Seven Things You’ll Be Talking About This Year, From The Berlin International Film Festival

Including: an Australian sci-fi series about racism and asylum seekers with an 80 percent Indigenous cast.

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Over the 11 days of the 66th Berlinale — the second-most prestigious film festival in the world — cinephiles, critics, filmmakers, and Hollywood stars flooded the German capital. But most importantly, so did some of the world’s biggest films and TV projects.

After exhaustively covering all of it, here’s an insider’s look at the best of the bunch. The most exciting things to look out for on Australian screens and streaming services over the next 12 months:

Cleverman: The World-Class Australian TV Series

Directed by: Wayne Blair, Leah Purcell
Starring: Hunter Page-Lochard, Miranda Tapsell, Rob Collins, Iain Glen, Frances O’Connor, Jack Charles, Deborah Mailman, Stef Dawson, Briggs 

After the international premiere of the first two episodes of Cleverman, I spied a trio of cast members punching the air euphorically. As they should. Screening on the ABC in mid-2016 (and in the US on Sundance), the exhilarating, dystopic TV series crafts an X-Men-like fantasy world grounded in Australian Indigenous peoples’ history and mythology. It also stars an 80 percent Indigenous cast. Hearts race from the get-go, when Miranda Tapsell rolls up her sleeve to reveal that she is a “Hairy” — an ancient species with super strength considered “subhuman” by the government and forced to live in “containment facilities” — and then swiftly kicks the asses of the four guys harassing her on a Sydney bus. The six-part series reflects on racism, asylum seekers and border protection, playing out through the story of two brothers, animated fight scenes, and a monster that gores its victims’ hearts. Truly awesome.

Cleverman will screen on ABC in mid-2016.

Midnight Special: The Film For All The Spielberg Fanboys

Directed by: Jeff Nichols

Starring: Michael Shannon, Joel Edgerton, Jaeden Lieberher, Adam Driver, Kirsten Dunst, Sam Shepard

Following Mud and Take Shelter, Jeff Nichols’s biggest budget feature to date is a gripping homage to Spielberg’s nuclear-family values and signature “Spielberg face” shock-and-awe camera pans, that almost gets there. The irony-free sci-fi thriller enacts a chase across the highways of America that starts in suburban Texas, the heartland of religious zealots and doomsday prophets. Depending on whom you ask, Alton Meyer (Jaeden Lieberher) — an eight-year-old in blue swim goggles endowed with terrifying supernatural powers — is either the messiah, a threat to national security or just an innocent little boy. What seems like Bible Belt gobbledygook quickly gets real as satellites crash from space and the military rolls out. Bug-eyed Michael Shannon is a walking powder keg who just wants to save his boy, while Joel Edgerton notches up another fine Hollywood support role.

Midnight Special does not yet have an Australian release date.

Girl Asleep: The New Australian Film The World Loves

Directed by: Rosemary Myers
Starring: Bethany Whitmore, Harrison Feldman

After Girl Asleep debuted last year at the Adelaide Film Festival (where it was the fastest-selling title in the festival’s history), Berlin played host to the international premiere of the Australian coming-of-age drama. The Germans were rolling in the aisles. The combination of dad jokes, an underdog spirit, dream sequences and elaborate sets of 1970s suburbia pastiche makes a twee but charming package, landing somewhere between Where The Wild Things Are, Garden State and a whacked out Fear And Loathing trip for 14-year-olds.

Girl Asleep does not yet have an Australian release date.

Things To Come: The Film To Watch With Your Lovely Single Mum Who’s Afraid She’ll Be Alone Forever

Directed by: Mia Hansen-Løve
Starring: Isabelle Huppert, Roman Kolinka, André Marcon, Edith Scob

Oh, Isabelle Huppert. Is there any greater living actress? At 62, the screen legend is as ballsy and magnetic as ever playing Nathalie, a Parisian high school philosophy teacher, in Mia Hansen-Løve’s fifth feature. Faced with the unexpected dissolution of a 25-year marriage and an increasingly dependent mother, Nathalie avoids both emotional meltdowns and any trite searches for new romance in this disarming and totally refreshing portrait of a late middle-aged woman letting go. The film also picked up the Berlinale Silver Bear for Best Director.

Things To Come has been picked up by Palace Cinemas but a release date is TBC.

Zero Days: The Doco To Scare The Bejeezus Out Of You

Directed by: Alex Gibney

In the Berlinale press conference following Zero Days’ world premiere, one hysterical reporter asked director Alex Gibney, “Just how close to catastrophe are we?!” A few laughed, but others simply shifted in their seats, perhaps hoping for reassurance. After last year’s groundbreaking Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief, Gibney’s latest fascinating but horribly unnerving investigative doco-thriller follows the notorious Stuxnet worm: a piece of coding so sophisticated and dangerous it’s had tech heads and intelligence agencies around the world spooked. And yet no one is talking about it. This alarming culture of secrecy led Gibney to dig deeper, exposing unsettling truths and a chilling, James Bond-esque world of global warfare and cyberweapons — worms, viruses, Trojan horses — which spies, hackers and nation states can use to invisibly attack infrastructure and bring down societies with the click of a mouse.

Zero Days is unlikely to get an Australian release, but should be available to stream soon.

Chi-Raq: The Film Trying To Make “No Peace, No Pussy!” A Global Catchphrase

Directed by: Spike Lee

Starring:  Nick Cannon, Wesley Snipes, Teyonah Parris, Jennifer Hudson, Angela Bassett, John Cusack, Samuel L. Jackson

Spike Lee’s been missing the mark for a while and his latest, the first film produced by Amazon Studios, didn’t make much of a splash in the US when it was released in December. This is a shame because it’s incredible. Adapting the classical Greek play Lysistrata, the women of Chicago’s roughest neighbourhoods go on a sex strike to secure peace as Lee turns the tragic reality of gun violence, gang culture and racism in America into a blunt but uproarious and deeply moving musical satire (“No Peace, No Pussy!”). Rappers spar in couplets, Samuel L. Jackson is our silky tongued narrator and John Cusack is a soulful pastor bellowing “Do you want justice?!”. I cried and I laughed, sometimes at the same time.

Chi-raq is available to stream now via Amazon.

Maggie’s Plan: The Film

Directed by: Rebecca Miller
Starring: Greta Gerwig, Ethan Hawke, Julianne Moore, Travis Fimmel, Bill Hader

This update on the New York romantic comedy opens with toddlers wearing anti-fracking badges and Greta Gerwig (Maggie) clomping about as a caricature of herself. Despite Maggie’s titular plan to become a single mother via artificial insemination, things start to go awry when she meets anthropology professor John (Ethan Hawke), inadvertently splitting up his marriage with the formidable, eccentric Danish academic Georgette (a scene-stealing Julianne Moore). From there, the messy love triangle blooms with the neurotic energy of Woody Allen and the irreverence of a Shakespearean comedy.

Maggie’s Plan is rumoured to get a run at the Sydney Film Festival, but a general release should be around June.

Annabel Brady-Brown is a founding editor of Fireflies, a film magazine, and an online editor for The Lifted Brow. She tweets at @annnabelbb.