Fest topper's first five years filled with more launches than lurches

Since taking the reins at the Berlinale five years ago, Dieter Kosslick has managed to revamp and reinvigorate the fest while keeping its spirit intact.

New sections and programs like the Talent Campus educational platform, the Co-Production Market and the World Cinema Fund have upped the ante among A-list festivals and opened up a once-elite club not only to young filmmakers but also to film communities in the developing world.

Kosslick took the helm in 2002 with the intention of making a few additions without changing the festival’s fundamental structure.

“Of course we wanted to keep all the elements we had — why should you change winning horses? But what I thought we needed was a place where you could learn the art. We need to find a way to bring young people, young filmmakers, to Berlin.”

Kosslick says the event, launched in 2003, refreshes the festival with its 500 annual participants from around the globe.

As the former head of two separate regional subsidy boards, Kosslick says he was predisposed to German film and set out to strengthen the focus on local productions and talent.

“Because of my history, I wanted to do something for German film, which was absolutely necessary,” he says.

Kosslick created the separate Perspectives of German Cinema sidebar as a platform for up-and-coming German talent.

“All these elements worked out a building-block system which I thought we could bring together in five years. Now the five years are over and basically we have achieved what we wanted to achieve, and on top of that we have something we didn’t even think about in the beginning — the World Cinema Fund.”

Launched in 2004 as a joint initiative of the German Federal Cultural Foundation, the Berlinale and, more recently, the Goethe Institute, the World Cinema Fund has a three-year budget of $2 million and seeks to help filmmakers in Africa, Latin America, the Middle East and Central Asia. Of the 367 projects submitted, 20 have received production or distribution funding.

Another addition to make the fest more productive for attendees was the creation of the Co-Production Market.

“It’s become a very important element because there are many people who come to the festival who come not only to see all the films but to get some kind of advantage out of the festival. We have a whole part of the festival that acts as a service provider,” Kosslick says.

The Campus, the Co-Production Market and the World Cinema Fund have helped transform the festival into a venue where pics are not only shown but also cultivated. Participants of the Campus and the Co-Production Market and recipients of the WCF have returned to the festival to screen films that were germinated here.

One thing that Kosslick had not reckoned with was the AFM’s date change from January to November and its implications.

“We didn’t know that we were going to be in the historic situation, suddenly in the middle of the AFM and Cannes, and we have become a center point between these two markets,” says Kosslick. “If the market works as we expect — and I am convinced that it will — we will have a very modern film festival and can concentrate on the quality of the programs as well as on taking care of our guests.”

While the fest itself is running smoothly, one of its main problems has become the Oscars. With that awards ceremony moved up a month, the Berlinale falls right between the nominations and the Oscar show.

“This puts us in a very special situation in that we ask people to come to Berlin at the same time when they have to stay in L.A. and promote their films,” Kosslick says.

“It was much better before when the nominations were announced during the festival. It was an event here. It’s something we have to deal with now. We have to work harder to get all these people because it’s just about scheduling, it’s not about Berlin, and it’s not about the festival. Everybody wants to come here, but it’s about scheduling.”

Another headache for Berlinale organizers is the increasing worldwide competition for film premieres.

“Sundance is now doing premieres of European films in their premiere section. That’s fine if they decide to do that, but it becomes harder and harder for all the festivals to get premieres,” Kosslick says.

Day-and-date theatrical starts and early DVD releases also are starting to have an impact, Kosslick notes.

“This will change things in the future. But at the same time, we have enough people, we have enough productions, we have the glitzy red carpet. Even if sometimes people don’t show up — this is a problem of all festivals, it’s not special to us.”

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