62nd Berlinale and its technical challenges
Saturday, March 03, 2012 11:24:10 AM (IST)
Rajesh Kumar Singh, Bollywood Trade Editorial
The Berlin International Film Festival (Berlinale) that concluded last month is the world’s largest audience film festival with almost 3,00,000 ticket sales. The number of films screened in its various sections is also the largest in the world. Apart from main festival screenings, it also has European Film Market (EFM) screenings that generally take place in large capacity theatres unlike Marche Du Film (Cannes Film Market) that mostly uses screening rooms for the purpose.
This year the number of films screened in DCP (Digital Cinema Package) formats had risen significantly. The 62nd Berlinale had 627 films in 35mm conventional format, while 659 screenings in DCP, and some 1,100 in other video formats. For the first time in its history the DCP prints outnumbered the conventional 35mm celluloid prints. This posed a massive challenge before the Berlinale technical team and its support network that coordinated the process of delivering films in diverse formats and organising projection facilities on more than 50 screens spread across the city of Berlin. Some of these were large capacity theatres that needed specialised high-powered projection systems to ensure films were screened without glitches and hitches in their pristine quality. Although most of these cinemas have already been equipped with the latest digital technology in compliance with the Digital Cinema Initiatives (DCI) and have a uniform standard of performance, yet to meet the technical, logistical and financial demands of such a large film festival was a tough and testing call. The Berlinale technical team lived up to the massive task fully and what we saw was a great example of the famed German planning and execution.
The variety of challenges faced by the Berlinale’s office for technical coordination of film screenings included incompatibility between different server and projector types in the Festival’s cinemas, and their various software and firmware versions, as well as difficulties resulting from the heterogeneous IT infrastructures at these locations.
What more, these cinemas, which are usually scheduled to show single format films in normal aspect ratios, during Berlinale at least five different films are shown per screen each day of the Festival and they may have varying aspect ratios. This means new films have to be uploaded onto the servers daily to accommodate the Berlinale’s programme. Prior to the screenings, the films have to be technically tested before being loaded (“ingested”) onto digital cinema servers. This process must be completed in time to be able to address any problems that may arise. Due to the amount of data, these various procedures are very time consuming.
To complicate matters, the process of creating DCP files that work flawlessly and providing them each with a valid key (KDM) so that they can be played back at the right time and place is in itself a common source of errors – a problem that is often underestimated by producers and/or post-production companies. In combination with the infrastructure available at a specific location, this can, in the worst case, make it impossible to play back a specific film or to show it without errors. Due to the complexity of this situation, workshops have often been offered at the Berlinale Talent Campus to educate emerging filmmakers on the topic.
An elaborate procedure to test the technical quality and structural integrity of the submitted DCP formats was set up in close cooperation with the Fraunhofer Institute for Integrated Circuits to ensure the smooth operation of this year’s digital screenings,
Dolby was called upon to eliminate compatibility problems at this year’s Berlinale, to establish a network of 37 digital cinema servers at the festival venues - each with a capacity of 2.75 terabytes. To enable DCP films to be transferred to the Festival’s projection booths around the clock, Dolby also supplied 5 SAS data libraries, each with a capacity of 24 terabytes. In addition to Dolby’s support, Belgian digital cinema specialist Barco provided the Berlinale with their know-how as well as 11 high-performance digital cinema projectors. They thus ensured perfect digital projections at large venues like the Berlinale Palast, the Friedrichstadt-Palast, the Haus der Berliner Festspiele and many others. The Festival was also equipped for 3D screenings, thanks to the loyal support of Dolby and Barco. In addition, Kinoton, a Munich-based company, supplied the Festival with additional projectors and assistance.
Colt Technology Services, the Berlinale’s official connectivity supplier, linked various Festival venues via a large number of high-performance video and data networks (12 Gbit/s). Thanks to this powerful broadband infrastructure, the Berlinale’s office for the technical coordination of film screenings could feed a number of servers at approximately 20 selected venues directly with films via fibre optic cables. To make this possible, Media Logic, a Berlin-based company, provided the Berlinale with DDP storage solutions.
Alongside a team of experts provided by Berlinale partners and suppliers, 45 employees worked for its office for the technical coordination of film screenings during this year’s Festival. Without their tireless efforts, a number of screens would have remained dark. Prior to the Berlinale, an additional 80 projectionists were trained in-depth so they would be able to cope with the technical challenges.
(Rajesh Kumar Singh is Editorial Consultant for Festivals and Markets for BollywoodTrade.com. He is a filmmaker, critic and market analyst)
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Tags : Berlin International Film Festival (Berlinale), 62nd Berlin International Film Festival, DCP (Digital Cinema Package), Colt Technology Services