Seven People to Know at the Berlin Film Festival
Fest players who can get you past the velvet rope.
In Berlin, as with all industry towns, it’s not what you know but who you know. Luckily, The Hollywood Reporter knows a guy who knows a guy and can share with you the seven people you should go out of your way to get to know in Berlin.
One of the underground party boys who rocked Berlin with a series of illegal clubs in the early 1990s, Harter recalls with a grin the days when finding a hip location was just a matter of squatting in an empty building with two turntables, a cool DJ and sufficient alcohol. “All of East Berlin was wide open,” he says. “You’d just set something up, the club would become hot and you’d make money until the cops shut it down.” Harter has long since gone legit. His own Bar Tausend club now caters more to international VIPs than the local hipsters. But 20 years on, it’s still Harter and his posse of party pioneers that rule Berlin’s nightlife. “No one from outside has managed to set up a top club here – Soho House is the only exception,” he says. “Berlin may be one of the hottest cities around, but it’s still a very local affair.”
Master of Ceremonies
The Berlinale’s impish master of ceremonies manages to run the world’s biggest public film festival as if it were a kitchen party. The stars love him for his energy and mangled English. The locals for putting Berlin’s film fest back on the map and the industry for keeping everything running like a well-tuned Beamer. The only ones grumbling are the film critics, who bemoan the lack of (take your pick): A-list Hollywood features, homegrown German titles or auteur arthouse stars. But Dieter takes it all in stride: “Berlin is a critics festival, it’s a business festival but most important of all, it’s a public festival,” he says. “The Berlin audience is our most important critic.” So far, Berlin is still giving Dieter two thumbs up.
The Turkish-born film journalist-turned-Swiss-based exhibitor has been the industry’s go-to gal since Berlin opened its European Film Market back in 1988. Once a tiny meet-and-greet spot for European arthouse distribs, the EFM has since become a mark-in-ink date on every seller’s calendar, with around 6,500 film industry pros attending. “It’s clear the industry is still in crisis, you can’t say we are back to the years of plenty,” Probst says. “But we’ve come through the crisis and things have stabilized. Along with Cannes and the AFM, Berlin is now a must.”
He’s shot as many celebs as Annie Leibovitz. But when George Clooney ducks into his pop-up photo studio before a Berlin festival press conference, Gerhard Kassner has just three minutes to make the shot. “It’s a brief, intense encounter,” Kassner says. “I don’t direct them that much. It’s not about imposing my personality on the picture. I shoot them straight on. I’m trying to capture the person they are in that moment.” The same day, his digital snaps get blown up bigger than life to make posters the VIPs sign at every red carpet premiere. Over the course of the 10-day festival, Kassner will make 100-140 portraits, 3 minutes at a time. “It’s a dizzying experience. It can happen that my own heroes just walk in past the curtain. Clint Eastwood, for example. Or Cate Blanchett. I’d just seen her film (“The Good German”) and she comes in, as if right off the screen.”
Imagine a Kindergarten with 4,000 squealing brats. Now imagine all these brats have press credentials. Frauke Greiner, head of press and publicity is the journos’ first port of call and the Berlin Fest’s first line of defense against the media hordes. Greiner has seen Berlin go from a mid-sized national fest to international circus with seasoned broadsheet reporters to fan bloggers clamoring for her attention. "Journalists can be demanding, but that's their job. Even with the tabloids, you know where they are coming from,” Greiner says. Despite playing host to a paparazzi and tabloid wish-list that’s included Madonna, Leonardo Di Caprio and the Rolling Stones, Greiner and her team have avoided both scandal and catastrophe. Her mix of charm and efficiency even won over the crusty international film press, which voted Berlin the best run of all the big festivals.
The Babelsberg Boys
Bosses Carl Woebcken and Christoph Fisser, together with production head Henning Molfenter, have turned Studio Babelsberg from money pit to money-maker, attracting international productions including Quentin Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds, Roman Polanski’s The Ghostwriter and Paramount’s upcoming Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters to shoot at the studio Fritz Lang and Marlene Dietrich called home. Fat German tax breaks and Berlin’s status as the coolest city in Europe have made their job easier. “Berlin is our backlot,” says Woebcken with a smile. The world’s oldest film studios, Babelsberg turns 100 next year. These boys have plenty to celebrate.
The Borchardt Boss
Roland Mary has been a hippy, a punk and a car mechanic but he found his calling as the boss of Borchardt’s – the IN restaurant of Berlin IN restaurants. If Spago’s was on K Street, it would have a similar crowd to Mary’s hot spot. Politicians, lobbyists and broadsheet hacks compete for reservations with local and international celebs. During the World Cup, soccer champs fill the booths. In fashion week, it’s the supermodels picking at their food and during the Berlinale, its all Hollywood baby. Mary was one of the first gastro entrepreneurs see opportunity in the wasteland of East Berlin. Even when construction work cut off the area’s water and electricity for more than a year, he didn’t lose the faith. Now, the old communist has control of the means of production. And the only one who can guarantee you a table for four next to Jeff Bridges.