Today marks the start of the Berlinale International Film Festival. Along with ten days of screenings and competitions, the Berlinale hosts 'Berlinale Talent'', an annual summit where two hundred fifty creatives from the fields of film and drama series network and attend workshops. This highly coveted summit is one of the hardest to be selected for.  This year, four London Film School (LFS) alumni and students will participate in the summit. We sat down with them before the start of the Berlinale to talk about their expectations, influences, and life at LFS. 
Nell’s most recent film, ‘Lagi Senang Jaga Sekandang Lembu’ (It’s Easier to Raise Cattle’) premiered in competition at the 2017 Biennale di Venezia, and ever since then Nell has been on the festival circuit, crossing paths with LFS grads, Christos Masalas and Jaqueline Lentzou. We caught up with Nell in Clermont Ferrand en route to Berlinale Talents.
‘It’s awesome to have been selected, especially on my first application. It’s a prestigious festival, which is only getting tougher and tougher each year.’
‘Though I’m working on a feature, I didn’t apply to the script station. I want to attend as many of the workshops and meet as many people as possible. If you go with a project, that becomes your sole focus.’
‘I’m really interested to see how other people work and collaborate in different countries.I hope to learn something new and adapt other ways of working that will help my own process and filmmaking.’
The Berlinale Talents application is different to any other, how did you approach the question of influence?
‘I actually chose a visual artist in Malaysia, my favourite and also my production designer, Sharon Chin. In her art work Sharon explores telling a story with different parts of her body. It’s not a cerebral thing, and it’s something I want to explore in my films. My latest short is crazy on bodies.’
‘I like working with people who sometimes aren’t filmmakers. Sharon had no idea about the process of filmmaking but she completely understood the things I want to talk about and explore. It’s such a pleasure to work with her.’
‘In terms of the creative side it was a lot more fun and freer. She had no preconceptions yet years of experience with the topic. Similarly, my DoP is a really strong stills photographer. I like to collaborate with people like that rather than people who are 100% in film.’
Thinking back on your LFS experience, what discoveries did you make about yourself and filmmaking during that time that have stuck with you?
‘From LFS I learned how to structure everything in the filmmaking process. If you work with filmmakers from Southeast Asia it’s a lot freer. It’s just, let’s just grab a camera and make a film. The structure isn’t there in terms of the script and development process. There are so many steps to build a feature.’
‘That structured sense of putting together a film is great for organisation and control of the material. Now that I’m back in Southeast Asia, my writing and the style of my filmmaking have become freer and are influenced by the culture around me.’
‘The feature I’m developing has been accepted at some international writing workshops and returning to that structured approach will put it in a really strong position for the future.’
What are your words of advice to current students and grads?
‘Keep in contact with everyone you definitely bonded with while at LFS. The connections are so international. In the future you’ll bump into each other at festivals. It’s the connections you make with other filmmakers that count.’
(Film still from Amanda Nell Eu's 'Pasak'. Director of Photography Rae Lyn Lee)
Though Ahmed is currently based in London, from Berlin he’ll be heading straight back to Baghdad for a documentary, which LFS grad Liam Creighton is producing through Everything Is Okay, founded and led by two other LFS grads, Henry Lloyd Baker and Nikolaj Belzer. Ahmed will also be researching partners for his first fiction feature, Atfal Al Haram.
‘As an Iraqi we really look up to these European festivals because they have an influence around the world and on people who share our passion for cinema. To be there without having yet made a feature means an enormous step for me.’
‘Being selected increases my belief in myself and my commitment to filmmaking. It would be so much easier for me just to make money rather than fight for what I believe in as a filmmaker. This opportunity emboldens and solidifies my belief in myself and my career as an Iraqi filmmaker.’
What are you looking forward to most of all?
‘First, networking. Second, finding the right people to co-produce and climb with me on the journey ahead with this and other projects.’
‘The seminars on acting will be my focus. There’s not a tradition of acting in Iraq, so working with non-actors will require me to explain a great deal. For an Iraqi, the camera means television news, not storytelling. Another seminar deals with editing, and I want to find a way to develop these skills in Iraq. I want to gain the knowledge so that I can enrich the country not just make my next film.’
Which filmmakers have influenced you the most?
‘Iranian filmmakers and their cinema have had a big impact and influence on Iraqi filmmakers and cinema. For me specifically, Emir Kusturica has had a big influence. The depth and amount of reality Kusturica gains on screen plus the details and the colour within the frame are things I’d like to achieve.’
‘The pleasure and pain of what it means to be a human being is something I’ve only truly discovered through filmmaking. The only way for my voice to be heard is through filmmaking. I can’t carry a gun, I can’t join the militia or the government. I speak out through film, and that’s why I’m drawn to Kusturica. He uses his characters to speak out.’
Looking back on your experience at LFS, what stands out?
‘I came to LFS fresh, even though I’d had experience of making films in Iraq. The way those films were made was so basic and unorganised. We called ourselves professionals yet when I got to LFS I realised we were just beginners. The industry is so much bigger than I ever imagined. I came to LFS aware of movies that have an influence and can make change. At LFS I realised movie-making is a business. LFS for me was an important rite of passage. It was my first time in Europe.’
What words of advice would you have for current students?
‘It’s not about taking your camera and pointing it at something. It’s about the chemistry among the people and between the script and the people. Filming is not director only, it’s about collaboration.’
(Film still from Ahmed Yassin Al-Darraji's 'Children of God'. Director of Photography Nachwan Ali)
Like many other LFS grads, Reem continues to criss-cross the globe. Before starting her MA, she was working with a human rights organisation in Sudan; she’s now based in Toronto and hopes to shoot her first feature back in her native Egypt. This is Reem’s second time at the festival, and she’s has been accepted for both Berlinale Talents and Script Station.
‘I’ve been wanting to get back to the Berlinale ever since I was there in 2012, and the timing for the Script Station is perfect for me. My producer, Rula Nasser, and I will be working intensively in the days leading up to Berlinale so the work with the script advisors will challenge me to raise the script to the level where we can start sending it out.’
‘My Berlinale script mentor has an incredible background and I’m looking forward to her insights to other festivals – Torino, Venice and Cinemart. To get that international perspective will be very important for me, especially on this project which is set primarily in Cairo and a western capital city.’
‘A big question for me is how to maintain the integrity of representing your own culture with truth and yet connect with audiences that have no concept of your culture. Bootleg relates to topics I dealt with while I was working in human rights yet I’m out of date because that’s ten years old. So current research is really important.’
Who are the major influences in your filmmaking?
‘The Egyptian director, Henri Antoine Barakat, has always been top of my list. I’m also utterly and completely connected to Emir Kusturica.’
What comes to mind when you think back on your time at LFS?
‘LFS was really tough. The end-of-term screenings were like nothing I’ve ever experienced – before or since. It’s intensive and hands-on, which is what you need. As someone who’d been dreaming of becoming a director, LFS was the perfect way to push me and put my fears and doubts to the side.’
‘I enjoyed revisiting films, seeing them in a completely different light and understanding how they were made.  The aesthetics of editing gave me a completely different understanding and approach. It was eye-opening to see how many different directions you could take with the same footage. Sessions with many of the faculty felt like mentoring not just teaching.’
What advice could you offer current students?
‘Perseverance. A film has to be this thing you’re absolutely passionate about and that you can’t live without in order to overcome the internal doubts and external obstacles.’
(Film still from Reem Morsi's 'Their Feast')
Shalini is the most recent of the LFS graduates making their way to Berlinale talents this year. When we met up at the Royal Academy, she was still in the process of completing the grade and dub on her grad film.
The Berlinale Talents application is like no other. How did you approach it?
‘I got a few pointers from a friend who’d attended Berlinale, and I think that helped along with the strength of my 5th Term film that had a good festival run. I dedicated a lot of time to the very particular questions that Berlinale Talents asks applicants.’
‘Because I’ve worked a lot in the art department before LFS, I like to think about characters in terms of what they have in their pockets. So, I chose, Agnes Varda as the filmmaker I’d most like to meet.’
What excites you most about the week ahead?
‘I’m overwhelmed by all of the seminars that I’ll be attending. The Chilean delegation got in touch with me so I’m part of that, which is great.  I do have projects that are based there, though I don’t see myself as purely Chilean. I’m also developing several projects in India, some of which come out of my family’s stories. So I’m taking what I have with me and meeting people from around the world.’
‘The next big step for me is focusing on and finding my own writing process.’
The LFS experience is still very fresh for you, what made you decide LFS was the right place for you?
‘I did my undergraduate degree in the US, and I definitely didn’t want a Hollywood education. LFS was more in the vein of what I wanted to do and a zone where I would be comfortable. No other film school would have given me that hands-on experience and collaboration.’
‘It is competitive, which builds character. The collaboration and competition are intertwined. You have to fight for your spot and you also need to find the people who can work with you and vice versa. You need to be genuine about your work and how you want to work. You learn together in the making.’
‘At LFS I also learned the discipline of shooting for the edit. Not giving myself too many choices in post and being decisive about what I know before I go into the shoot.’
What’s your advice to current LFS students?
‘Perseverance. Those who get somewhere just keep on doing it. Sean Baker and Kelly Reichardt are two cases in point. They may not get massive recognition. But when you look at their films you see this person has been looking at a particular world throughout their careers.’
(Film still from Shalini Adnani's 'Somebody's Daughter'. Director of Photography Joan Vicente Durà)
Berlinale Talents is the talent scheme arm of the Berlin International Film Festival. Each year they select 250 upcoming filmmakers from across the globe to attend the festival where they participate in a series of masterclasses, workshops and networking events led by world renowned filmmakers, which this year has included Paul Verhoeven, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Sally Potter. To celebrate its 15th anniversary, the talent scheme has selected the theme of "Courage Beyond All Odds".
Want to know more about LFS at Berlinale 2018? Check out these posts below: