The Teddy Awards for queer cinema started life in the Prinz Eisenherz gay bookshop in West Berlin in 1987, and in the early years was run on a very right-on collective basis. True to the progressive spirit of Berlin behind the wall, all those attending the deliberations got to vote. Pedro Almodovar and Gus Van Sant were the first pair of Teddy recipients. The two winners received, by post, cute teddy bears bought on an ad hoc shopping trip to up-town shopping street Kurfurstendam by co-founder Weiland Speck.
Little did these first two Teddy Laureates realise that the cuddly toys, arriving with a Berlin post mark, were landmarks in queer cinema and building blocks in what was to become known as New Queer Cinema.
Among the other key players in Teddy History are Britons Derek Jarman, John Maybury, Antonia Bird and Isaac Julien. All winners of gongs at “the most prestigious festival awards for gay, lesbian and transgender cinema”
On-screen talent honoured include Tilda Swinton who, in 1988, received the jury prize for her performance in the winning film, The Last Of England. Tilda has remained a stalwart supporter of the ceremony, most recently attending in 2008 to receive an award for honouring the memory of Derek Jarman. Javier Bardem was nominated for Second Skin in 2000 and was a Teddy presenter in 2007. John Hurt has likewise scooped a Teddy.
As the Awards prepare to celebrate thirty years of existence next year, their groundbreaking history mirrors the advances of queer cinema and the wider struggles of the LBGT community. Landmark queer films including Paris is Burning, Poison, Go Fish, The Celluloid Closet, The Iron Ladies and Water On Burning Rocks all feature in the Teddy Hall of Fame.
Brian Robinson, of London’s LGBT Film Festival, Flare remembers his Teddy jury service « The jury is chosen from programmers and film-makers from around the world and the jury discussions are often long and very heated. No other festival has such an enduring award, which is rightly, internationally respected »
In 1992 the Teddys came in from the cold and became an official Berlinale prize, by 2008 began receive funding and is now an official festival event.
The cuddly toy gong might have upgraded to a metal sculpted trophy but the awards retain rebel roots. In keeping with the alternative spirit the Teddy Awards are inseparable from the Awards Ceremony, which is considered the party highlight of the Berlinale. This is not about guest lists and sponsors this is a People’s Party. No tuxedo and limo bash, all guests pay for their tickets and their drinks. In keeping with the alternative zeitgeist there is no VIP area.
. ”Everybody is equal, that is the secret of the success,” Teddy producer Elser Maxwell said, “Big stars come, but we don’t know it. It’s a party for the whole family of filmmakers and the queer community.”
Rauch and debauch is on proud display as all ages and proclivities from lesbians to drag queens, from bears to divas of both sexes, party the night away. The most diverse show of colourful diversity at any big film festival, which truly captures the legendary zeitgeist of this city.
Venues have been various and capture the sense of place that is the Berlin party scene form underground to monumental, none more so than in 2012, year the Awards graduated to the spectacular setting of Hangar 2 at the Tempelhof airport building. « It’s was a dream of mine for many years that we conquer that place,” declares Speck. “It’s this amazing space and Nazi structure and I always feel like one has to take over the leftovers of the Nazis, drive the spirits out and put other spirits in. Take a little revenge!”
The Berlinale has been officially supporting the Teddy Awards since 1992, but it was not until 1997 that the festival director actually turned up. Splendidly moustached Festival director Moritz de Hadeln joined the throng at steamy gay bar SO36 in Kreuzberg. Since 2006 the Franco-German TV channel ARTE broadcasts the colourful awards show across the two countries.
Partygoers continue to be a glittering eclectic mix. From Berlin’s first out gay mayor, Klaus Wowereit to Rufus Wainwright, who sang his signature song Halleujah in 2013. He went on to steal the hearts of the German host city singing For Me It Should Rain Red Roses in German.
For filmmakers in countries where official sanction is unimaginable and gays suffer legal discrimination, the Teddy Awards fly the rainbow flag of tolerance. A Teddy win for Philippine film, The Blossoming of Maximo Oliveros, served as a major boost for the gay community in Asia. Director Auraeus Solito remembers that his win made front page news back home.
Though it is a carefree culmination there is no denying the real taboo busting nature of this celebration of queer cinema, which has played a role in taking same sex cinema mainstream. From the fringe, to taking a place in the front row of one of the world’s top film festivals, the Teddys are unique.
In a feverish party atmosphere on February 13th thousands will gather, dressed from wildest to mildest, to discover the winner of Best Film, Best Documentary, Best Short and celebrate the special jury prize honour going to Udo Kier – a fixture in the films of Lars Von Trier. The grand Komische Oper House, formerly the showcase of austere Eastern bloc high performance art, hosts this most alternative of nights.
Fifty Shades of Grey might be the movie grabbing the headlines at Berlin 2015, but there will be no better place to experience the novel’s racy libertine essence than at the Teddy Awards ceremony – where fifty shades of the rainbow flag is sure to hold its own.
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