The Battle to Find a New Berlin Film Festival Director

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Dieter Kosslick

With Dieter Kosslick’s contract running out after 17 years, insiders are debating his legacy and scrambling to find a successor.

Dieter Kosslick, with his black fedora and bright red scarf, has been the enduring symbol of the Berlin International Film Festival for the 17 years he has served as festival director.

But with his contract up in May 2019, he only has two festivals left — including the one that kicks off Feb. 15. And already a battle has erupted over his legacy and what comes next.

In late November, 79 directors — including art house stars Fatih Akin (In the Fade), Maren Ade (Toni Erdmann) and Oscar winner Volker Schlondorff (The Tin Drum) signed an open letter calling for a post-Kosslick transformation.

When he steps down, the directors wrote, the Berlinale should "refresh and renew" the festival and think about its "fundamental direction." Innocuous enough. But the letter, published by Spiegel magazine, has set off a wave of Dieter bashing.

"The Berlinale has gotten bigger and bigger [under Kosslick], but its profile continues to diminish," says German director Christoph Hochhausler, a signatory to the letter and, Kosslick has suggested, a driving force behind it.

Kosslick dismisses his critics as "the same small group of people with the same old complaints: No American films or no European films, too big or too whatever." But he admits that his Berlinale is less studio-heavy. This year features a solitary studio title: Wes Anderson's fest opener, Isle of Dogs, from Fox Searchlight.

In his defense, Kosslick cites a poll of more than 1,000 festivalgoers by German survey group the Forsa Institute, which found nearly all were "satisfied" with the Berlinale and more than half "very satisfied" or "overwhelmingly satisfied."

"They want more films, not fewer," says Kosslick. "They live in an entirely different world than some critics live in. … If people want a different type of festival, a smaller festival with 12 films to watch over a week, they can go somewhere else. The Berlinale isn't a small, sweet little festival for five people."

Indeed, under Kosslick, Berlin's once-tiny European Film Market has become the second largest film market in the world, after Cannes. The critics may complain, but the market remains robust, with no signs of companies pulling up stakes.

This story first appeared in the Feb. 7 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.