Dieter Kosslick in an Interview In the Eye of the Storm

Festival Director Dieter Kosslick
Festival Director Dieter Kosslick | Photo (detail): © Internationale Filmfestspiele Berlin

The world’s largest public film festival – the Berlinale – began on 9 February. Some 400 films will be screened over a period of eleven days. spoke to Festival Director Dieter Kosslick about the films and themes at the 62nd Berlinale.

The opening film is about the French Revolution. Is the theme of “revolution” the thread running through this year’s Berlinale?

New departures and revolutions are to be found in all this year’ sections. Sometimes in their historical context, such as in Struensee’s biography En kongelig affaere (A Royal Affair), as well as in the many documentary films on the current crises. We also noticed that the theme of the repression of artists or art is raised directly or indirectly in many films this year. Not only in “well-known” countries such as China, but everywhere. Discussing social themes is a traditional part of the Berlinale. Of course we include and present such themes.

The Haus der Berliner Festspiele, Schaperstrasse 24, is a new venue to appear in the programme. What is happening there?

The Haus der Berliner Festspiele is this year’s venue for the Berlinale Special screenings as well as for a range of discussions on these films. They include Werner Herzog’s documentary film series Death Row, and In The Land Of Blood And Honey about the civil war in former Yugoslavia, Angelina Jolie’s debut work as a director.

Last year, one jury member’s seat remained vacant. The Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi was not allowed to leave the country. Since then, he has been handed down a prison sentence and was barred from his profession. Is the Berlinale still in touch with him?

Yes, we are in touch with him. He is no longer in prison, but he is still under house arrest. We have invited him, his co-director Mojtaba Mirtahmasb, the director Mohammad Rasoulof and other Iranian filmmakers to attend the Berlinale as guests of honour. And we will also draw attention to the situation of other dissidents in the programme – for example in Alison Klayman’s documentary Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry.

Before the festival is after the festival – as festival director you travel all year to plan the next festival. You see the whole range of international filmmaking. Was there any particular region where you observed especially interesting developments?

Asia is very strong in the Competition programme, but Europe, East and West, is also well represented in the overall programme. Also, unusual filmmaking countries such as Cambodia and Chad are taking part in 2012.

Where is the Arab Spring taking place at the Berlinale?

It cuts right across all the sections. Filmmaking from this region is well represented and is being discussed at various points. We will have many documentaries on the Arab region, for example, Althawra… Khabar (Reporting … A Revolution) by Bassam Mortada, and there are six Arabic films in the Panorama section, for example. We are organising a panel in the Talent Campus dealing with the subject (Arab Spring. Arab world defining its future). And we will also be devoting two World Cinema Fund (WCF) panels to filmmakers from the Arab world.

That leads me to my next question – the World Cinema Fund plays an important role for countries that have no film industry or funding network. What are the future prospects in this area?

We are very pleased about the track record of the World Cinema Fund (WCF) and we definitely want to keep it up. The German Federal Cultural Foundation is a major supporter here, as is the Goethe-Institut, the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development and Deutsche Welle. And special thanks go to Minister of State Bernd Neumann, who secured long-term support for the WCF. Since its foundation in 2004, the WCF has awarded production and distribution funding to a total of 93 projects. The funded projects include successful films that have received international awards, such as Paradise Now by Hany-Abu Assad and Uncle Boonmee who can Recall his Past Lives by Apichatpong Weerasethakul. The latter film was awarded the Golden Palm in Cannes in 2010.

Another Berlinale institution that promotes international talent celebrates its tenth anniversary this year – the Talent Campus. Many former participants have established themselves in the film scene. And the Campus does not only take place in Berlin. Since last November, there has also been a Talent Campus at the Tokyo Filmex Festival. How was that set up?

Tokyo is the fifth international Talent Campus after Durban, Sarajevo, Buenos Aires and Guadalajara. We had been preparing this collaboration for a long time and then the Fukushima disaster inspired all involved to step up their activities. Our aim was to give the talented young people a clear signal of hope. Incidentally, we also have three gripping documentaries on the subject of Fukushima in the Forum.

The Berlinale is explicitly a festival that is open to the public, not just to VIPs. The Generation Section is the one that has grown the most in recent years. Do you discuss films from this series with your son at home?

We are one of the world’s largest public festivals. 300,000 ticket sales show how the Berlinale whets our audience's appetite for cinema and as many as 60,000 of those tickets are sold in the Generation Section. And of course my seven-year-old son goes there. He attends the opening of Generation Kplus with his friends and after the Festival we often watch films from the series again at home. Incidentally, one film we like to watch again and again is the German feature film Blöde Mütze (Silly’s Sweet Summer, directed by Johannes Schmid).

The Berlinale celebrates cinema. That is a good thing, but it is by no means everything. What are the extras?

The Berlinale is not only a festival for passionate cineastes, but also a huge communication platform. Networks are created here that are very important for filmmakers and the film industry. The European Film Market, for example, one of the world’s largest three film markets, was already booked out for this year a long time ago. Networking is of key importance here, not only for our visitors, but also for the Berlinale. We have acquired the MoMA in New York as a new partner for the Retrospective starting in 2012 and the Culinary Cinema is cooperating with two international film festivals.

The Berlinale started on 9 February – beginning with a very exciting competition in which German directors Christian Petzold, Matthias Glasner and Hans-Christian Schmid will be showing their latest works. We hope the Berlinale will be a happy-go-lucky festival, in keeping with the title of the film by jury president Mike Leigh.