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Lord of the Films

It's that time of year again: Berlin becomes the world's cinematic capital for 10 days during the Berlin Film Festival. DW-TV talked to Berlinale director Dieter Kosslick.


Kosslick's looking forward to opening the Berlinale.

Welcome Mr. Kosslick. 400 films are on the festival program this year. How many have you actually seen?

I saw about 300 -- not out of the 400 in our program, but the 1,100 that were submitted to us. That was a new record for us, and of those I saw, 26 made the cut, and 23 of those will be in the international competition, coming from 18 countries.

So you've been living in darkened rooms in recent months.

Well that's the way it is at the movies. Actually it's not that bad to get to sit and watch films all day. It's not hard at all.

You've chosen an American film to open the festival, "Cold Mountain.“ It's classic Hollywood: Love, history, war, very American. Why begin with this film, at this time, in Berlin?

It's a Romanian-French-U.S. co-production with an English director and the grand story of the confederacy versus the union, a war epic, and with stars like Nicole Kidman and Jude Law. And I thought we should screen this film right at the start because you emerge from it pretty confused. But there's one thing it denounces, and that's war. And that was our message last year, too.

A film with a message, then. "Shoot films, not people" was the motto last year. But don't you also need films like that just to attract Hollywood stars onto your red carpet?

Sure. Getting stars from anywhere is tough. They're working all over the world, and by the time a film is released, two years have passed and they've long ago started other projects. But the Berlin Film Festival is a media event. I say so because 3,500 journalists converge on Berlin for 10 days, so you can't just sneak into a movie through the back door without anyone noticing. You'd see what those 3,500 journalists have to say about it. It's the same story for the public, because it's their big chance to edge up close to the red carpet or meet these people in a restaurant or a bar or elsewhere in the city.

And who are these people? Can you drop a few names?

What -- all 150 or just the top three?

The first three off the top of your head.

OK, the first three... I already mentioned Jude Law, then there's Jack Nicholson, Diane Keaton is coming and also Juliette Binoche who's in a harrowing film by John Boorman about the truth and reconciliation commission in South Africa. We're also getting Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, who was here 10 years ago in "Before Sunrise,“ now in the sequel to "Before Sunset“. They meet again ten years later, this time in Paris - which is also where Jack Nicholson and Diane Keaton wind up, by the way. They fall in love again and everything's super.

So the red carpet will be seeing yet more action. You seem to be wearing it around your neck right now!

The red carpet will be rolled out three times a day, so to say, and I've not heard anything to the contrary. I believe that most of those who've committed themselves to coming will do so. Let's just wait and see.

There are two German films in the competition, but neither really looks like a successor to „Good bye, Lenin!“, the success story that kicked off here at the Berlinale last year. This is heavy psychological stuff, social commentary.

Well, you can't expect the same films every time. The year brought success for German cinema, internationally too, with an „Oscar“ for Caroline Link. And „Good bye, Lenin!“, which was a box office hit round the world, drawing viewers and big bucks. So I have a feeling that people are only coming back down to earth now. It took off at last year's Berlinale and now there are a few more serious German films we're showing and variety is a good thing. There are enough films with quiet humour at the Berlinale, among the 400 that you mentioned. Anyone who's looking for a laugh a minute will also find plenty to watch.

As regards German films, there are about 60 at the Berlinale, if they've been counted properly. If you look at them, are they at the same level as 2003, can we maintain that quality? What's in store for 2004?

Yes, but that's not just a German phenomenon. There's a development evident at the Berlinale. If you take a look across all of the film genres, most of the low budget films and most European films are produced on a fairly low budget, but nonetheless they are highly professional. They don't just wobble the camera and then say this is a new genre! This is a vintage film year in the sense that tales are being told in a highly professional manner with excellent casts of actors in a very specific mould whose aesthetic aspects fit the story told. That is what this art is all about. And the story takes on greatness as a result. A minor story of two people who fall in love, or four people who fall in love. These are actual accounts of everyday life, but through this type of professional production they are transformed into great epics and become wonderful tales. And that also applies to the German films and it's very pleasing to see that that it is the case.

Maybe that is exactly what distinguishes German and European cinema from Hollywood. But I'd like to stay in Europe: The Venice Film Festival has massive problems and your predecessor here, Moritz de Hadeln, is under pressure there from the Berlusconi government to promote Italian film. How free is the director of the Berlinale in the choice of his strategy?

If you're asking whether Berlusconi tried to influence me, that...


...didn't go his way. No, Berlusconi, that wouldn't work in Germany. And in regards to German film, I don't need any pressuring. I've been a member of the German Film Club for twenty years and I've promoted plenty of directors and producers, earlier when I worked in Hamburg and North Rhine-Westphalia. And I was also active at a European level promoting films. As I see it, the German film is an integral part of the biggest German film festival and one of the biggest international film festivals. I don't need encouragement to do that. Nobody has to push and shove me, I do that of my own accord.

The Cannes Film Festival snapped three films away from the Berlinale this year, one of them a competition entry. Is the tone becoming more brusque between Berlin and Cannes, the two European rivals?

Yes, well, something must be afoot, when my French colleagues have their film selection carried out by the Berlinale. I don't know. What we do know is that it wasn't easy at Cannes last year and, of course, you always try to get the best films. We try that, too, and sometimes they're the same ones. That story's over, there was an exchange of letters, we agreed to "parlez francs mots" which more or less meant doing some plain talking and that was that. And Thierry Freymont, my colleague, will be on the red carpet at seven o'clock on the fifth and we've agreed to raise a toast there to world cinema - together.

Lovely - and you'll be flying to Cannes in May?

Yes, of course. We're not going to be thrown off course by this storm in a teacup. He just has to take care next time that I'm not the early bird that catches his worm.

Speaking of getting up early -- what does Dieter Kosslick actually do when everything is over and the lights go on again in the cinema?

Well, maybe you'll believe it, maybe you won't - I go to my office every morning at ten o'clock on the dot and I'm there all day long. Now and then, I jet off to faraway countries, watch films and talk to people. But for such an enormous festival which now has almost a thousand people working on it, many behind the scenes, well there you really do have enough to keep you busy. I'd never have believed it myself, it's a very popular question: "Mr Kosslick what do you do for the remaining ten months?" Work!

Next Thursday, things start hotting up for you workwise at the Berlin Film Festival. DW-TV will be there too. Thanks for talking to us, Dieter Kosslick.

Thank you and you're welcome.

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