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BERLINALE 2024 EFM

Martina Bleis • Head, Berlinale Co-Production Market

“We always aim to adjust and refresh our focus by bringing in new perspectives to our selection teams”

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- The woman at the helm of the Berlinale Co-Production Market shares some insights into this year’s selection process and the current co-production landscape

Martina Bleis • Head, Berlinale Co-Production Market
(© Jana Daedelow)

Head of the Berlinale Co-Production Market (17-21 February) Martina Bleis takes a deep dive into this year’s selection process and breaks down the current co-production landscape for us.

Cineuropa: Can you share some insights into the selection process used to pick the projects participating in this year’s Berlinale Co-Production Market? What criteria do you and your team consider when choosing projects, and how do you ensure a diverse and dynamic line-up?
Martina Bleis:
First of all, we check whether the submitted projects fulfil our criteria. For the Official Selection, production companies must have proven experience: they must have completed international co-productions before. The budget should not be below €1 million, or €600,000 for selected regions. A budget threshold was set from our inception, to create a different profile from other markets. In the budget range between €1 million and €5 million, we are dealing with arthouse features for which co-production is likely and doable financially, and which can thus provide an opportunity for the participating financiers and co-producers.

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Diversity and inclusion are important for us at the Berlinale. Luckily, and enhanced by many targeted initiatives that the festival has run throughout the years, we do get submissions from all over the world, including an increasing share from global-majority producers and directors, although we do see there is lots of work to be done in order to improve access and equity. In particular, our colleagues at the EFM [see the interview with Dennis Ruh] are very active there, and this is beneficial not only for the filmmakers, but also for the diversity in all of our programmes in the long term. Also, given the festival’s strong advocacy, we are happy that we usually receive exciting projects with LGBTQI+ subject matter for our selection, and that female directors have been helming around 50% or more of our projects for a few years now. We always aim to adjust and refresh our focus by bringing in new perspectives to our selection teams, and to keep our minds open to discovering new material and approaches, and recognising emerging voices as well as changes in audiences and their perception.

I think our over 360 projects from the past 20 years have proven quite successful, with popular audience films and with a current average of around 12-18 finished films premiering at major festivals each year, many of them winning internationally recognised awards. We hope to keep up this success by constantly refreshing and adjusting our perspective, while trying to adapt and keeping our focus on projects that are doable and promising.

The landscape of film co-productions has evolved over the years. How has the Berlinale Co-Production Market adapted to these changes, and what trends do you foresee shaping the future of international co-productions?
Film budgets have got lower in general, despite a recent rise again. When we started, our criteria foresaw a minimum budget of €2 million – today, only some of our projects cross that threshold. Co-productions have also become smaller-scale – to complete a movie’s budget, multiple partners with fairly small contributions are often needed. On the one hand, the business aspect when it comes to such a film may not be huge for the individual producer, but the joint strength and multiple market access in different countries is really important for each movie, and producers are acknowledging that this is harder to achieve without a co-production.

I would say that, compared to 20 years ago, when we began, producers join forces more naturally today, and co-productions have not only become a necessity, but are also appreciated and are regarded as an empowering element by many producers who feel they don’t want to sell out to one financier. Recently, those options of selling out have become less prominent anyway, so co-productions are on the rise again and are now also gaining importance in series productions, by the way. We believe that co-productions are definitely not going to go out of fashion any time soon.

With the environment being much more on everyone’s radar these days, we hope that in the future, co-productions can be structured in more sustainable ways. It is a good sign that many funders have picked up on this subject matter. Another trend is collaborations between countries that may not have been so visible on the map before, when co-productions basically always included a major (West) European partner. Southeast European, Asian and Global South collaborations, for example, have gained importance and continue to do so. Despite the fact that our market is based in Europe, and most projects are of European origin or are focusing on European partnerships, we aim to spotlight new voices and previously underrepresented regions when we can bring viable partners to their projects.

Collaboration and networking play a crucial role in the success of co-productions. How does the Berlinale Co-Production Market facilitate meaningful connections between filmmakers, producers and industry professionals?
This year, there are five films selected in the Berlinale that were here with us at the Berlinale Co-Production Market as projects before, to look for co-production and distribution partners. My Favourite Cake [+see also:
film review
trailer
film profile
]
is a good example, despite the difficulties the Iranian directors, Maryam Moghaddam and Behtash Sanaeeha, are currently facing. The project won the Eurimages Co-Production Development Award here [see the interview], and found a broadcaster and Swedish and German co-producers. They made the film, and now they are back in the Competition.

In the past three years, we have also had two Golden Bear and a Silver Bear winner coming out of our previous selections: Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Radu Jude
film profile
]
, Alcarràs [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Carla Simón
interview: Carla Simón
interview: Giovanni Pompili
film profile
]
and 20,000 Species of Bees [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Estíbaliz Urresola
film profile
]
. Last year alone, around 18 of our finished projects screened at international A-list film festivals, many of them winning awards.

Often, producers meet their perfect partners here, and sometimes, these perfect partners are a surprising “perfect match”. This also has to do with the fact that a co-production market is also always a testing ground. You should come with a strategy and know what you are looking for in terms of partners, but you should also be open to discovering difficulties – and opportunities – that you did not expect. I’ve heard from quite a few producers who changed their co-production strategy here during/after the meetings, and were happy to find partners they had not really thought about but who proved to be the right ones.

Generally, our main focus is on organising these 1,500 especially targeted one-on-one meetings between the selected participants – those with projects and those looking for projects – and on matching the right partners who have realistic possibilities of contributing to the respective project.

In the context of the global film industry, how does the Berlinale Co-Production Market contribute to fostering innovation, creativity and inclusivity?
Generally, we try to create a diverse mix of projects, and we aim to include all of these projects and constantly refresh our idea of the overall selection. We aim not to add temporary sidebars if at all possible. For example, for Ukrainian projects, we have lifted the budget criterion, since they cannot usually provide as much financing in place as others, but they can and should be part of our main selection.

There are some longstanding, special banners reflecting our collaborations with other initiatives, though, such as the Talent Project Market [TPM], a programme organised by my long-time colleague Kathi Bildhauer. The TPM is especially geared towards up-and-coming producers from all over the world in the first ten years of their career and is held in collaboration with Berlinale Talents. Here, budgets and financing stages are more diverse, the selected participants get specific coaching before and throughout the market, and it is a great place for discoveries – recent successes like the Sundance-awarded Girls will be Girls [+see also:
film review
film profile
]
by Shuchi Talati and the upcoming Berlinale Encounters title Arcadia [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Yorgos Zois
film profile
]
by Yorgos Zois are just two examples.

In the Rotterdam-Berlinale Express, the World Cinema Market and the Berlinale Directors sections, we often foster daring proposals by proven directors – the same as in our Co-Pro Series selection, by the way, which we are also very excited about! There, we will have a rotoscope-animated series project for the first time, as well as strong feminist approaches, darkly funny material and thrillers with strong potential, all of which are serious and highly promising propositions. We like the fact that innovation in terms of storytelling, genres and/or production can find its way into our selection.

As mentioned, we aim to support diversity and inclusion, and this is reflected in many projects we select. I’ll point out a few key works, but I would like to emphasise that each project is dear and individual to us. This year, we once again have several projects with queer subject matter, some very different projects feature deaf protagonists, and we have projects from filmmakers belonging to the global majority and looking for collaborations to strengthen global-majority filmmaking and markets. That said, we aim to support all of our projects fully, and as part of our overall strictly limited selection, we hope each project can make the most of its spotlight here.

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