With Berlin's international film festival starting Feb. 8, its director seems worried about well-funded competitors on the festival circuit. Experts say that he needn't lose too much sleep over it.
Berlin's other grande dame: Victoria atop the city's victory column next to a Berlinale flag
It was an entry fit for a movie star: Surrounded by a cloud of flashbulbs, Berlinale director Dieter Kosslick appeared before a few hundred journalists on Tuesday to present the program for this year's festival -- the 57th of its kind. He talked about record movie entries (some 5,000), a booming film market and a new event called "culinary cinema" that features screenings followed by a gourmet meal.
Known for his abominable English skills, Kosslick had the room roaring with laughter when he recounted how he managed to convince Clint Eastwood to come.
Is Kosslick really worried about new festivals?
"I'm Dieter from ze Cherman film festival," he introduced himself after mistaking Eastwood for a friend in LA. Apparently it did the trick.
But off the stage, in a recent interview, Kosslick didn't seem to be in the mood for jokes.
"Things are getting more and more complicated when it comes to film festivals," Kosslick told German daily Die Welt. "There's a boom in festivals and a boom in film markets, with millions invested in them."
Nouveau riche competitors
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He was talking about a new generation of events that have sprung up around the globe in recent years. In Europe, CINEMA. Festa Internazionale di Roma just premiered with a rumored budget of 20 million euros ($26 million) last October. In Asia, festivals in Bangkok and Pusan (South Korea) are increasingly getting attention. And then there's the three-year-old Dubai International Film Festival (DIFF), which Kosslick also doesn't think of too highly.
"I know that...Rome and Dubai buy stars with big money to put on festivals for an audience," he told German trade magazine promedia. "The big competitors that have a lot of money are increasingly turning into marketing events."
Dubai will focus on Arab film makers
Not so, said Chris Paton, a DIFF spokesman, who rejected the allegation that officials in Dubai paid stars to attend.
"While their hospitality can be on a very grand scale, they don't pay straight-out fees," he said, adding that free first-class flights and deluxe accommodation arrangements were necessary to convince Hollywood greats to make the 23-hour journey.
"If you want American stars to travel such a distance, of course you have to treat them in the right way," Paton said.
The A-list clout
He added that DIFF was more interested in establishing itself as an important regional hub than competing with one of "the three grande dames": Berlin, Cannes and Venice.
Others agreed that Kosslick shouldn't worry too much about losing out because of the likes of Rome or Dubai.
"I don't think there is real competition," said Bruno Chatelin, the Paris-based co-founder of filmfestivals.com and a former film studio marketing executive. "Producers know the difference between being selected in Dubai and being selected in Berlin."
They still do wonders to a movie's selling power
Thorsten Schaumann, the head of Germany's leading film distributor Bavaria Film International, agreed that recognition in Berlin was highly valuable for a movie.
"The Berlinale is certainly the first big A-festival of the year for us to meet all the buyers," said Schaumann, who has two films competing for the festival's coveted Golden Bear trophy.
"It's one of the most important, if not the most important festivals for us," he added. "That's a status that cannot be taken away."
But that's not to say that some of the newcomers aren't welcome additions to the year-round festival circus.
"Rome's an important platform for us as well," Schaumann said. "We need a European market at the end of the year."
A healthy dose of arrogance
In the end, Berlinale director Kosslick's comments might have been nothing more than a clever trick to position his festival.
"He's discrediting the others by relegating them to a different league," said Thorsten Hennig-Thurau, who is professor for marketing and media research at Weimar's Bauhaus University. "He can do that, but I don't think that's what matters in the end."
What will matter is whether Kosslick and his Berlinale colleagues will manage to secure their hard-earned place among the world's top film festivals by continuing to convince stars and movie producers to come to Berlin.
Now that's more like it, Dieter
"Let them open (their festivals) -- we'll be better," Hennig-Thurau suggested as a more proactive approach.
Kosslick might have already gotten the hint.
"I'm quite confident that we have the right concept with our mix of film market, red carpet, dedicated cinema and promotion of young talents," he told promedia.
Come next Friday, he'll get a chance to prove it again.