Showtime Atmosphere Berlinale Shuns Security, Promises Diversity

Dieter Kosslick, the director of Berlin's international film festival, talks about the cinematic range of this year's entries – and why organizers don't want a heavy police presence.
Mr. Berlinale, otherwise known as Dieter Kosslick.

Since taking over the helm of the Berlinale in 2001, Dieter Kosslick has increased the festival's program diversity and its importance on the international film circuit. He spoke to the Tagespiegel newspaper about the highlights of this year's festival.

Tagespiegel: Mr. Kosslick, what do you have to say about Charlie Hebdo?

Dieter Kosslick: After the attacks in Paris, we asked ourselves if we are reflecting society with our program. And I think we are, throughout all the sections.

Is there more security at this year's Berlinale?

There are more security measures, but just as discreet as before. A Berlinale under police protection would send the wrong signal. We aren’t putting “Je suis Charlie” on our flags. We already had two years with such themes – “Towards Tolerance” in 2003 and “Accept Diversity” in 2002. We could print it again on our T-shirts, but it’s more important to bring these slogans to life through our program.

How political is the film festival this year?

Sometimes, I think we’re the nightly news. There are no geopolitical issues missing from our program: the collateral damage from globalization, the repercussions of the financial crisis, the millions of refugees, natural disasters, torture, ethnic cleansing. In the competition, we’re showing Patricio Guzmáns documentary “El botón de nácar.” A button is discovered on a iron rod in the ocean, the last evidence of the gruesome fate of 3,000 Chileans, who were tortured and thrown out of helicopters into the sea strapped to iron rods. The film makes clear that pogroms don’t fall out of the sky, but are centuries in the making.

What about religion?

Two films are in competition about religious intolerance. The black-and-white film “Aferim” tells of the persecution of Jews and Roma in 19th century Romania, with a Catholic monk's fiery tirade against other nations, faiths and minorities – viewers can experience discrimination and fanaticism in its purest form. “El Club” from Chile is about a house for Catholic priests who have abused thousands of children. The film leaves you speechless. I hope a few Catholic priests will watch it.

What film do you regret not having in the competition in 2015?

We really wanted to have the world premier of “Selma,” Ava DuVernay’s Oscar-nominated film about Martin Luther King. But it’s a British-American coproduction and the U.S. start on Martin Luther King Day in January is considered a foreign start, so it can’t be in the competition, which is a pity. Now it’s part of the special selection at the Friedrichstadt Palast.

Can you say anything about the festival’s opening film from Isabel Coixet?

In “Nobody Wants the Night,” Juliette Binoche plays Josephine Peary, who followed her husband into the Arctic 100 years ago. She took her silverware and drank Château D’Yquem there. Binoche shows the men how it’s done. It’s said that history is written by men, but who knows, maybe it was really Josephine Peary, rather than her husband, who made it to the North Pole.

What has everyone been talking this year?

That would be the eight series that we’re showing over two days, from Netflix to German series like “Blochin” from Mathias Glasner with Jürgen Vogel. Almost all the big filmmakers are doing series these days – it's a hot topic.

What about the festival’s fun factor?

Disney’s “Cinderella” won the Golden Bear at the first Berlinale and the audience’s prize. This time, we’re showing Kenneth Branagh’s new adaptation with Cate Blanchett. Anton Corbijn’s Film about James Dean is celebrating its world premiere at the Zoo Palast. Robert Pattinson plays the photographer, who made Dean an icon with his photos. Pattinson will be there. And Beach Boy Brian Wilson is coming to the Beach Boys film “Love and Mercy” in the Friedrichstadt Palast.

Will the festival be dominated by the sado-masochism film “Shades of Grey?”

It starts in cinemas during the Berlinale, so we’d be whipping ourselves if we didn’t show the premiere in the Zoo Palast. Millions of people want to see this film. It will be a hit!

Tell us about the five German films in competition.

The spectrum could hardly be broader, both topically and stylistically. Three directors have German subjects: Sebastian Schipper with his (Berlin) Kreuzberg thriller “Victoria”; Andreas Dresen with his Leipzig flim “Als wir träumten”; and Oliver Hirschbiegel with “Elser,” about that upstanding Swabian who tried to kill Hitler. Werner Herzog is showing his U.S. production with Nicole Kidman, “Queen of the Desert,” and Wim Wenders has brought “Every Thing Will Be Fine” in 3-D.

Wim Wenders will receive an honorary award this year.

The first Wenders film that I first was aware of was “Kings of the Road” in 1976. Hanns Zischler simply drove a VW into the Elbe River. That was an epiphany for me. “The American Friend” was yearning for neon lights, the desert and space. Wenders opened my first Berlinale in 2002 with his film “Viel passiert” (documentary about the rock group BAP from Cologne). Or take “Pina” and now his Oscar-nominated documentary “Salt of the Earth”… I can’t list everything. Wim is a master.

How about James Franco?

He can just stay seated in the cinema. He’s got three films in the program. With Wenders, Herzog and his own film “I am Michael.”

Lastly, what about your contract extension to 2019?

Since 2001, the Berlinale has been transformed from a heavy battleship to a maneuverable fleet of many boats. We want to keep it that way. The impact of digitalization will occupy us for several years, for example, by offering films on our own download platform. Something like a festival-on-demand is what we’re thinking about. Otherwise, it’s just like life, where the best often comes at the end, and you never know when it’s coming.



Video: "Selma" is not in the competiton, but will have its German premiere during the festival.

This interview first appeared in Der Tagesspeigel. To contact the author: [email protected]