Berlinale: Teddy Awards Lineup Offers a Surprising Cross-Section of New Queer Cinema

Guy Lodge
·3 min read

Now in its 35th year, the Teddy Awards are among the Berlinale’s most affectionately regarded institutions. Presented annually to standout LGBTQ-themed titles across the festival’s entire lineup, they have a looser, hipper, more inclusive reputation than other Berlin prizes: fittingly, they’re annually presented not at an exclusive black-tie affair, but a publicly accessible ceremony followed by an almighty dance-’til-dawn party.

Yet the Teddys’ prestige survives their informality. Surveying their list of past winners, it’s notable how many defining queer works have been recognized along the way: from Pedro Almodóvar’s “Law of Desire” (the inaugural winner, in 1987) to Cheryl Dunye’s “The Watermelon Woman,” from Derek Jarman’s “The Last of England” to John Cameron Mitchell’s “Hedwig and the Angry Inch,” from Sebastian Lelio’s eventual Oscar-winner “A Fantastic Woman” to last year’s vibrantly intersectional “No Hard Feelings.”

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As for which new film is going to join their ranks this year, we’ll have to wait a few months to find out: as befits such an audience-facing event, Teddy organizers have delayed the awards until the Berlinale’s public edition in June — while holding various Teddy-oriented discussions, panels and market events online for this week’s industry-oriented phase of the festival. This year’s full Teddy lineup of titles, meanwhile, is available for industry viewing, comprising 11 narrative features, five documentaries, five short films and even a pair of TV series.

Even in this year’s slimmed-down form, it’s a lively, diverse selection, running the gamut from the experimental and esoteric to the crowd-pleasingly accessible. Among the films in the running for the top feature prize is one selection from the festival’s main Competition, Japanese auteur Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s “Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy,” a rotating, female-driven triptych that includes an unexpected love triangle among its stories. Others, per tradition, are plucked from the festival’s Panorama, Encounters, Generation and Special sidebars.

Seven of the 11 selected features, as well as three of the five documentaries, have female directors. Standouts include American actor-turned-filmmaker Natalia Morales’ debut “Language Lessons,” a tender, Zoom-based study of the burgeoning friendship between a grieving gay widower and his female Spanish instructor; Henrika Kull’s “Gluck,” a heated romance between two female sex workers in Berlin; Hadas Ben Aroya’s “All Eyes Off Me,” which probes the liberal sexual experimentation of a generation of young Israelis; and actor-podcaster Dasha Nekrasova’s directorial debut “The Scary of Sixty-First,” a provocative New York satire that applies giallo horror tropes to a reckoning with Jeffrey Epstein’s legacy of abuse.

Some selections put their LGBTQ perspective front and center; others, like Ronny Trocker’s unsettling family drama “Human Factors” and Ramon and Silvan Zurcher’s slow-burning character study “The Girl and the Spider,” find subtler queer undercurrents in domestic spaces.

Transgender identity, meanwhile, is the dominant theme of the documentary selection, which includes Monika Treut’s “Genderation” — a 20-years-on follow-up to her Teddy-winning 1999 doc “Gendernauts,” about a pioneering generation of San Francisco trans people — and Georgian director Yana Ugrekhelidze’s “Instructions for Survival,” documenting a trans man and his girlfriend forced to live covertly in their home country. U.S. filmmaker Angelo Madsen Minax’s “North By Current,” meanwhile, explores the impact of his own transition on his troubled Mormon family.

What’s perhaps most striking about the lineup is how few of the selections center the cisgender gay male narratives that, at one point, constituted the bulk of queer cinema: This year, that demographic is best represented by Russell T. Davies’ hit BBC series “It’s a Sin,” about the creep of the AIDS epidemic through the London gay scene of the 1980s, in the Teddys’ TV sidebar. Elsewhere, this year’s Teddy lineup makes use of every letter in the LGBTQ acronym and beyond, capturing new queer cinema in a healthy, expanding state of evolution.

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