Toppers share tough tests, quests of fests

Pena, Luddy, Kosslick, Handling among panel

Fest honchos shared the pressures, perks and power of their job as the Variety Cannes Conference Series 2002 kicked off Friday with six of the most senior fest toppers in the biz.

Variety executive editor Steve Gaydos headed up a panel that included Richard Pena (New York), Tom Luddy (Telluride), Dieter Kosslick (Berlin), Piers Handling (Toronto), Moritz De Hadeln (Venice) and Geoffrey Gilmore (Sundance).

Kosslick denied being pressured by companies to screen films, saying “more pressure comes from German first-time directors.”

The Berlin topper also offered a definition of “not ready,” as in “the film’s not ready for Berlin.” He said that translates to “I’d rather show it at Cannes or Rotterdam!”

As for the question of whether their fest choices represent the work of a democracy or dictatorship, Dieter said he relies on his selection committee, but warned “pick yours carefully!”

Pena also goes with his selection committee while Telluride’s Luddy “can veto anything, but so can my partner. We horse trade a lot. I can say yes, but can also get vetoed.” Handling “will never veto and the Canadian Section committee invite who they want.”

Sundance’s Gilmore stressed, “I listen to my staff. It’s not the Geoff Gilmore festival! We sit and talk.”

De Hadeln and Handling also go for consensus, with the latter explaining “I have to trust my people. Absolutely and implicitly.”

Aware of the powers to launch careers, Gilmore said he gets his kicks from “finding an unknown film that (arrives) in a brown envelope” while De Hadeln praised the Internet for “making it even easier today. Anyone can enter.”

But this also means the “no” word gets used a whole lot more.

“The hardest and most necessary people to say no to are the ones you know while keeping the relationship,” says Gilmore. “You have to say ‘no’ in a way so they’ll come back,” says Handling. Luddy and Kosslick also demonstrated their rejection skills.

Need to balance the program means “you can say your film is not for us” (Handling) but the downside is rejection “gives a film a bad marker” (De Hadeln).

Geopolitics “is a problem,” says Kosslick, “if we pick 23 films and they all turn out to be German.” He also bemoaned lack of French product: “They’re all in Cannes.” De Hadeln, all rivalries now dead and buried, revealed “we have a deal with Cannes!” Kosslick said he feels Asian films tended to favor Sundance and Rotterdam.

Handling bemoaned press coverage of the amount of biz being done. “We want first-timers to be discussed,” he said. Gilmore is also bothered that newspapers “feel they have to evaluate the festival on the first day. Festivals should be evaluated six months after, not every three days.”

De Hadeln warned against “creating a ghetto of ‘festival’ films. We want to make this for the public.”

Handling defended fests for “keeping the flame alive for films which aren’t entering the market. Maybe we’re an alternative exhibition chain.”