Berlinale artistic director Carlo Chatrian and executive director Mariëtte Rissenbeck on Monday unveiled the main lineup for the fest’s 73rd edition, which marks the first physical edition in three years.
Berlin’s post-pandemic spirit is clear in its efforts to lighten up the lineup with more audience-friendly titles, several of which are from the U.S., and raise the glamour quotient while maintaining the strong indie vibe and political tone ingrained in the fest’s DNA.
Shortly after announcing the Competition and Encounters sections, they spoke to Variety about the challenges they’ve been grappling with and the closer rapport that Berlin is forging with the U.S. film industry.
Going back to a full physical edition is a big relief, of course. But also a challenge. What have some of your main goals and concerns been?
Rissenbeck: We see the festival partly as a platform for the German and international film industries. So we wanted to make sure that we could build this platform again. This was our big goal. At the moment the number of industry accreditations is already very encouraging. We have rented out all the EFM market stands. So we are very excited about that. However the current situation in German cinemas is a bit different than in the pre-pandemic days. Not all of the audience has gone back into movie theaters. The festival can be a great motivator for people to bring people back, and that’s how we want it to work. But things have been slower. It takes more time now to achieve things: to get contracts signed; to get deals made. We’ve noticed that after the pandemic companies take more time. They negotiate longer, they don’t make up their minds as fast as they used to.
Carlo, I think it’s quite clear that after the pandemic you needed to have some lighter films and also more glitz and glamour.
Chatrian: Yes, the selection – especially the competition – is my most eclectic one. We have a very wide range of films that come with different expectations and also different tones and colors. This is something I am proud of. If you consider this year’s Berlinale kind of a new start, then it’s also good to start with the broadest audience possible. So I tried to assemble a selection that would appeal to all audiences. But that doesn’t mean these films aren’t ambitious. On the contrary. A film can be audience-friendly and have great ambition. And the best example of that is Steven Spielberg’s “The Fabelmans.”
The same goes for the glamour side. After two editions at reduced capacity, with basically no social or big public gatherings, we wanted to boost that side as well. And luckily we managed to accomplish that with meaningful films. Sean Penn is coming with a very relevant take on Ukraine — a film [the doc “Superpower” that depicts the struggle between Volodymyr Zelensky and Vladimir Putin] that says a lot about the role that an artist can have in these times. We have another film, “Kiss The Future,” in which Bono and U2 play an important part, but it’s about the Siege of Sarajevo. We have an opening movie [Rebecca Miller’s romantic comedy “She Came To Me,” starring Anne Hathaway, Peter Dinklage, Marisa Tomei, Joanna Kulig and Brian d’Arcy James] with a great cast that’s a comedy which tries to provide a different view of society, especially New York society. I’m happy that we have big names, people that we all love. But they are coming with films that matter.
Talk to me about your efforts to secure more U.S. films and talents. I know you went to L.A. last year.
Chatrian: The connection between the Berlin Film Festival and U.S. cinema has always been very strong. But for sure during the past year – both because of the pandemic and due to the festival calendar, which is increasingly focussed on awards – this connection wasn’t as strong as it’s been before. So, just like with our efforts to secure more glamour and more popular films, we worked on that. That’s been one of our goals. We are happy that we are opening with an American movie and that we have a great honorary Golden Bear [Steven Spielberg] and a very committed young glamorous jury president, Kristen Stewart. I’m also happy because along with big important films – “Manodrome,” starring Jesse Eisenberg and Adrien Brody, is the strongest example of this that we have in competition – we have Tina Satter’s debut feature “Reality” [starring “Euphoria” and “The White Lotus'” Sydney Sweeney]. And in Encounters we have another U.S. movie, “The Adults” by Dustin Guy Defa.
I think we have rich and wide range of films that represent the vitality of indie – and, actually, not just indie – American cinema. It was not tough to accomplish this because I think Berlin has a lot to offer these films. But of course there was a lot of work to be done because the pandemic widened the distance between the U.S. and Europe. And there was work that needed to be done to reconnect on the industry side. But during my travels to Los Angeles, and also thanks to [Berlin’s U.S. delegates] Jacqueline Lyanga and Ryan Werner, we realized that Berlin is still a very attractive festival. I’m not just referring to films, but also to industry people. U.S. financiers, producers, distribution companies who will be attending the festival to promote their films in the selection, and also to launch new projects.
There’s been talk in the past of Berlin changing its position on the festival calendar to become more “relevant.” How do you feel about the fest’s current calendar slot?
Chatrian: I feel that being at the beginning of the year offers opportunities, though of course there are some drawbacks. Berlin can be the place where, along with Sundance, things start taking shape. We can also be the place where films of the future can be discussed. The place where the next cinema season can be launched. In terms of the selection, I feel this calendar slot puts us in a privileged place from which we can promote new voices in cinema, and I think the selection reflects this. It’s a good mix of established filmmakers and new voices. I really enjoy promoting talents that will become the new trend in the future. I’m trying to see this position more as an opportunity rather than a downside. But there is a downside, I can’t hide that. It’s clear that having a festival before the Academy Awards puts us in a different position compared to other festivals that take place in the summer.