Bernd Buder • Programme director, Film Festival Cottbus
“If you deal with film and Eastern Europe, you inevitably deal with politics”
by Teresa Vena
- We met up with Bernd Buder, the programme director of the Film Festival Cottbus, the 28th edition of which will take place from 5-11 November
Shortly before the kick-off of the Film Festival Cottbus (5-11 November), we met up with its programme director, Bernd Buder, to talk about the diversity of East European cinema, this year's competition and the percentage of females both behind and in front of the camera.
Cineuropa: What are you focusing on in the programme this year?
Bernd Buder: The only priority is to showcase the diversity of East European cinema. This is our claim to fame and also our duty as a festival for Eastern Europe. We are lucky to occupy a niche that enables us to cover a territory in its entirety and to consider all films, from independent ones to blockbusters. The programme has to stand out and go beyond the films commonly shown at international arthouse festivals. Year after year at Cannes, Venice and Locarno, we see similar films that tie in with the general expectation that movies from Eastern Europe are kind of contemplative or sombre. We try to look beyond the clichés. What can Eastern Europe achieve more efficiently? And what has it got to offer, not only in terms of film, but also when it comes to culture and social views? Our programme also includes more commercial films, but they can be very original, as we can currently see in the case of Poland, with Clergy [+see also:
interview: Wojciech Smarzowski
film profile] by Wojciech Smarzowski. The most important thing for us is that the films still make special demands and analyse society from a specific point of view.
What similarities are there between the movies?
There is one particular aspect in which Eastern European cinema is traditionally very strong: telling stories in a personal way and on a personal level, so they are very exemplary but don’t impose a statement. East European filmmakers were always forced to deliver a message between the lines, since it's necessary in order to pass the censorship and also avoid troubles with funding. This includes, for example, Russia and, to a certain extent, Hungary, and it could also affect Poland in future. That's why there is this strong tradition of discussing social concerns, rather than making statements. This has always been fascinating to me in Eastern European films.
Is it the festival’s intention to be political?
If you deal with film and Eastern Europe, you inevitably deal with politics. I started working at Cottbus in the mid-1990s, around the time the wars in the former Yugoslavia were about to end; at that point, there was a wave of rapprochement with Europe and the will to join the EU, and now we fear that Europe will drift apart. It's automatically political – you can't avoid politics. There’s a famous Eastern European bon mot that says, “If you don't deal with politics, politics deals with you.” However, there is still a certain expectation generated around Eastern European films – for example, that films from Ukraine will deal with the war in the Donbass, or that Serbia needs to tell people about the consequences of the war. I am also very grateful for each film from Eastern Europe that doesn't deal with politics. The most important criterion for me when selecting a movie is that it has to be good.
50% of the pictures in competition are made by women. Was this a requirement from the start?
It just happened to turn out like that. Of course, we try to maintain a certain balance, but I also find it important that women are not only represented behind the camera, but also as protagonists, with their stories shown on screen. There are plenty of examples of male directors depicting female protagonists. Ayka [+see also:
interview: Sergey Dvortsevoy
film profile] by Sergey Dvortsevoy was made by a man, and a woman appears in front of the camera most of the time.
How do you see the status of women in Eastern European cinema?
You have to differentiate between the various countries in Eastern Europe. Of course, there are nations that are more male-dominated than others. I have noticed that, especially in the Baltic and Balkan states, as well as in Poland to a certain extent, there are a lot of female producers, almost more than male ones. There is also a young generation of very promising female directors and screenwriters. I think there’s a particularly good chance that women in smaller countries will reach a representation rate of nearly 40%, which would be a great success. It is indeed more difficult to achieve in countries such as Russia, which is patriarchal, and where the Orthodox Church wants to keep it that way. In Poland, there are a lot of successful women working as producers and directors. Wild Roses [+see also:
interview: Anna Jadowska
film profile] by Anna Jadowskja won several prizes, and this year, the Polish film in competition is also by a woman.
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