BERLIN — With five festivals down and — under his present contract — five to go, Berlinale director Dieter Kosslick is bruised but still ebullient in the hot seat of the world’s second-biggest festival.
“Sometimes I’m lucky, sometimes I’m not,” avers the antsy, pun-loving, 58-year-old gourmet. “But I like my job.”
With the conspicuous success of the European Film Market, especially since the demise of Mifed and AFM’s switch to the fall, as well as innovations like the Talent Campus, World Cinema Fund and Berlinale Co-Production Market, Kosslick now heads a one-stop juggernaut that is second only to Cannes in size and importance. And it’s now starting to attract serious attention from Croisette-level dealmakers.
Fest now boasts 19,000 accredited professionals, 4,000 journos and more than 160 new features screened — the vast majority world or international preems. The market is showing more than 700 features and has over 5,000 registered participants.
“If you look back at the past five years, the Berlinale has just become such a big deal for the whole town,” Kosslick notes. “And not just in terms of celebrities. Companies are even holding events that have nothing to do with the festival, and the economy of the whole city is benefiting. It’s like a carnival. Even taxi drivers know the festival’s dates (this year Feb. 8-18). It was never like this when things were more concentrated in the western part of town.”
The Berlinale is, of course, in the unique position of being a full-service fest for both industry and the public that is also located in a major capital city. But per Kosslick, what’s happening with the EFM is just another symptom of the 57-year-old fest’s success.
“You can really feel the market’s growing importance. Something happened — even I don’t really know what. Compared with last year, it will be much bigger than anyone is expecting.”
He sees a clear knock-on effect with the main festival, in which a record 1,200 movies were submitted just for this year’s Competition.
“The only problem with this is that there’s much more pressure to include films in the Official Program,” Kosslick sighs. “I’m not saying the quality of what’s made available to us has necessarily increased, but the chances of finding good movies has. And the more movies you have submitted, the more your contacts with the industry grow.”
On the programming side, Kosslick has come in for his fair share of brickbats during his first five years. Following Moritz de Hadeln’s stormy two-decade tenure, Kosslick — a career film Eurocrat who worked for funding agencies and the like — was criticized for being too politically correct and taking the growl out of the traditionally ornery Berlin Bear.
“I was political and correct,” Kosslick jests. “Maybe I’ve become a little bit more relaxed now. But we don’t program the festival just for film critics; we also do it for the industry and public.
“All the veteran festivals have their own history and traditions. Berlin was born for political reasons, as a way out of its Cold War isolation caused by the Allies, especially the Americans. It became a place where you could show banned films, films from Central Europe and so on. A lot of this tradition vanished when the Wall came down in ’89, and de Hadeln had to cope with this during his last years as director. It’s much harder to do a political festival when the zeitgeist in no longer politisch.”
When Kosslick came onboard for the 2002 edition, “everything was in flux again,” he recalls. “I programmed my first festival in the shadow of 9/11; during my second, the Iraq war started. Then there was growing globalization and its effects; terrorism; increasing controls on individual freedom; growing unemployment here in Germany, even as corporate profits increased; and the complete loss of moral standards in business life.
“Even in my short time as festival director, the world has completely changed, and I have had to reflect this.”
With all its modern-day pressures, festival programming is like Sheba’s Dance, Kosslick opines. “Among the thousands of names, you have to find new talent, discover those directors who are going to set a new box office record with their second film, and keep the local industry happy. And then you have to choose some splashy movies with stars and famous directors, as most of the journalists probably think (Jacques) Rivette is a mineral water from southern France,” he jokes. “You have to do all that in 26 (competing, plus noncompeting) slots.”
In mid-January, Kosslick caused a minor scandal when he railed to a Berlin magazine against the growing tendency, especially among newcomer fests, to “buy” stars and show world-preem clips.
He invented the German word “Geltpremieren” (money premieres), punning on “Weltpremieren” (world premieres), and explicitly mentioned cash-rich fests like Rome and Dubai. Former reportedly paid a large amount for Nicole Kidman to attend, and the latter showed world-premiere clips from Keira Knightley starrer “Silk.”
“All I will say now is that, if you start paying, then you’ll pay in the end. Now we have world-premiere clips; next thing, we’ll have world-premiere chips. By doing this, some festivals are spoiling what we are all trying to work towards. Everyone thinks Berlin also pays for stars to attend. But we absolutely don’t.”
Kosslick has still managed the considerable feat this year of having 17 world preems among his 22 competition titles, the same number as last year. But he notes, “What does a ‘world premiere’ mean, at the end of the day? It’s just a marketing device. Is it better to have a world premiere for the sake of it, or a good film?
“Marketing is an important part of all festivals nowadays, and everyone who comes to a festival uses it as a marketing platform. As a programmer, my duty is not to follow the river. If we go too far into the mainstream, we’ll drown. My job is to provide some stepping-stones in world cinema, that, with luck, will help you around. Otherwise, I might as well go home and hand my job over to professional agents and bookers.”
The Berlinale’s budget is E16 million ($20.7 million), sizable but by no means extravagant given its size. Of that, $8.1 million comes from government sources and the balance from ticket sales (186,000 last year), accreditation and market fees, sponsorship and merchandising. The $1.3 million Talent Campus is entirely funded outside the main budget.
“State funding still provides the basis of the festival’s financing,” Kosslick stresses. “We couldn’t continue without it.”
For the future, he doesn’t have any plans to increase the total number of films (“it’s already big enough”). But he stresses, “The most important thing is the market. To do artistic things, you have to be independent; and to be independent, the market has to be successful. It’s what brings the business in.”