Berlin Brahmin: Dieter Kosslick

There are very few people in the film business who so obviously (and publicly) relish their jobs as Dieter Kosslick, the head of the Berlin International Film Festival, which opens its 62nd edition on Thursday. Kosslick, of the wicked grin and gracious manner, serves as a kind of game show host-cum-circus ringmaster of the event, prone to physical signs of affection and a kind of game revelry that is a warm spot in what can be the chilly Berlin winter. Behind the scenes, he is known for his tenacity and fierceness, particularly as he juggles the difficult balls of insuring the Festival’s monetary health, dealing with local and federal politicians and skillfully handling the programming and procedural hurdles that makes Berlin one of the best managed and easy to navigate film events on the calendar. Well known for his gastronomy (he has even developed a Festival sidebar devoted to films on food) and his gregarious, sometimes over the top personality, he is a decided change to the austere managers who have been affiliated with the Festival in the past and, as I said in the opening sentence, clearly loves his job.

In a position that can illicit public scrutiny and media ridicule, Kosslick heads into his 10th year as Berlin’s head honcho with a remarkably high approval rating. As festival heads are unceremoniously beheaded in Venice, Cannes and other places, Kosslick has become the embodiment of the Berlin International Film Festival….ingratiating, warm, not afraid to be political and someone more comfortable living on the edge than in the middle. The expansion of the parallel European Film Market as an unmissable event on the professional calendar, the creation of the Berlinale Talent Campus to encourage a new generation of film artists and the inauguration of the Berlinale Co-Production Market to be a catalyst for the making of films in destinations far off the Hollywood radar are among his most praiseworthy accomplishments. In terms of the Festival itself, he has adroitly mixed it up with a little bit of Hollywood glitz, a dollop of European film royalty and just the right edge of budding auteurs to make the Festival one of the most inclusive and intriguing on the circuit.

Born in Pforzheim on May 30, 1948, Dieter Kosslick studied Communication, Politics and Education in Munich. After receiving his Masters degree, he stayed on at the university in the Bavarian capital as a research assistant before moving to Hamburg in 1979 to work as speechwriter and office administrator for Mayor Hans Ulrich Klose and later as press spokesman for the “women’s equality” unit. He left this position in 1982 to work as a journalist for the magazine “konkret”. In 1983, he became involved in film funding, firstly as managing director of Hamburg’s cultural film fund (Hamburg Film Office). In 1986 he founded the European Low Budget Forum with the cinema “Kino auf der Alster”. In 1988 he became managing director of the city’s economic film fund (Hamburg Film Fund). The same year, he was a co-founder of EFDO (European Film Distribution Office), a post he held until EFDO’s dissolution in 1996. In 1992, the region of North Rhine-Westphalia and television giant WDR lured him from Hamburg to Dusseldorf to head up the barely one year-old Filmstiftung NRW as its executive director. During his nine years in office, North-Rhine-Westphalia became the leading German film site and established itself internationally as an important film region.

After deciding not to renew the contract of former Berlinale head Moritz de Hadeln in 2000, the state government of the city of Berlin and the Federal Government of Germany appointed him director of Germany’s biggest and most important film event, the Berlin International Film Festival. Kosslick took up his new position in the capital as head of the Berlinale on May 1, 2001. In his position, not only has he brought Berlin to the top of its game as an international film showcase and market, but he has remained a tireless champion of contemporary German cinema and also for cinema voices from distant lands. Last year’s Berlinale Golden Bear winner A SEPARATION from Iran has since become a major international art house sensation and looks on track to win the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar in two weeks. The big toothy grin and slightly absent-minded professor demeanor (and I mean that as a compliment, Herr Kosslick) belies a true titan whose love of film (and food) is legend. Good luck, Dieter, as you enter your second decade at the Berlinale.

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