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Debate Over Dieter Kosslick’s Leadership of the Berlinale Heats Up

Debate over the future direction of the Berlin Film Festival has intensified in Germany, with a slew of high-profile industry players throwing their support behind longtime chief Dieter Kosslick in response to a call by dozens of German filmmakers for a new start when his contract expires in 2019.

Germany’s Association of Film Distributors, Studio Babelsberg and the German Federal Film Board have all expressed support for Kosslick and praised his leadership of the Berlinale and contributions to the industry in what has become an extraordinary public dispute barely two months before the 2019 edition of the festival.

In an open letter last week, 79 German filmmakers, includin Maren Ade and Fatih Akin, called for “a new start” at the festival and recommended a transparent process in selecting Kosslick’s successor and examining fundamental changes to the event. The letter’s demand for a new director who is “an outstanding curatorial personality” and “passionate about cinema” and its insinuation that the Berlinale is currently inferior to the Cannes and Venice film festivals was seen as a stinging rebuke of Kosslick’s leadership.

The Association of Film Distributors (VdF) issued a statement Thursday flatly rejecting the tacit criticism of Kosslick. The statement was signed by VdF Managing Director Johannes Klingsporn and board members Martin Bachmann, head of Sony Pictures Entertainment Deutschland; Vincent de La Tour, managing director of 20th Century Fox, Germany; Oliver Koppert, head of Constantin Film Verleih; and Peter Sundarp, managing director of Wild Bunch-owned distributor Central Film.

The distributors’ association said it found “the current bashing and the resulting alleged criticism” of Kosslick “not only unfair, but also completely uncalled for. The inappropriate criticism of his work is not shared by us in any way.”

While expressing understanding of the filmmakers’ wish for a more transparent debate on the Berlinale‘s future structure and direction, the VdF stressed that, thanks to his “excellent international contacts,” Kosslick had “succeeded in establishing the Berlinale as one of the four most important film festivals in the world.”

Similar sentiments were expressed by Studio Babelsberg’s top executives, President and CEO Charlie Woebcken and Vice President and COO Christoph Fisser. “We are in constant contact with filmmakers around the world. From an international perspective, the Berlinale, in particular through Dieter Kosslick, has achieved an immensely high status and greatly enhanced the film location Berlin-Brandenburg and Germany as a whole,” the Babelsberg execs said. “From personal experience we know of the excellent network that Dieter Kosslick has built up in the international film industry.”

Bernd Neumann, former German culture and media commissioner and current president of the German Federal Film Board, described the criticism of the Berlinale and its director as “excessive and unfair.” But he added that the filmmakers’ desire for changes and an open discussion about a new director was nevertheless understandable in view of the “foreseeable end of the era of Dieter Kosslick.”

When Kosslick took the reins in 2001, he replaced former director Moritz de Hadeln, who had headed the festival since 1979. At the time, the Berlinale faced similar calls for a new direction and for a greater focus on German films, which Kosslick delivered at his first festival in 2002.

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