Berlin Film Festival Chief Dieter Kosslick
Courtesy of Jens Hartmann/People Picture

“It’s all about diversity,” Dieter Kosslick, festival director of the Berlin Film Festival, tells Variety, referring to the line-up of movies from 77 countries, the 20,000 accredited guests from more than 100 countries, but also the inclusive spirit of the festival. “We do this festival because of diversity. We don’t want to show the same things (as everywhere else).”

Kosslick adds that this has been the case since the inception of the festival, which is in its 66 year. He cites the festival posters in 2002 and 2003, which carried the slogans “Accept Diversity” and “Towards Tolerance,” respectively.

“Berlin is about the right to happiness, not the pursuit of happiness,” says Kosslick. “We are seeing the migration of 60 million to 70 million people around the world in front of our eyes. A worldwide catastrophe is happening and we can’t say, as the Germans said in 1945, we didn’t see it, we had no idea.”

“We know all about what is going on in the world. I’m a German born in 1948. I was not involved in this sh-t before, but I have the responsibility that this sh-t never happens again,” he says.

Before the festival started, Kosslick wrote an article in the German newspaper Tagesspiegel that referred to the Berlinale as being “a zone of tolerance.” He says that at the start of the recent influx of refugees from Syria and Iraq into Germany he bought a T-shirt bearing the slogan “Refugees Are Welcome,” and he is thinking of wearing it at the festival’s closing ceremony.

The city of Berlin has received 80,000 refugees in the past year, and the festival is playing its part in welcoming them. It has offered free tickets to the refugees and is collecting money for a charity that helps those traumatized by war, among other initiatives. “We feel responsibility for the people who are not on the red carpet,” Kosslick says.

“We like the shiny part of the Berlinale – the glitz and glamour – we are a festival after all, but we also want to say we are ‘In This World,’” he says, quoting the title of Michael Winterbottom’s refugee film, which won Berlin’s best film prize, the Golden Bear, in 2003.

He points to the Berlin competition entry “Fuocoammare” (Fire at Sea) as a film that powerfully conveys the notion of two separate world – the world of those already living in Europe in safety, and that of the refugees trying to reach the continent, risking death in unsafe boats.

In terms of the festival’s movie selection, he emphasizes its inclusivity. For example, he points to the inclusion of features by African-American filmmakers in the main sections, such as Spike Lee’s “Chi-Raq” and Don Cheadle’s “Miles Ahead,” and those by Asian, Middle Eastern and African directors.

He deflects criticism that the main jury is all white by explaining that he had invited non-white jury members to join, but they were unavailable for various reasons. He points out that four of the seven jury members are women, including the president, Meryl Streep, and that 117 films in the festival are directed by women, out of a total 434 films, which is 27%.

Kosslick is in his 15th year as festival chief, and in that time he has overseen a great broadening and enriching of its activity, with the addition of programs such as the World Cinema Fund, Forum Expanded, the Co-production Market, Berlinale Talents, the Berlinale Residency, the Drama Series Days, Books at Berlinale and Culinary Cinema. But it is the audience reaction that pleases him the most. By Thursday evening, 310,000 tickets had been sold during this year’s event.

“The most important thing is that the audiences keeps growing — growing and growing. They just like what we are doing. And we are showing really tough cookie films. We are showing our kids tough cookie films. We are not showing the soft version of ‘Bambi,'” he says.

“You can buy everything, except the audience. When you are depressed — your girlfriend has run away with your neighbor, and all these things — just go to the Arkaden (the shopping mall where the festival ticket office is located), and you’ll see people sleeping in front of the box office (waiting for the booth to open), and then you can fire your shrink.”

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