Interview with Dieter Kosslick and a look back on 2010 Berlinale

Under Kosslick’s direction the Berlin International Film Festival has become the largest international film festival adding virtually each year new program components, which have been frequently emulated by other film festivals.

As distinct from the Cannes Film Festival which admits only professionals and Venice which has limited screenings for the public, the Berlin International Film Festival has been open to the general public since its founding in 1951 as a political showcase. With close to 300,000 tickets sold, this year was a record year reaching the non-professional audience. The berlinale received for the 2010 edition more than 6000 submission (including shorts) for its 8 sections and the Forum. About 340 were selected for the official programs. Adding films from the European Film Market not included in the festival schedule more than different 400 productions were on hand.

More than 4,000 journalists and 20,000 industry professionals attended this year in spite of freezing weather and dreadful traffic conditions. The European Film Market expanded further with 6,500 visors and 1300 buyers representing 419 companies from 48 countries. 129 new companies attended for the first time. During the market 666 films were shown in 1014 screening sessions, 517 of these films were market premieres.

As has been the case for each berlinale since Kosslick took over in 2002, there was again a new component, the “Berlinale Goes Kiez” bringing festival films to Berlin’s neighborhoods. Throughout the festival 29 productions from classics such as Fassbinder’s MARRIAGE OF MARIA BRAUN to festivals entries from the 2010 competition like BAL / Honey (Semit Kaplanogu) were shown in ten red carpet venues, introduced by well known figures like Wim Wenders, Michael Verhoeven, Senta Berger, and Wieland Speck. This expansion was accompanied by the public screening of the reconstructed original cut of Fritz Lang’s masterpiece METROPOLIS at the Brandenburger Tor, one of the undisputed highlights of the 2010 berlinale.

Claus Mueller: You are directing a politically oriented film festival. Has it become more difficult to get high quality films with political themes?

Dieter Kosslick: It has always been complicated and difficult to get such films but we have one or two. The Roman Polanski film THE GHOST WRITER is pretty close to a case we all know in Great Britain and SHUTTER ISLAND [Martin Scorsese] though not dealing with a contemporary affair but with a story that happened in the fifties… it has certainly become complicated but it is still possible to get excellent political films.

CM: What do you make out of the controversy surrounding JUD SUESS – FILM OHNE GEWISSEN? Why did you include it in the program?

DK: There was no question about omitting the film from our festival program. If I would not show a new Oskar Roehler Film which is well executed we would have a big mess. There is indeed a controversy and I was a bit astonished how much it [the film] was deviating from reality. May be [the subject] of the [original] film , that is the use of Jud Suess to start the pogrom against Jewish communities has to be dealt with differently, or not covered at all, I just do not know.

CM: I spoke with one of the principal actors [featured in Jud Suess] at the reception [wondering if the film would be commercially viable if it had followed the facts] and he told me, in a bit cynical and ironic fashion, “you have to understand that this film, this new version [of Jud Suess] was funded by Goebbels” certainly a striking commentary.

DK: An interesting view but I do not share it

CM: Basically a comment about fostering sympathy for the devil

DK: I got it. But because of this Goebbels we have now let’s see ten different Goebbels. So we can make a category for the best European Goebbels at the European Film Awards. This (Goebbels) is quite a figure and Moritz Leibtreu [portraying Goebbels in the film] acted in a way so he became partly sympathetic, that’s true.

C M: Sixty years berlinale… nine years Dieter Kosslick … what do you consider your most important innovation?

DK: I think it is the Talent Campus, the World Cinema Fund, and also the move of the European Film Market from Postdamer Strasse to the Walter Gropius Bau. This year the market was really solid and there was a lot of business and we are delivering a much bigger market now. It is exceeding the space of the Gropius Bau. These were three essential decisions. Lastly I brought back the German film to the berlinale.

CM: What about the mistakes you made?

DK: Yes I made a lot of mistakes. But we should have much more time with this interview if we talk ablaut my mistakes, but one of the big mistakes I still make is that I trust too much. People tell me that they give me the actors, the talent and so on and then you have day like yesterday. NINE [by Rob Marshall] was not in the competition, yet was featured prominently in the Friedrichstadt Palace [theatre] yet none of the promised people [actors and talent such as Penelope Cruz and Nicole Kidman] were showing up. And these tiny things, one or two of these things over which I have no influence can turn the whole mood of the festival.

CM: From an economic perspective many festivals have now a hard time getting funding. But you are very successful. What accounts for your success other than being able to joke most of the time?

DK: Yes, but a big part of a festival is to joke. People want to have a happy and not n unhappy festival and we have a happy festival…. And that is one of the reasons why sponsor link up with us.

CM: They know about the festival vibes

DK: Yes they do. Also you will note that in two days [the end of the berlinale] we will have sold many more than 300 000 tickets, this is our absolute record. This means that people do like the berlinale as the sponsors do too.

CM: BMW likes a happy Kosslick?

DK: Definitely and a happy car.

CM: You had about 6000 submissions including shorts according to Wieland [W.Speck, directing the Panorama section]…How do you handle that?. Each year you have to review more productions.

DK: I really do not know why [there are so many] but it is not so important. But the number of submissions does not matter except if you get 6000 good films. Then it matters and may become a problem.

CM: This leads me to the next question. Geoff Gilmore [headed formerly Sundance, now serves as the creative director of New York’s Tribeca film festival] suggested that there is lack or decline of creative content. Do you agree?

DK: Not really, not judging from the selections we had this year…. We had many independent productions from the United States. Take for example….. THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT [by Lisa Cholodenko], GREENBERG [by Noah Baumbach] and lots of others which did not lack content.

CM: But do you observe an increase of productions with creative content given that there are more and more productions each year?

DK: This is rather complicated to discuss.

CM: What about the new technologies such as 3D? Avatar having generated now [by mid February 2010] box office receipts of 2.2 $ billion. Will there be any impact on independent film making?

DK: For once, Avatar enjoyed an incredible marketing campaign. There is great interest in this exciting new technology. Since we are part of the entertainment industry we have to attract a larger audience and 3D will definitely do it. There will be other technologies ion the future but now 3D is state of the art.

CM: It seems that the more advanced the media technologies are the more complete is the representation of reality…..so what is the impact on the audience? Are they getting more and more addicted to the medium?

DK: Look. They will only be attracted to 3D if the film is good and Avatar is a good film because of its classical dramatic structure, a classic story

CM: But if you look at the United States, and it may very well be different in Germany, each year the amount of time spent consuming visual media is increasing up to the current 35-36 hours per person [per week].

DK: It is not me making a contribution to that phenomenon

CM: Well ok… the Japanese have taken out patents how to stimulate the brain so you can smell what you see on the screen…. You see a rose on TV and you can smell it

DK: Yes they can do this; we actually had such films years ago

CM: Polyester thus we are moving towards electronic polyester.*

DK: Yes electronic polyester… But I will definitely run into the direction of a water color set and have some drawings done rather than opt for the way you describe.

CM: Any plans for changes for the next edition in 2011?

DK: We consider focusing more on independent cinema but there are no plans for additions. Decidedly not. The berlinale is so big. There is no need to make it bigger…. We have now the Kiez Kino created just for the berlinale’s 60th birthday.

CM: Dieter, every year when I interview you, you say there are no new plans, that the berlinale will not will not grow further… but when I return the following year there is always a new component such as this year’s Kiez Kino

DK: This is the way I do marketing

CM: Thank you… until your tenth anniversary running the berlinale.

*Polyster, a 1981 John Waters comedy, used scratch and sniff cards, called Odorama with viewers able to smell what they see on the screen.

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