A letter from 79 film directors has sparked a debate about Germany's largest film festival. This new sharp call to action, however, is built on years criticism. What are the most important points?
1. The weakness of the competition
The competition's selection of films often lacks boldness and a curatorial vision. Its importance has significantly decreased. (Süddeutsche Zeitung)
The accusation: The most important point of the Berlinale's critics is the consistently weak quality of the competition entries. For multiple years now, the competing works for the top prizes, the Golden and Silver Bears, have been criticized for their lack of artistry. Too many mediocre submissions bring down the whole playing field, leaving the Berlinale a step below its competitor in Cannes.
Is it true? The accusation is justified. Many films that are shown at the Berlin film festival never even make it into cinemas. There are always some film discoveries to be made at the competition, especially from countries whose film industries otherwise would not be on the radar, but all in all the quality over the last years has been rather middling. If you compare the prize winners from Berlinale with Cannes, those from Berlin do noticeably worse.
However, you always find some pearls if you look at the Berlinale's side offerings. So why doesn't the festival bundle its quality offerings? Which brings us to the next questions…
Read more: What's next for the Berlinale?
2. The Berlinale's overblown hype
Under long-serving director Dieter Kosslick, the Berlinale has lost its artistic significance. A change of course is desperately needed. (German Film Critics Association)
The accusation: The Berlinale has turned into a giant, convoluted provider of new films. The logic behind individual series, sections and special performances is hardly transparent. And there are tons: from Forum and Panorama to Culinary Cinema as well as Art and Essay. The list goes on, causing many to wonder about the festival's criteria. The festival's inflated offerings has contributed to its loss of artistic importance.
Is it true? Even Kosslick himself has had to admit that the festival has grown undoubtedly more complex in the past few years. In the German newspaper Die Zeit, he said the food-related film offerings would "obviously" be dropped with his departure. But the director points out that some 50,000 children and youths visit the festival alongside 350,000 adults: He has the public's favor on his side.
Is it even the responsibility of a film festival to deliver a perfectly tailored selection to its visitors and, above all, the film critics? One could also argue that each person is supposed to have to put together his or her own individual program from all the different series. But that brings us to the next point…
3. A lack of conceptual clarity
The problem with the Berlinale is not that it's too big; it's rather too broad. It is about deconstructing the system that Dieter Kosslick has constructed. (Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung)
The accusation: Nowadays no one knows why a film is included in the competition, in the Panorama section or somewhere else entirely. What actually separates the films in the Forum section from those in the competition?
Is it true? Earlier, the films that ran in the competition were those from already well-known directors or extraordinary contributions from younger filmmakers that wanted to reach a larger viewing audience.
In contrast, the Forum, founded in times of ideological turf wars, displayed risk-taking, experimental movies and sought out new pathways in the art of film.
These differences no longer exist. But is that something to lament? Isn't the viewer now challenged to decide and judge for him or herself? Doesn't this development reflect the times we live in, in which the classic demarcation between entertainment and "serious art" no longer exists?
4. Unnecessary side series
The call for renewal made by 79 German filmmakers is oriented against the super market offering of thousand of side events (Welt am Sonntag)
The accusation: Many of the sideline series are considered simply unnecessary, for instance, the Culinary Cinema section, which is said to be Dieter Kosslick's hobbyhorse.
The red-carpet premieres in the the Berlinale Special series are also often criticized for the feeling that these films are only shown so that a handful of prominent actors can trot over the ubiquitous carpet. Glamour and camera flashes instead of cinematic artistry and clear content.
Is it true? The Culinary Cinema series is only a side aspect of the festival. One can easily imagine its events, where food is prepared and served as the film is screened, taking place outside the framework of the Berlinale.
Many middling films are often among the numerous red carpet screenings. But on the other hand, the screenings are nearly always well attended and are often sold out. Can anyone argue with that?
5. Film history languishes in the background
In these times of dying cinemas and booming series, whoever wants to put together a top-notch independent competition to compete with Cannes and Venice needs the very best film knowledge possible … without cinephilia, it just won't work. (Der Tagespiegel)
The accusation: It might be a side aspect of the criticism, but one that is important to cinephiles and film critics: Before Dieter Kosslick, the Retrospective section focusing on film history and accompanying the contemporary program had more support and respect. As Kosslick came, some long-serving film experts left. The Berlinale's Retrospective continues to show great works but fewer than it did before and with much less publicity around it.
Is it true? Experts see more elaborately curated retrospectives at other film festivals, such as in Locarno. Last year, the film festival there put on the grand retrospective "Beloved and Rejected: Cinema in the young Federal Republic of Germany," which made an impassioned case for a new judgment to be passed on this cinematic era. Many asked themselves why something like this did not run at the Berlinale — a criticism that the Berlin festival's leadership should not disregard.