself from other engagements.
Over the years, the festival has changed a lot. A new director took over, the festival moved towards Berlin’s historic centre at Potsdamer Platz, the film market grew and is now one of the three largest film markets in the world, and from a technical point of view, digital technology has become an increasingly important feature. Less 35mm films have to be checked and screened, resulting in some changes among the staff. What’s more, due to the significant problems that digital technology still creates in a festival setting, it has become less harmonious to work at the festival.
When I started this profession 15 years back, I never anticipated that I would stay in it for as long as I did. I was lucky to have learnt the trade from a very good projectionist who taught me well. In the end, I never became the greatest of technicians, but the virtues commonly associated with German people – punctuality & tidiness – and my tendency to ask questions instead of blindly pushing buttons that don’t like to be pushed, helped me to make a decent living from this job, even when I was working only part-time during my studies.
Before I will now put an end to my days as a projectionist, I will work for a few weeks at an independent cinema in Kreuzberg. It’s a return to the roots as it is one of the last remaining independent cinemas. What I look forward to the most is talking with the guests. That’s something that I missed during the years in London – where I mostly dealt with clients – and maybe that’s what I will always remember the most when I look back at this period in my life.
* ‘Ade’ is a Southern German term for ‘Goodbye’.