Dieter Kosslick • Director, Berlin Film Festival
“It is our policy that a film needs theatrical exhibition first”
by Birgit Heidsiek
- Cineuropa talked to outgoing Berlinale director Dieter Kosslick about the programme of the 69th edition, its relationship with streaming services and the strategic development of the festival
Cineuropa sat down with outgoing Berlinale director Dieter Kosslick to talk about the programme of the 69th edition (7-17 February), its relationship with streaming services and the strategic development of the festival, which boasts the world’s largest audience.
Cineuropa: What are the main topics of this year’s Berlinale film programme?
Dieter Kosslick: The themes can be summarised under the overarching term “The personal is political”, from the women’s movement of 1968 or thereabouts. Various films in the programme address family, family structures and how they fall apart. It is about the way children are living in this society, but also the exploitation of children, as depicted, for example, in By the Grace of God [+see also:
Q&A: François Ozon
film profile] by François Ozon, who portrays the victims as grown-up men. This particular case became the subject of a trial against cardinal Philippe Barbarin, who was taken to court around that time. The German directorial debut System Crasher [+see also:
interview: Nora Fingscheidt
film profile] by Nora Fingscheidt is about an institutionalised child, and the Chinese film So Long, My Son is about the disastrous impact of the one-child policy in China.
The third theme is consumption in a broader sense. The German weekly newspaper Die Zeit wrote recently that consumption is political because everyone has an impact on the condition of our world with his or her decisions on what and how to consume. That is acknowledged in our movies. Furthermore, we are presenting music films, such as Amazing Grace, an artist’s portrait of soul singer Aretha Franklin, who recorded a legendary album in 1972 that is only being made available now. At the screening of the documentary Die Toten Hosen – You Only Live Once, the German band will rock the screen of the Friedrichstadt-Palast. In Berlinale Special, we are presenting the world premiere of the artist portrait Brecht by Heinrich Breloer and the documentary It Could Have Been Worse – Mario Adorf [+see also:
film profile] by Dominik Wessely.
What are this year’s highlights?
On one hand, for me it’s the women. In the Retrospective, we are only showcasing works by female filmmakers from 1968-1999. But in addition to that, we have many women at the Berlinale. In competition, there are seven films by female directors, such as Mr. Jones [+see also:
interview: Agnieszka Holland
film profile] by Agniezka Holland, the opening film, The Kindness of Strangers [+see also:
interview: Lone Scherfig
film profile] by Lone Scherfig, as well as I Was at Home, but [+see also:
interview: Angela Schanelec
film profile] by Angela Schanelec. Another highlight is the Honorary Golden Bear for Charlotte Rampling. On this occasion, we will take the opportunity to screen the successful and controversial film The Night Porter by Liliana Cavani. She will also be a guest at the Berlinale. In Juliette Binoche, we have a wonderful jury chair who has been to the Berlinale several times. On Sunday, we will present the world premiere of her new film, Who You Think I Am [+see also:
interview: Juliette Binoche
film profile], directed by Safy Nebbou, at the Zoo-Palast.
How would you define the relationship between the Berlinale and streaming/producing platforms, such as Netflix?
It’s a healthy relationship. We will show a Netflix film from Spain, and for the first time, we will have Netflix representatives on a Berlinale panel at the European Film Market (EFM). My old friend Tendo Nagenda, the former executive vice-president of production at Disney, joined Netflix as vice-president, where he is in charge of the arthouse film section. In competition, we are presenting the Spanish romantic drama Elisa & Marcela [+see also:
film profile] by Isabel Coixet, which has been acquired by Netflix and will be released theatrically before it is streamed. The film has secured theatrical distribution in Spain. This was a good argument for us to show the film in competition because it is our policy that a film needs theatrical exhibition first.
What was the most challenging aspect for you as a director, and what do you consider to be your proudest achievement?
The biggest challenge was to keep the Berlinale as an audience festival, which it has been since 1951. Thanks to the myriad initiatives that we have integrated into the programme, such as Culinary Cinema, Generation, Berlinale Special, Native and Berlinale Goes Kiez, we have been selling 340,000 cinema tickets and have welcomed half a million visitors to the cinemas. Therefore, the Berlinale is the festival with the world’s biggest audience – and that is a huge achievement that we have accomplished together with the audience and the filmmakers. This also applies to the European Film Market. Thanks to the move to the Martin Gropius-Bau and the hotels, the EFM has developed into one of the world’s biggest film markets. Due to various initiatives such as the Berlinale Co-Production Market, the World Cinema Fund, Berlinale Talents and Books at Berlinale, we have welcomed new participants. This was necessary in order to get to the point where the Berlinale currently is today.
Are there any initiatives or plans that you could not realise as Berlinale festival director? Do you have any regrets?
I would have liked to organise the 70th anniversary. But now, I will be able to relax and enjoy it as a viewer and a guest. Maybe I should have skipped this or that film that I programmed for whatever reason, but that is something that every festival director has to contend with. I regret that we didn’t continue the Open Air Cinema at Brandenburg Gate, but it was very complicated to get permits for it. All of our initiatives are aimed at attracting audiences to the cinema. Our programmes are often sold out. One of the essential roles of the Berlinale is to promote films as well as the cinema itself. As a film festival, it is our task to motivate the kinds of viewers who don’t go to the cinema any more to actually flock to the theatres.
What were the main changes that affected the festival between 2001 and 2019?
One radical change was the development of the entire area around Potsdamer Platz, with the Audi Berlinale Lounge, our whole infrastructure and the lighting of the Alte Potsdamer Straße all the way up to the red carpet, which has a sort of flair. Our merchandising products have become a huge hit.
During my time as Berlinale director, there were five different Ministers of State for Culture and the Media [Michael Naumann, Julian Nida-Rümelin, Christina Weiss, Bernd Neumann and Monika Grütters], who acted as the chairs of the supervisory board of the Berlinale. The biggest change took place at the beginning because the Berlinale left the Festspiele and became its own independent organisational unit. Meanwhile, the Berlinale operates as an independent enterprise under the umbrella of the Kulturveranstaltung des Bundes in Berlin (KBB), which collaborates with the Festspiele and the Haus der Kulturen. This huge organisational change was necessary in order to create a certain financial and structural clarity for the festival.
We are a huge employer. The Berlinale has grown quite a lot and has almost quadrupled its budget to about €26 million. This was made possible by the fact that the EFM has been performing well, we have earned a lot from sponsors and the audience numbers have doubled. And last but not least, it’s because the festival has enjoyed more financing from the owner, BKM.
Did you enjoy reading this article? Please subscribe to our newsletter to receive more stories like this directly in your inbox.