Berlin: 5 Ways to Fix the Fest

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With festival director Dieter Kosslick’s contract ending in May 2019 and rising criticism of the event’s programming, THR looks at how the German fest can get its mojo back.

Dieter Kosslick’s upcoming departure and the recruitment of a new festival director for the 70th Berlinale in 2020 is seen as an opportunity for reinvention. Three of THR’s reviewers have put together five suggestions for the festival’s future.

Reduce the Number of Sections
The Berlin Film Festival has become something of a lumbering monster, with its proliferation of official sidebars and subsections. A good model for improvement might be the Venice Film Festival, which has seriously streamlined its lineup in recent years. That could make it less arduous to sort through all the marginal esoterica in the sprawling program. It seems time to look closely at each section and rethink the reasons for their existence.

Be More Aggressive About Premieres
Berlin has always been considered part of the troika of heavyweight European festivals alongside Cannes and Venice. But lately, the German event seems to be holding onto that claim by virtue of its size alone.

Berlin is known for politically topical films. If this area can be sufficiently strengthened, it could attract important films away from other showcases. Admittedly, Venice has the edge in terms of its position in the calendar year, making it an ideal international platform to launch prestige end-of-year releases. But surely there are ways in which Berlin could oomph up its patchy competition section, perhaps fostering more loyalty from directors discovered here.

Lighten Up!
What’s really missing in Berlin, despite the huge amount of films, are lighter works, which are now few and far between (last year at least we had Logan and this year Isle of Dogs). Wouldn’t local audiences and critics alike enjoy the possibility of some relief from all the angst with a few more light-hearted purely entertaining entries — especially since outside it’s often freezing and dark? Something like a world-cinema comedy showcase that could have a synergistic function with what’s playing and being sold in the market?

Keep the Market Strong
The rise of the European Film Market, and the way it weathered hard times and consolidated itself as a vibrant world market under Beki Probst, will have to play its part in any upcoming changes in the festival as a whole. A huge part of Berlin’s success is the fact it’s a destination for buyers and sellers of commercial and art house product, and the more cross-pollination between the festival and the market, the better. As it now stands, a lot of buyers have begun coming almost exclusively for the market, virtually ignoring the Berlinale’s official selections.

Further Boost the Strong TV Section
Berlin was ahead of the festival curve in recognizing early that some of the boldest, most exciting work these days is coming from television, which also has begun to draw major talent from the film world, both on- and off-camera. Programmers of other sections here could benefit from emulating the vitality and adventurousness of the programming — from genre entertainment through serious drama — in this compact, varied and consistently stimulating young sidebar.

This story first appeared in The Hollywood Reporter's Feb. 19 daily issue at the Berlin Film Festival.