Berlinale topper Dieter Kosslick has been at the fest’s helm for 12 years — introducing significant changes and initiatives that have become integral parts of the festival and the international film community, such as the educational Talent Campus program and the World Cinema Fund, while surviving plenty of criticism.
Surviving so well, in fact, that the German government has asked Kosslick to continue in his post for another four years — his current contract was due to expire next year. That extension gives the fest topper plenty of time to build on his accomplishments, especially in the support of up-and-coming filmmakers.
“One focus of the Berlinale has traditionally been the promotion of new talent. With the Berlinale Talent Campus, we created a platform for young film talent that is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year. Another initiative to promote talent is coming this year, but it won’t be affiliated to the campus or a section,” adds Kosslick, who has yet to unveil the program.
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Also in the works are plans to “bring the festival together with other organizations through partnerships. This year’s Retrospective, the Red Dream Factory, for example, marked the beginning of a long-term cooperation with the Museum of Modern Art.”
Other novelties this year include the addition of the Haus der Berliner Festspiele venue, located about three miles west of the Berlinale’s Potsdamer Platz center. The Haus will host screenings and discussions of such high-profile films as Angelina Jolie’s directorial debut, “In the Land of Blood and Honey,” and Werner Herzog’s “Death Row” documentary series.
Some things never change, however. Like many big film festivals, the lineup is bound to disappoint — as well as delight — a fare share of critics.
Kosslick is used to deflecting barbs. “Since its existence, there has always been criticism of the Berlinale. It is great that the films are well received by our audience and, often, later on they’re even accepted by the critics after all.”
Indeed, while the Berlinale’s lineups rarely match the level of glamour and adulation of Cannes and Venice, it has been known to help launch quite a few success stories, most recently Asghar Farhadi’s Golden Bear-winning Iranian hit “A Separation,” Wim Wenders’ “Pina,” Michael Roskam’s “Bullhead,” J.C. Chandor’s “Margin Call” and Alain Gagnol and Jean-Loup Felicioli’s “A Cat in Paris,” all of which premiered or screened in Berlin last year, and are now in the running for Oscars.
Kosslick has faced criticism in the past from the German and American press for seemingly favoring smaller foreign titles over higher-profile U.S. and international films, but he rejects the notion that the media are pushing for more glamour and mainstream programming, claiming that non-Hollywood films generate a lot of interest as well.
“Every year we show about 400 films. Our festival is a very broad one and covers a wide range of countries and genres. Of course, films with big stars generate enormous media attention and excite the fans. That’s as much a part of the Berlinale as the presentation of new and unknown talents.”
Indeed, the Berlinale has managed to train a big spotlight on Iranian cinema while also being vocal about that government’s oppression of artists.
For the second year in a row, Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi, who has been sentenced to six years in prison and remains under house arrest in Tehran, has been invited to the Berlinale. Fellow Iranian filmmakers Mojtaba Mirtahmasb and Mohammad Rasoulof, who have also spent time in jail for their work, have also received invitations.
“Panahi remains under house arrest. I hope that the filmmakers can come — and I’m still quite confident,” says Kosslick.
Asked whether the Berlinale’s loud criticism of the Iranian regime could make things more difficult for filmmakers in the country, Kosslick is unapologetic.
“We hope not, and, so far, there is no evidence of that. However, it would be wrong not to have a position for that reason.”
As for his own role at the fest, Kosslick has hinted that there might be room for an additional hand at the helm, recently pointing out that unlike other major fests, which have a president, an artistic director and sometimes even a managing director, the Berlinale has only one topper to oversee all three jobs.
“The Berlinale has grown steadily in recent years and therefore there are more and more responsibilities for me as festival director. The tasks are currently very much anchored in one person. This leaves room to think about it. But currently, my colleagues and I are putting all our energy into the preparation of the upcoming festival. Ideas for the future we’ll continue to discuss afterward.”