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M. Night Shyamalan on Berlin Film Festival Jury President Role: ‘I’m Going to See Something That’s Going to Change Me’

M. Night Shyamalan
Evan Agostini/Invision/AP

Multihyphenate M. Night Shyamalan is eager to get started on his role as the Berlin Film Festival’s competition jury president.

“Part of going to film festivals and seeing these movies is I’m with the very best storytellers that are telling the most different and original stories in their own way,” Shyamalan told Variety. “I’m sure 18 times I’m going to be re-inspired about being OK with what’s weird and different about myself.”

There are 18 titles in competition at Berlin.

Being invited to the festival was a pleasant surprise, said Shyamalan, who has visited Germany several times while promoting his films.

“I spent so much time there, I found the respect for art very, very high. I feel very engaged in the conversations there about art and cinema. There is a deep respect there for those that push the boundaries in the medium so I feel very at-home there. So when they so graciously asked me, I was exuberant. It’s a place that I look forward to going and feel replenished when I go there.”

Like the global film community, he was watching to see whether the fest would be in-person or virtual (the festival is in-person, while the concurrent European Film Market is virtual), but whatever the decision was he “had faith it would be the right one. Everyone’s making decisions about schools, jobs, movies. I am obviously very happy that it [festival] is continuing … I’m always optimistic about these things. I feel we’re on the right side of this pandemic and that it’s going to get better and better.”

The Berlinale has programmed a wide range of films and filmmakers.

“I’m very excited to see all of [the films], the ones I would know more about, the ones I would know less about are very interesting to me because when the lights go off, in my mind, I’m going to see something that’s going to change me,” he said. “Hopefully I’m going to feel that 18 times.”

He also doesn’t know any of his fellow jurors. “Not yet. What a joy that’s going to be when I get to Berlin and get to know them. I was glancing at their credits and their works and it’s quite a distinguished group.”

Shyamalan describes his style as being collaborative. “I feel such respect for the other jurors, so, as I say to all artists, the different perspectives — that’s where all the gold is and all the beauty of it is. I am excited to hear from each of them awaken in me as an individual the perspectives of the pieces of art that we are seeing and I’ll contribute my view as well.”

“My goal, even when I’m helping others, when I’m producing other artists, the goal is to bring the voice out as much as possible, the individual’s voice out as much as possible. So having these jurors fully convey their love and emotion for every single thing to them and each other, that’s the goal. And then everybody’s voice is heard and it’s loud. When we leave Berlin, that I really know what all the jurors’ world views are and how they saw those films. I don’t want anybody to feel not heard.”

Right from his debut feature, “The Sixth Sense,” many of Shyamalan’s films have been studio blockbusters, but he still considers himself an independent filmmaker.

“There is a wonderful spirit we have here as we make movies here in Philadelphia, which is so far away from Hollywood. Obviously in these last seven, eight years there is this wonderful spirit of who wants to join us as we make these movies, smaller, that are very risk-taking,” he said, adding that he wants to encourage other indies in the region.

“Where are you in your career as an actor, as a cinematographer, production designer, whoever you are, composer, editor. Are you at that place where are you willing to risk yourself? And I want to be surrounded by huge risk-takers that have studied their craft a great deal and know their craft inside and out, that are restrained the fear of doing something very off the road. I want to nurture that part of me, because I think to do original films in the theater is a scary thing and I want to have those around me that give me courage and inspire me.”

Shyamalan is working on his next film, “Knock at the Cabin,” which will begin shooting in April. He will return from Berlin and go into pre-production on the film.

Meanwhile, Shyamalan is looking forward to his stint on the jury.

“I love seeing movies, so that I get permission to watch as many movies as I can watch is kind of like a kid in the candy store for me. I can’t wait to land and get quickly over my jetlag and start watching. I’m not sure I would even qualify what I do as work. That is my dream for everyone, for my kids, if you are lucky enough to find the thing that brings you joy that you consider play and you can get paid for it, that’s the dream right?”