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Moritz de Hadeln reflects on Berlin fest

Remembering, not so long ago

Some kids grow up faster than others. It took a long time, due to exceptional circumstances, for the Berlinale — as the Berlin Intl. Film Festival is known today — to reach maturity. I was in charge of the event from 1980 to 2001, starting in the middle of the Cold War, ending with German unity and the relocation of the event in the heart of the rebuilt capital.

In 1951, the whole idea was to stage in the Western part of the town a film festival allowing those living in the occupied Soviet sector the opportunity to get a taste of what the “free world” had to offer. It was a continuous parade of Hollywood talents. Then came the Wall and the struggle for survival of an isolated town. That was the environment in which the event grew but soon became a center for discovery where new talents received the spotlight. Here is where the French Nouvelle Vague was at home, where the first Pasolini and Polanski films received awards.

My time came at a period when East-West dialogue was a must. The entire communist block had boycotted the festival until 1976, and their participation remained a delicate affair. Indeed, diplomacy was not far behind the love for cinema. But the East European regimes also knew that the participation had to be of top level, and they delivered some of their best films to the fest. For us, on the other side of the wall, it was the opportunity to help filmmakers gain a slice of freedom by being exposed in the West, not always without some bumps on the road. And there were many, until Moscow chose to “use” the Berlinale as their showcase for the freshly liberated films during the glasnost period. In all this time, my role was to see how to avoid a major breakdown in the East-West relations while securing the freedom of the event from undue compromises. Sitting between two chairs was not always easy.

The strong participation of American films and talents was thus essential, but not everybody in Hollywood wanted to risk their products in what they considered a troubled spot. In my first years, I had to invest quite a bit of energy to smooth fears. In fact the breakthrough came the day it was decided to send James Stewart as “Ambassador of President Reagan” to Berlin in 1982. After his visit, things became easier and we were able to achieve a more healthy balance of films from all parts of the globe.

Not everything was so dramatic. We were the first, long before email and the Internet existed, to introduce computer technology to organize the event. And our computer soon became the most visited location in the festival. Carlo Lizzani wanted to introduce it in Venice, the Tokyo festival organizers made us suspicious they were on some industrial spying tour, while the Shanghai group just asked us bluntly to offer our equipment and knowledge as a “gift” to China. If a festival is a bit like an orchestra, the director can do little without first class musicians. My team during those years was wonderful. They really gave life to the event. My debtto towards Wolfgang Linke, Manfred Salzgeber and Werner Gondolf is huge — only to mention those who are no longer with us to blow the candles of the 60th anniversary cake. But also to those who nowadays assure the continuity on Dieter Kosslick’s side, too numerous to name all: Wieland Speck, Frauke Greiner, Karin Hoffinger, Wilhelm Faber and above all the irreplaceable Beki Probst. What a dream team !

I guess I can be proud for presenting the first films of Roland Emmerich, Tsai Ming-liang, Gus Van Sant, of Ang Lee or Zhang Yimou. And what dear memories when presenting a Golden Bear for lifetime achievement to Alec Guinness (1988), Dustin Hoffman (1989), Gregory Peck and Billy Wilder (1993), Sophia Loren (1994), Jack Lemmon (1996), Shirley MacLaine (1999) or to Kirk Douglas (2001) just to mention a few. Then came the two great events of my time: the collapse of the Berlin Wall and only a few months later the festival organized in both parts of the town, and in 2000 the farewell to the Zoo Palast and the relocation of the festival on the rebuilt Potsdamer Platz, where it is today.

I am proud of having been able to add my contributions to the event. But above all it is all those who made it come true that should be thanked for trusting us. In America, Universal Studios, Columbia TriStar, the Miramax of the Weinstein brothers, Bill Mechanic from Buena Vista to 20th Century Fox, my dear agents and advisers, the unforgettable Renee Furst then Al Newman, and on this side of the Atlantic our many friends in France, Italy, in Scandinavia not to mention civil servants of the communist apparatus who did not hesitate to breach the rules to show their true love for films as art, more than just a piece of national politics. I shall never forget the great Russian director Elem Klimov asking me discretely if he could see the Berlin Wall from the West, and then shook his head saying what an aberration it was.

In a world with over 4,000 festivals, Berlin stands up today among the very few that remain milestones in the business and artistic calendar. Happy birthday, and many happy returns of this great adventure.

Moritz de Hadeln

Gland, Switzerland

Jan. 22, 2010

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