The 72nd Berlin Film Festival is boldly forging ahead with what it calls a “new concept” in-person edition despite concerns about the spread of the Omicron variant that has forced other top fests, such as Sundance, to go entirely online.
Variety spoke to Berlinale executive director Mariette Rissenbeek and artistic director Carlo Chatrian about the logic behind their decision to move Berlin’s EFM market online but maintain the physical fest, albeit in truncated form — a decision that’s raising questions about how many people can and will fly into Berlin for the event.
What was the determining factor in your decision to cancel the physical EFM?
Rissenbeek: At a market, a lot of different people have different meetings all day long. There is very intense talk. It is very difficult to control how many meetings take place and how may people from different countries come together. Other markets here in Berlin had been canceled, including a very big market for the tourist industry. A market is different from a festival screening. At a market, people mingle. That was the kind of event that Berlin health authorities couldn’t approve.
My sense is that even though the EFM has gone online, there are still going to be industry people coming to Berlin. In fact, there are efforts underway to promote an industry presence during the festival, possibly by organizing additional screenings of festival films for buyers. What’s your take?
Rissenbeek: We always expected people who have films in the festival: sales companies, distributors, and exhibitors — these kinds of companies — to make the trip to Berlin. It’s not totally unexpected. But in the end we have to see how it materializes. We cannot forbid people coming to Berlin. But I have to really co-ordinate with the authorities here to see what kinds of activities we can offer.
You’ve defined the Berlinale 2022 as being a “new concept” for an in-person event. What was the logic behind shortening the days between the opening and closing ceremonies?
We shortened what you can call the “activity” part of the festival in order to make this meeting point, which a festival is, as brief as possible and to make sure that the mingling and meeting that takes place, because a lot of people are traveling here, is as brief as possible.
Chatrian: the challenge we are facing is to do a festival in the midst of a pandemic that can become endemic. To do so we have to minimize the risk of infection as much as possible. After talking with authorities we know that screening rooms per se are not that dangerous. But all the other activities that take place at a festival, and even more so in a market, of course pose a risk of infection. Reducing the days will reduce this risk.
Simply put, what is your sense of who and how many people are going to be coming to the Berlinale from around the world?
Chatrian: it’s hard to say. Things will develop according to how the pandemic evolves in Europe and in Germany. We are very happy about the interest that the Berlin Film Festival, even under these circumstances, is eliciting. And we are very thankful to the film industry people that are supporting us.
In terms of press, will press who are unable to come be able to see the films online?
Chatrian: No, we are not adding an online offer for journalists. It’s the market that is switching online. Press screenings and press conferences will take place on site at the festival.
What is your indication of how big the press presence at Berlin is going to be this year?
Frauke Greiner [Head of Press]: at the moment we have 2,000 accreditation requests, which is about 50% of the attendance we had before the pandemic. Obviously some of those journalists come from countries that might pose a problem for travel in terms of quarantine rules. So we have to consider that some of them will decide not to travel. But we are pretty happy about the high interest that we have from the press so far.
Just to reiterate: the press will not be able to see films online.
Not through us. They might be able to get links from the film’s publicists who are likely to be very busy. But the festival has no online screenings for the press this year.
What can you tell me about talent presence at the festival?
Chatrian: So far, we haven’t received any cancellations in terms of talent coming along with the films, even those coming from outside Europe. We have asked film delegations to be reduced. We are targeting just the main casts. Of course, things might change, for the better or for the worse.
Have some films pulled out due to the festival being somewhat downsized this year?
Chatrian: We are not downsizing the festival in the sense that we are cutting down the program. The lineup was already done when we had to change our formula. But we haven’t had any cancellations caused by the new concept. Of course, by reducing the days we will have more [film] premieres per day than usual. This will be a challenge for journalists. But it was the only solution for us to go with.
What is the current situation in Berlin with cinemas. Are they at 50% capacity? Or is that something that was decided for the festival?
Rissenbeek: That was decided for the festival. At the moment, you can go see movies in cinemas in Berlin at full capacity. But it’s also clear that a part of the audience prefers to have distance. They don’t feel comfortable sitting too close together. So we thought it would better to offer this to them. So the audience can feel safe when buying a ticket.
Carlo, you’ve announced Francois Ozon’s “Peter von Kant” as opening film. What’s the symbolic significance of this film?
Chatrian: It’s a project that’s very linked to German culture, being an adaptation of Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s “The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant.” As I’ve written in the announcement, we were looking for a film that, while being bold and artistically enlightened, could cast some kind of lightness into our lives.
What will the opening ceremony be like?
Chatrian: It’s going to be fewer guests than usual. But other than that, it will be broadcast by ZDF with the usual show, more or less.
Of course, there won’t be a party afterwards.
Rissenbeek: Yes, we usually have this huge reception after the opening. But we can’t do it. So everyone has to go home after the film, although some people may hang out in a bar.