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Berlin: Christian Petzold Defends German Filmmakers’ Letter on Kosslick Successor Plan

Berlinale veteran Christian Petzold on Saturday defended an open letter signed by 79 German filmmakers published last year calling for a new start and a transparent process in selecting a successor to Dieter Kosslick when he steps down next year, and expressed anger at the way its intent was twisted in the media.

Speaking at a press conference ahead of the premiere of his competition film “Transit,” Petzold said he was in Paris when he first heard about the debate that had erupted when the letter was published by Spiegel Online and seemingly interpreted by journalists to be an attack on Kosslick.

“From a distance, you could only say, my goodness, is Germany parochial! We said we do not want all this to be within some apparatus, a closed system, to decide on a successor,” Petzold said, adding that the filmmakers were simply expressing their wish for the selection process to be out in the open.

“What is a festival? We have television which in not curated. I’ve got Netlfix at home for the kids. You click your way through that and its like a junkyard where you can buy everything in a jumble sale.  Obviously one has to oppose that sort of thing and the Berlinale does it, but the question is how will we do that in the future? It’s that we have a debate about what exactly is this festival.

Berlin is very different than the Mediterranean venues of Cannes and Venice, he stressed. “We’re cold; we’re at Potsdamer Platz. That’s horrid. We have to have a different way of thinking about this festival, not what’s behind this letter.”

The fact that the letter was interpreted as an attack on Kosslick, that “we were all criticizing Dieter Kosslick, that he did lousy things and we wanted to get rid of him – that really got on my nerves, I can tell you.”

Turning to his film, a modern-day adaptation of Anna Seghers’ 1942-set novel about refugees in Nazi occupied France trying to secure visas to sail oversees, Petzold said: “This is all a comment of the here and now about the past.”

“Tranist,” Petzold’s fourth film to premiere in competition at the Berlinale, presents a kind of alternative reality in which a modern-day fascist Germany has invaded France, resulting in throngs of refugees, including German Jews, intellectuals and others, desperately seeking secure passage on ships for Mexico and the United States.

Actor Franz Rogowski, this year’s German Shooting Star who also stars in Thomas Stuber’s competition entry “In the Aisles,” added: “I think we can only live in the here and now. If the story is written in the present time, we have the chance of rediscovering various things. … Despite this translation to the here and now, our own experience has very little to do with the reality of those who fled.”

Co-star Paula Beer noted: “What I think was so brilliant about this story and this script is this level of abstraction. We have a historical novel but here we have created an interim level so that people become aware that yes, migration movements have always existed and societies have reacted in a similar vein. But maybe because it’s not so topical, we show exactly what we have today – the same type of migration. We try to give an emotional understanding of this by having people follow a lead character. But we are leaving Germany, going to France and from France to Mexico, and that creates what I call this interim level so you can see that history repeats itself and that we can learn a great deal if we look back occasionally.”

“Transit” ends with the Talking Heads 1985 “Road to Nowhere,” a song Petzold said was perfect for the film when he heard it while at the port of Marseille, where the film was shot.

“I listened to the song and thought to myself, well, that’s it – the original version from David Byrne, because it sounds like a gospel.  And I think there’s a lot of consolation in the film and gospel always makes us feel comfortable. We played it out loud in the entire hall at the port and we all decided, that’s the song for us.”

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