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“If we have a common thread in our selection, it is diversity”

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Bernd Buder • Director, FilmFestival Cottbus

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- Cineuropa met up with Bernd Buder at Cottbus to ask him about his selection methods and the spectacular growth of the 26-year-old film festival since its creation

Bernd Buder  • Director, FilmFestival Cottbus

At the FilmFestival Cottbus, Cineuropa took the opportunity to chat to the gathering’s director, Bernd Buder, to ask him about his selection methods and policies, as well as about the spectacular growth of the 26-year-old film festival since its creation.

Cineuropa: The film programme is rich in recent festival favourites as well as new discoveries. How do you go about selecting your films?
Bernd Buder:
My team and I, plus a number of scouts and the curators of the parallel sections, attend A-list festivals such as Cannes and Karlovy Vary, of course, but we also try to visit as many national festivals as possible because that is where we can find titles that have not been discovered yet by the big festivals – films like the Belarusian title The Count in Oranges, which we found at a closed screening in Vilnius, or the documentary Morgenrot from Poland, which I picked at a conference table at the Warsaw Film Festival; its director, Stefan Laudyn, tries to shine a light on short-film directors for festival scouts, and when I heard the producer pitch the film, I thought, “Wow, this is exactly what we’re looking for.” So it’s always good to look not only at the big festivals, but also in their sidebar selections as well as at smaller festivals, where you meet new people whom you would not find the time nor the opportunity to meet at a bigger, international event.

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I have my favourites, but I really like each of the smaller festivals that I’ve had the opportunity to visit. For me, the year always starts with Trieste, the first big appointment for the South-Eastern European film scene, where everyone is still very relaxed after Christmas. Then there is Berlin, and then Vilnius, Belgrade, Pilsen, and then Odessa, Sochi and Gdynia, of course... For budget reasons, we cannot go to every festival every time, but we try to visit each national festival at least every other year, and smaller ones as well – one gathering I want to discover at the moment is the Slavonic Bazaar in Vitebsk, Belarus, which is small but innovative...

What is the logic behind your final selection of 12 titles for the international competition section?
It is only regional: we pick films from the Baltic Sea to the Balkans, and from the Polish-German border to Asia. Other than that, our choices are diverse because it is quite difficult to find a common thread between all of our favourite offerings from all of the countries we consider. So if there is a common thread, it is diversity, of both content and styles – as you can see, our selection ranges from markedly arthouse movies, such as All the Cities of the North [+see also:
film review
trailer
film focus
interview: Dane Komljen
film profile
]
, to the romantic comedy Planet Single [+see also:
trailer
film profile
]
, which was received with enthusiasm by the critics as well as the public in Poland.

You have been working for the FilmFestival Cottbus, in various positions, for 20 years now. What developments have you witnessed?
In the beginning, it was a much smaller festival, but I have felt connected to it since the beginning because no other German festival, except maybe one, was dedicated to Eastern European cinema at the time. As such, it was bound to grow, in both size and reach – at first, the geographical range of the FilmFestival Cottbus was limited to the neighbouring countries (ie, Poland, the Czech Republic, Russia and Hungary), and step by step, the region we covered extended to include all of the countries it does now. The management of the festival also changed in the middle of the 1990s, which gave it some extra momentum, as did the introduction of the Connecting Cottbus East West Co-production Market 18 years ago, which showed that we wanted to involve the industry and nurture co-production, to further the intercultural dialogue that is at our core and which can be crucial, especially between countries in conflict, but also to overcome prejudice in general.

How would you describe the audience of the FilmFestival Cottbus?
Now, we have a stable audience of about 20,000 visitors a year, and I am proud to say that it covers all age groups, from three (for the children and young viewers’ section) to 99. Most of the public come from Cottbus and its surrounding areas, but there are also a lot of people from Berlin, Dresden, Leipzig and further away who make a holiday out of the occasion and come to Cottbus for the week. We also have many industry guests – this year, we welcomed 455 accredited guests – two-thirds of whom come from foreign countries.

Are there any Cottbus success stories that you’re particularly proud of?
Connecting Cottbus has been at the root of many success stories (read the interview with its head, Rebekka Garrido), and projects pitched here have gone on to premiere at major A-list festivals (The High Sun [+see also:
film review
trailer
film focus
interview: Dalibor Matanic
interview: Tihana Lazovic
film profile
]
at Cannes, Kills on Wheels [+see also:
film review
trailer
film profile
]
and House of Others [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Rusudan Glurjidze
film profile
]
at Karlovy Vary this year, etc). Every year, we also give a Discovery Award to a talented filmmaker as well as a distribution prize to encourage a German distributor to show one of our movies. The festival has also given impetus to the film industry in the Cottbus area, and in the area of the other linguistic community living here, the Sorbians, who now have their own section, Homeland/Domownja.

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