When Berlin Film Festival chief Dieter Kosslick launched the Berlinale Talent Campus in 2003, he probably couldn’t have imagined the impact it would go on to have. Now called Berlinale Talents, the festival’s development program for emerging filmmakers has seen 5,673 “Talents” pass through its doors — many of whom have gone on to forge successful careers in the industry.
Kosslick is being honored at the Berlin Film Festival with Variety‘s Achievement in International Film Award.
Take, for example, this year: seven films by nine former Talents made it onto the shortlists for the 2019 Oscars. Anna Wydra, part of the 2012 intake, produced the Polish doc “Communion,” which is in the running for documentary, as well as Kazakhstan’s entry for foreign-language film, “Ayka.” Similarly, Sandino Saravia Vinay, from 2004’s edition, was involved in the production of Colombia’s entry, “Birds of Passage,” and in Mexico’s “Roma.”
Around 70 Talents alumni now contribute films to the Berlinale’s festival program each year, and many come back to pass on their knowledge to the new class. Among the alumni returning this year is 2018 Golden Bear winner Adina Pintilie (“Touch Me Not”) and David Lowery (“The Old Man & the Gun”).
Berlinale Talents runs for six days during the festival, offering workshops, project labs, talks and screenings for its 250 participants — plus, crucially, a lot of networking opportunities. It has also been expanded internationally, with incarnations of Berlinale Talents running at seven other film festivals including Sarajevo, Guadalajara and Buenos Aires.
The Talents program was one of the first ideas that Kosslick started working on when he arrived at the festival in 2001, says program manager Florian Weghorn. There were, he explains, two motivating factors behind its creation: first, to attract more young, international filmmakers to the festival; and second, to remedy the “waste of energy and possibilities of exchange” of simply inviting filmmakers to present their films in selection. “The thinking was, when someone comes to present a film at Berlin, we should make them speak to young filmmakers,” says Weghorn.
Since then, the initiative has changed considerably. The number attending has scaled back from 500 to a more manageable 250, and the program is now aimed at filmmakers with some experience rather than those just starting out. It tries to develop existing talent, rather than give beginners a break. “We can do more for those kinds of people here at the Berlinale,” says Weghorn. The average age of attendees is about 33.
What hasn’t changed over the years is the diversity of Berlinale Talents. This year’s class represents 77 countries. Notably in this #MeToo era, the majority of the 250 talents are women (141 compared with 109 men). They also come from across the filmmaking spectrum, working in directing to cinematography and sound design.
Competition to gain a place on the program is stiff: more than 3,400 applied this year. Weghorn says they look for “resonance” and “relevance” in applications, taking into consideration the impact a filmmaker might have made in their local community, and how closely connected to their work they are.
“We want to be surprised. The only thing we want to know is if that person is in the right moment to share and the right moment to receive,” he says.
Should they make it through the selection, the impact on a career can be considerable. Israeli director Guy Nattiv attended in the first year, and took part in sessions with established names such as Spike Lee and Wim Wenders.
“The inspiration I got is priceless,” he says. Nattiv’s live-action short “Skin” was shortlisted for an Oscar, and the feature based on the short debuted to strong reviews in Toronto, and was picked up by A24 and DirecTV.
Like many alumni, he’s stayed in touch with a lot of the filmmakers he met there — indeed, many go on to work together. It also helped confirm in his mind that he could pursue filmmaking as a career. “Berlinale Talents gave me the security and inspiration that I belonged to a beautiful international community of artists around the world just like me, who fight the same arduous uphill battle to make our art, and who speak the same language: moviemaking.”
It also, he says, introduced him to people he would never have ordinarily met in his small corner of Tel Aviv. “It opened my horizons and gave me a creative boost… Everyone starts someplace, and for me, there was no better launching pad than Berlinale Talents.