A Film Festival in the Back of a Taxi | Viral Trending Updates

A Film Festival in the Back of a Taxi | Viral Trending Updates

Some of international cinema’s biggest names gathered on Tuesday night at the Berlin International Film Festival as the event honored Martin Scorsese with a lifetime achievement award. Before accepting his trophy, Scorsese listened as the German director Wim Wenders gave a laudatory speech to an audience including celebrities and local dignitaries.

Just around the corner, parked in the middle of a busy thoroughfare, a group of Berlin’s taxi drivers crammed into the back of a worn-out taxi van to watch a double-feature capped by Scorsese’s 1976 movie “Taxi Driver.”

Klaus Meier, who has been driving a cab in Berlin since 1985, handed out bottles of soda and beer, popping the caps with the blade of a pocketknife. Irene Jaxtheimer, who runs a taxi company, passed around homemade popcorn. A generator outside the cab powered a modest television, a DVD player and a small electric heater.

The unconventional screening, just outside a centerpiece event for one of Europe’s most prestigious film festivals, was part of the makeshift TaxiFilmFest. Running through Sunday, it is partly a protest over the miserable state of the taxi industry these days and partly a counterfestival to celebrate the taxi cab’s iconic place in the urban cultural landscape.

It’s also in objection to an exclusive partnership deal between the festival, known locally as the Berlinale, and the ride-hailing giant Uber to ferry filmmakers between the city’s movie theaters during the event. The deep-pocketed Silicon Valley company has drawn the ire of traditional cabdrivers the world over, and the protesters who packed in for the TaxiFilmFest screenings were railing against what they see as a too lightly regulated rival.

Beeping horns from the busy street outside — some of them coming from sleek black Uber vehicles emblazoned with the Berlinale logo — blended with the street scenes from “Taxi Driver” playing on the tinny television speakers. “Ah, I really miss those mechanical fare boxes!” Meier said as the fares ticked away in the onscreen cab of the movie’s unhinged antihero, Travis Bickle, who drives around mid-’70s New York with growing hatred and menace.

The back-seat festival is showing only taxi-themed flicks, and the potential repertoire is deep. Meier polled friends and fellow taxi drivers about which films to show, and said he had received dozens of suggestions about movies in which a cab plays a starring role.

The early feature on Tuesday was Barry Greenwald’s 1982 quirky slice-of-life documentary “Taxi!” about some odd characters driving cabs in Toronto. The previous evening, a small rotating crowd beat the rain to catch portions of the 1998 French action-comedy “Taxi,” a lighthearted flick from the director Gérard Pirès about sinister, Mercedes-driving German gangsters, hapless Marseilles cops and a lead-footed rookie cabdriver who turns out to be the only person fast enough to catch the criminals.

An early hit at the TaxiFilmFestival, which kicked off last Thursday, was “Under the Bombs,” a Lebanese drama set during the 2006 conflict between Hezbollah and Israel. In the movie, a Beirut taxi driver is hired to drive a woman into the war-torn south of Lebanon in hopes of finding her sister and son. Meier described it as “Shakespearean” and “a masterpiece,” and Berndt said it was clearly the “most moving taxi film” he’d ever seen.

But the clear favorite among attendees was Jim Jarmusch’s “Night on Earth,” a quirky, episodic 1991 film about taxi drivers and passengers in five cities around the world. The selection for TaxiFilmFest’s Sunday night finale had yet to be chosen, and Meier said he remained open to suggestions.

Between screenings, the taxi drivers lamented their industry’s many woes, which they blamed in large part on Uber and other multinational ride-hailing apps. Tightly regulated local taxis with fixed fares are struggling against upstart competitors that pay lower wages, they said.

Tobias Froehlich, an Uber spokesman, disputed the idea that Uber was responsible for the rough state of Germany’s taxi industry, and said that Uber drivers, too, had become part of street life in German cities. “Taxis are in a deep crisis almost everywhere, even in cities where Uber is not active at all,” he said.

The classic German taxi is as instantly recognizable and distinctive as its checkered-yellow counterpart in New York or London’s iconic black cabs. Traditionally a hefty Mercedes E-Class sedan, German taxis are painted a particular, subtle and yet somehow unmissable beige — officially “light ivory,” or number 1015 on the RAL color chart, a shade mandated in 1971 by West Germany’s transportation ministry.

The festival attendees, squeezed into the back of the van on Tuesday, also reminisced about better days for taxi driving, such as ferrying around American and British soldiers from the occupying Allies stationed in West Berlin. (The French troops, the small crowd agreed, had less cash and rarely hailed cabs.)

Another taxi driver who stopped by on Monday night, Michael Klewer, got his start in 1988 in East Berlin, driving a beat-up Trabant as a black-market cab. (Consensus: East Berliners tipped better.)

The days before the fall of the Berlin Wall were “blissful times, hard to even imagine anymore,” said Stephan Berndt, a Berlin taxi operator who now runs a company with about 50 drivers but started driving taxis in 1980s West Berlin to pay his way through university.

At the time, a student could make ends meet by driving just a couple of shifts per week, he said. Now, margins were tightly squeezed, he said, ramping up pressure on taxi drivers just to break even.

He said he also worried about the vanishing cultural importance of the iconic taxi, and the oddball cast of characters who have long made a living as drivers. If taxis were to disappear from Berlin’s streets, Berndt said, “a huge piece of a city’s culture would fall by the wayside. All that flair — which is why I love this job so much — would be completely lost.”

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