While the affable topper, who is receiving Variety’s Achievement in Intl. Film Award at the Berlin Film Festival, will no longer be running the show, he may very well remain a fixture of Germany’s film industry for the forseeable future.
Kosslick remains tight-lipped about his plans, but he has been fielding offers and also plans to release his autobiography this year, titled “Schön auf dem Teppich bleiben,” loosely translated as “Keep Your Feet on the Ground.”
“I’ll still be here until June,” Kosslick says. “Then I’ll take a summer break and consider what I’ll do next. Quoting our chancellor: ‘I’m sure I’ll think of something.’ We’ll see. I don’t want to announce anything yet, but I guess I won’t be disappearing completely from the stage.”
Kosslick has headed the Berlinale as artistic director and CEO since 2001. While he would have initially liked to reduce his responsibilities and remain with the festival, Kosslick is now content with the decision for new leadership.
“I wasn’t necessarily planning to step down, but I definitely did not want to continue in the same manner. I had already told this to our federal government commissioner for culture and the media, Monika Grütters, two years ago. I probably would have continued, but not in this double responsibility of artistic director and CEO. No other A-list film festival has this kind of management. That was just too much. It’s good to make a clean cut. Coming around to accepting that was difficult in the beginning, but with time I’ve become relaxed about it.”
Carlo Chatrian, former artistic director of the Locarno Film Festival, and Mariette Rissenbeek, managing director of German Films, will take over next year as artistic director and executive director, respectively.
“I hope they will continue to happily serve the Berlinale fans with good films, and I have no doubt they will,” says Kosslick, adding that he doesn’t have any specific advice for his successors.
After succeeding former festival director Moritz de Hadeln 18 years ago, Kosslick sought to make the festival more accessible to the public. His folksy humor and cheerfulness lightened the event and charmed festgoers and celebrity guests alike. He also oversaw major changes, expansions and additions, many of which have been adopted by other leading festivals around the world.
Kosslick is especially proud of the Berlinale Talents program. Originally known as the Talent Campus and aimed at younger filmmakers, it has grown and evolved to serve a broader range of filmmakers.
“It was definitely a model of success that is now in seven parts of the world in addition to Berlin,” he notes. Talents programs take place in Beirut, Buenos Aires, Durban, Guadalajara, Rio de Janeiro, Sarajevo and Tokyo. “Around 10% of our annual line-up is now from Talent alumni.”
Another major achievement for Kosslick was the expansion of the Kinderfilmfest into Generation and the addition of the Generation 14plus sidebar, which targets teenagers and young adults.
“We found an audience for films that would otherwise not be seen. As a father of a 14-year-old son, I see how important it is that he physically goes to the cinema instead of just sitting around on his computer. Since 2006, when we created Generation, the attendance has grown from 15,000 kids to 70,000 each year.”
Kosslick also fondly remembers the 2010 screening of the restored version of Fritz Lang’s “Metropolis” at the Brandenburg Gate with Leonardo DiCaprio in attendance. “That was really good. Berlinale Open Air, 2 degrees below zero and snowing. It was just magic — and cold.”
Recounting his most memorable encounters, Kosslick quips: “Besides Meryl Streep as jury president? That was very exciting.
“I’ve loved all of the great music films we’ve had,” he adds. “Meeting Harry Belafonte was spectacular and touching. The Rolling Stones — it was amazing to open the festival with Martin Scorsese’s ‘Shine a Light’ and the most successful rock band in music history. Meeting Patti Smith …”
It wasn’t all fun, however.
“There were of course disasters. Remember ‘Cold Mountain?’ The three big stars, Nicole Kidman, Renee Zellweger and Jude Law, didn’t show up. That was really unpleasant — to announce the opening film at the Berlinale with three international stars not showing up.
“The competition with Cannes and Venice was stressful. I didn’t want to be the No. 3 festival. That was certainly stressful.”
During his tenure Kosslick has also faced plenty of criticism, from the quality of competition film selections to the overall size of the programs.
For many filmmakers, however, Kosslick will forever be tied to their early breakthroughs.
“Back in 2004, the experience with ‘Head-On’ was my personal ‘Purple Rain,’” says Fatih Akin, whose latest work, “The Golden Glove,” unspools this year in competition.
“It won the festival. My international career started there. If Kosslick had not selected the film for competition, who knows how things would have turned out? So I I’m grateful to this man and his crew.”
Akin continues: “When Dieter took over the festival, he turned it into an audience festival, comparable with Toronto. Suddenly it was no longer an elite and closed circle, but rather a public event. He educated the city cinematically by igniting this Berlinale fever in the streets.”
Kosslick and his team also “managed to discover new talents, avant-garde expression and political subjects that others don’t feel comfortable with,” Akin adds.
While Berlin regularly attracts major Hollywood productions, it has also served as a platform for world cinema, particularly from Asia, Latin America and Eastern Europe. In the past decade, Golden Bear winners have included films from Iran, Peru, Bosnia-Herzegovina, South Africa, China, Brazil, Romania and Hungary.
“It’s certainly not the case that big U.S. films haven’t won any prizes, but other countries have dominated,” Kosslick notes. “I always found it to be a good balance. We had fantastic U.S. films with big stars. I’ve had very good relationships with the U.S. studios, world sales companies and the independent film community.
“On the other hand, it was very important for us to continue traditions. Asia has seen a resurgence at the Berlinale. Latin American cinema has become a stable factor at the festival, partly due to the World Cinema Fund, which has resulted in the release of many successful films, not only at the Berlinale.”
Indeed, the 2009 Peruvian film and Golden Bear winner “The Milk of Sorrow” was backed by the WCF, as was Thailand’s “Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives,” which won Cannes’ Palme d’Or in 2010.
“We also re-established our relationships with Eastern Europe, which led to all of the Eastern European films that we’ve had from countries like Romania, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Russia and others,” he says.
Kosslick took risks, such as unspooling Filipino director Lav Diaz’s eight-hour “A Lullaby to the Sorrowful Mystery.”
“We did that with Meryl Streep as president of the jury, which also awarded the film with a prize. That could have gone badly.”
At the same time, the Berlinale has celebrated memorable American films, including Scorsese’s “Gangs of New York” and “Shutter Island”; Paul Thomas Anderson’s “There Will Be Blood”; and Wes Anderson’s “The Royal Tenenbaums,” “The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou,” “The Grand Budapest Hotel” and last year’s opening night film, “Isle of Dogs.”
“I think we’ve always had a good bouquet,” Kosslick says.
This year’s main lineup includes works by new and returning filmmakers, among them Lone Scherfig’s opening film, “The Kindness of Strangers”; Agnieszka Holland’s “Mr. Jones”; Isabel Coixet’s “Elisa & Marcela”; Wang Quan’an’s “Öndög”; and “Narcos” star Wagner Moura’s directorial debut, “Marighella.”
What did the Berlinale and Dieter Kosslick mean to you? We ask a handful of Berlinale favorites to weigh in on the festival chief.
“The Berlin Film Festival has had the good fortune to have Dieter at the helm for 17 years. His passion and intelligence and humor are a big part of what makes this festival as special as it is. He loves film and it showed in every selection from film to jury. He’s a friend to storytellers and we hate to see him go. We will all miss him terribly.”
Among his many visits to Berlin, Clooney attended screenings of “Three Kings” in 2000, “Solaris” in 2003, “Syriana” in 2006 and “Hail, Caesar!” in 2016 as an actor, and “Confessions of a Dangerous Mind” in 2003 and “The Monuments Men” in 2014 as their director and star.
“Dieter is an enchanting man. He is an intoxicating melange of the exotic, blending the surreal and the normal into the beauty of the Berlinale.”
Rampling will receive the Honorary Golden Bear in 2019; previous visits included in 2006, when she was president of the Intl. Jury, and in 2015, when she won the Silver Bear for actress for “45 Years.” She also accompanied “Signs and Wonders” in 2000 and “I, Anna” in 2012.
“I still haven’t gotten over the fact that the same Dieter Kosslick who has run the Berlin Film Festival with such panache, integrity, enthusiasm, and diplomatic skill for so long is also the same Dieter Kosslick who wrote a book about bagels. Seriously, a whole book about bagels. For that alone we love him.”
Schamus served as president of the Intl. Jury in 2014, and accompanied “Indignation” as director in 2016, and “Casting JonBenet” in 2017 as producer; he attended a special screening of “Sense and Sensibility” in honor of actor Alan Rickman in 2016.
“What I can I say? Dieter always believed in me. Always. From the beginning of my career and even in moments I didn’t believe in myself. He’s the most funny, loyal, witty and charismatic person I’ve ever met. He genuinely loves films and not just the machine of fake glamour surrounding the business of films. He and his speeches are always the highlight of Berlinale. I remembered one he did in front of Harry Belafonte years ago and a very famous actress [she’ll kill me if I say her name] laughed so much she peed in her couture dress!!”
Coixet attended Berlin with “Things I Never Told You” in 1996, “My Life Without Me” in 2003, “Invisibles” in 2007, “Elegy” in 2008, “Listening to the Judge” in 2011, “Yesterday Never Ends” in 2013, “Nobody Wants the Night” in 2015 and “The Bookshop” in 2018, and will accompany “Elisa & Marcela” in 2019. She was on the Intl. Jury in 2009.
“Dieter has strengthened and blessed the Berlinale with his taste, rigor, humor and strong rapport with filmmakers. And who else can give a funnier and more poignant speech than this guy? I love him.”
In 2007, Dafoe was on the Intl. Jury and also presented “The Walker.” He returned with “Fireflies in the Garden” in 2008, “The Dust of Time” in 2009 and “The Grand Budapest Hotel” in 2014; in 2018 he received the Honorary Golden Bear.
Nina Hoss, actress
“Dieter has one of the biggest hearts in the film business. He genuinely cares about humanity, doing whatever he can to help artists and filmmakers who are under political pressure in their countries. Giving everyone who participates in the festival a feeling of being wanted and welcomed, the makers as well as the audiences. Everyone gets the same warm treatment full of wit, joy, enthusiasm and a good portion of his unique Berlin-Swabian humor. When I see Dieter on the red carpet with his hat, his scarf and a big grin, I know the Berlinale has started. I will miss him.”
Among her many visits to the festival, Hoss attended Berlin with “The Elementary Particles” in 2006, “Yella” in 2007, for which she won the Silver Bear for actress, “Barbara” and “Farewell My Queen” in 2012, and “Return to Montauk” in 2017; she served on the Intl. Jury in 2011.
author of “Fast Food Nation.”
“Dieter loves film. But he also has tremendous passion for art, literature, politics and food. His boldness and life force made the Berlinale memorable every year.”
Filmmaker Schlosser accompanied “Food, Inc.” in 2009, participated in a discussion as part of the Culinary Cinema section in 2014 and attended the screening of “The Bomb” in 2017. He was on the Documentary Jury in 2018.
“The moment I remember best and which tells us about his ability to make all of us guests feel at ease are those spent in the ‘Blue Corridor’ behind the big stage of the hall before entering after the official screening has just ended. During the screening of ‘Sworn Virgin,’ I was very tense. Dieter started to speak to me in
a very sweet way; we spoke about food and honey, and when it ended, he took me by the hand and accompanied me to the stage — then the fear had suddenly left.”
Among her many visits to the festival, Rohrwacher attended Berlin with “What More Do I Want” in 2010, “Sworn Virgin” in 2015 and “Daughter of Mine” in 2018. She stars in “Hellhole,” which screens at Berlin this year. She served on the Intl. Jury in 2016.