Berlin: A Dinner With Festival Director Dieter Kosslick

Dinner With Dieter - H 2015

Dinner With Dieter - H 2015

This year's Berlinale marks the 14th for Kosslick. Under his reign, Berlin has been transformed from a staid and sleepy event to a must-attend for the international film industry.

In the calm before the onslaught of the 65th Berlinale, festival director Dieter Kosslick sat down for a quiet meal at one of his favorite Berlin eateries — the Cucina Comoda in Charlottenburg—to talk food, film and festivals past and future.

Kosslick ordered the sea bass with assorted vegetables instead of pasta (he's on a no-carb diet pre-Berlinale). Your correspondent had the house speciality: sole in butter. We washed it down with one — then two — bottles of Vermentino di Sardegna.

A wine connoisseur, Kosslick goes dry for the duration of the festival, part of his health regime for surviving the 10-day blitz of premieres, late-night parties and endless press interviews to come. "I've already started my exercising: in the Zoo Garten every day before work," he says. Jogging? "God, no. Swabian walking," Kosslick jokes, "a slightly faster version of a stroll." Once the Berlinale kicks off, the only exercise the director gets is his morning yoga sessions (his wife is a yoga instructor). Family life for the father of one is also off-limits. He spends his festival nights in a hotel.

This year's Berlinale marks the 14th for Kosslick. Under his reign, Berlin has been transformed from a staid and sleepy event to a must-attend for the international film industry. Even his critics admit Dieter, as everyone calls him, brought the stars and the business back to Berlin. Less recognized is Dieter's culinary contributions to the festival. "Berlin wasn't where you came to eat — at least it didn't used to be. It was a case of a curry wurst and fries beneath the overpass before heading home," he says, recalling his first visits to the Berlinale more than two decades ago.

When he took over, Kosslick, who says he first "learned to eat" in Munich under the tutelage of acclaimed German food critic Wolfram Siebeck, set about changing that.

Film critics scoffed when Kosslick took up an idea suggested by food activist Alice Waters and launched Berlin's Culinary Cinema, a film-plus-a-meal sidebar where Michelin-starred chefs cook up dishes inspired by food-themed movies. What looked like a gimmick has endured and is a sell-out every year. Kosslick also applied Waters' organic, slow food philosophy across the board. The food served at Berlinale events is all organic and locally sourced. Last year's addition of organic food trucks next to Berlin's red carpet was a natural extension of Kosslick's foodie-friendly approach.

"Food culture has experienced a renaissance in Berlin over the last few years," he says, "from restaurants to coffee to bakeries and butchers, it's really become a culinary hot spot."

Looking back over his Berlinale career, Kosslick ticks off highlight after highlight: on stage with The Rolling Stones for the world premiere of Martin Scorsese's Shine a Light in 2008 and on the red carpet with Richard Gere, Renee Zellweger and Catherine Zeta-Jones for Chicago in 2006; the 2006 world premiere of Michael Winterbottom's documentary The Road to Guantanamo, where former Guantanamo Bay prisoners posed for the paparazzi. Lowlights were few, he says. "Standing alone on the red carpet when no stars came for Cold Mountain (in 2004) was tough," he admits.

But Dieter isn't finished with the Berlinale. He just re-upped his contract through 2019. What happens after that, he isn't saying, though after years of promoting progressive politics through his festival selection, Kosslick hints his next move may be into that arena. "Putting my money where my mouth is," he says.

Until then, there'll be plenty more films, and plenty more meals, in Dieter's future.