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Demographic studies, guidebooks, websites and informal conversations are a few tools we can use to understand the history, behaviors, values, or needs of urban centers.

As students of the city, these tools are informative and helpful. Yet they are not the only resources we have to dig deeper into our cities and communities. Here is one simple and practical way to explore the depths of your city.

#1 Consider the Big Events

What are the big events in your city that gather people? What do those events say about the behaviors, values or conditions?

For ten days in February, Berlin welcomes filmmakers, filmgoers and rising talent from around the world to its international film festival, the Berlinale. It coincides with the European Film Market fair, making Berlin a hub for both film lovers and industry professionals.

Upon first glance these film-related gatherings could appear identical to other events in European cities designed to entertain residents, attract tourists or promote business. Take a moment to consider what we might learn if we probe deeper through intentional and reflective questions:

  • What distinguishes this film festival from others in the industry?
  • What kind of influence does it have locally, regionally and internationally?
  • Who attends, values, or funds it?
  • What do supporters or critics say about it?
  • What has changed about the event over time?
  • What does it reflect about the organization or habits of the city?

When we attempt to answer these questions, certain patterns or values begin to emerge.

In Berlin, we see the following:

  • The early date of the festival and the simultaneous hosting of Europe’s largest film industry event (European Film Market), allow the Berlinale to shape the film community’s standards and drive production.
  • The opportunity for seasoned professionals and emerging talent to rub shoulders through the “Berlinale Talent” networking platform is a springboard for entrepreneurship, collaboration and innovation.
  • As part of “Berlin Goes Kiez,” small neighborhood cinemas become venues for festival screenings and events, creating a local, down-to-earth feel often absent at other film festivals.
  • Public accessibility of the festival is unparalleled, making it the most well attended film festival by the public with more than 300,000 tickets sold.
  • The festival continues to reflect the political milieu and consciousness of Berlin and it’s pivotal position between east and west.

We begin to realize the film festival is much more than a large media event with a lot of hype to increase the box office bottom line. Rather, it could be described as a cultural laboratory and forum, where the public is invited to watch the edges of creative expression converge with industry experience and enter into the dialogue.

Inclusiveness, openness, creativity, civic engagement, entrepreneurial thinking, collaboration and political activism permeate the festival and tell us much about what drives the city.

Each of us must do the work to translate what we glean into a spiritual and practical context, but asking questions about a popular event gets us one step closer to understanding the city and developing ministry initiatives that speak its language.

Stay tuned for more Insanely Easy Ways to Learn About Your City

About the Author

The Charrette Communications Team works collaboratively to provide relevant, insightful content on the six Charrette values that guide urban ministry in Berlin.
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