1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

Power and Politics

Interview: Hans Christoph von Bock (kjb)
February 3, 2008

All movies are political, film director Costa-Gavras told DW ahead of the Berlin Film Festival. Politics is power and power makes the world go round -- and is the focus of his own films, he said.

Costa-Gavras' next movie will be filmed in Greece, his country of birth

Constantin Gavras, better known as Costa-Gavras, has been named president of the jury at this year's Berlin Film Festival, which runs from Feb. 7-17. Born in Greece in 1933, his career as a film director took off with the 1969 movie "Z."

DW-TV: Costa-Gavras, of course you will be watching a lot of films during the festival, but can you tell us what else your job as a jury president entails?

Costa-Gavras: I watch the movies, I'll discuss with the jury and we'll try to award the best movie, that's all. I'm trying to be there as a "viewer," not as a technician or someone who knows the cinema, which is not so easy, of course. I try to be like any viewer -- to be free of any ideological or aesthetical ideas. The best movie has to get the award.

The Berlin Film Festival sees itself more as a political festival in that it gives political cinema a lot of attention. Does that correspond with your general idea of film-making?

The 58th Berlin Film Festival opens on Feb. 7Image: AP

I think all festivals are political festivals in a way. The Berlin Film Festival is a bit more so, because they go and set a direction, which I think the cinema needs. The general idea is that festivals should promote movies with a social content, not only movies which are just entertainment. If you go back to the history of cinema, the most important movies have been more social-political.

Your films were once hailed as liberation from Hollywood's dictatorship. But where does political cinema stand today?

It depends on the money. Right now, it sometimes depends on the United States. It depends on the stars. In the last three or four years we have seen very distinct movies about the problems in Iraq and the oil problems because the big stars decided to do it. The major companies didn't want to do it, but they felt obliged to make these movies because they wanted to please the stars -- pleasing the stars means they can work together with them again and again.

That's a very new thing for cinema. Before, it was the directors or even the political situation around the world that used to push the companies and the producers to produce movies with strong political content.

So, one can say that there is more political cinema in Hollywood...

There is more in Hollywood at the moment and I think in Europe, too, because there are more and more big problems. I think there is a kind of movement. But personally I believe that all movies are political. Even the action movies. They have a kind of social effect on the young public and the public in general. That's also political.

What can cinema achieve now in a world where we are witnessing an increase of violence and a growing lack of political awareness?

Diane Kruger
German actress Diane Kruger joins Costa-Gavras in the juryImage: AP

I think the cinema has to bring emotions to the public and speak rightly about the problems and then the audience can decide what to do. The audience must be free and independent. I don't believe the cinema should impose ideas they don't like. I think the cinema is entertainment but it's necessary to have some content too.

Does political cinema rule out entertainment and humor, or can they work together?

Absolutely. Look at Moliere, for example. Both work together. In Shakespeare you find the same things, or if you go through Brecht, for example. All the important theater has done that, and you can say the same thing about the cinema. All the big directors -- Fritz Lang, Renoir, John Ford, Kazan, all of them -- their movies have both and it works.

In your films you have investigated the mechanisms of power during dictatorships and other times of suppression, like the Holocaust for instance. Which issues interest you most today?

In our society, the most important issue is power -- who has the power to do good or bad things. I think all of us have power. We have power over some people under us and other people have power over us because they are stronger than we are. This pyramid of power -- that's politics. Take a big company like Nokia, for example. When they leave the country and leave thousands of people on the streets without jobs -- that's power. This is the main issue in our society: the power we have and how we use it.

So, power is your main issue.

It's the only issue, in my opinion.

"Amen" (2002) is one of Costa-Gavras' films that looks at the role of powerImage: presse

Coming back to the Berlin Film Festival, your job as jury president will start on Feb. 7. What are you most looking forward to?

You know, when I go to the cinema I sit and I say, now make me happy, make me furious, make me laugh, make me cry. Those feelings are the best moments in a movie.

After the festival, you are going to shoot your next movie. Can you tell us what "Eden is West" is about?

It's very difficult to explain a movie in a few seconds. It's a movie about today; it's a road-movie. It's about a young man who likes to go to parties because he thinks the Western world is paradise and he discovers that it's not much of a paradise.

Your birthday is during the festival, on Feb. 13. Will you celebrate? What's your birthday wish?

You know, I think, after a certain age, it's not necessary to celebrate the age or the birthdays. But it's there, so what can I do?

So you have no plans and no wishes?

Yes, one wish: not to celebrate.

Okay, but maybe you will see a good movie on that day.

That would be a good celebration -- a good present.