Berlinale backstory


There is more to being a festival director than meets the eye, especially if your event happens to be situated on the exact spot that once divided East and West.

Moritz de Hadeln, the Berlin International Film Festival director for 22 years, knows that better than most. Through the glass-walled cafe on the fifth floor of the snazzy Renzo Piano building at the fest home on Potsdamer Platz, de Hadeln points to an adjacent street. "That is where the Wall ran right there," he said. "Beneath this complex is Hitler's bunker. The Russians couldn't destroy it."

But the longtime fest director's experience of the Cold War stretches far beyond his ability to identify key sites.

"Everyone keeps telling me to write my memoirs," he said. "Everyone knows the official history of the Berlinale, but there's a lot more that happened behind the scenes."

Director of the Berlinale from 1979-2001, de Hadeln has a story or two to tell about those ominous days in which he played a role in bridging the gap between the two regions.

De Hadeln took over the fest the year after the so-called "Deer Hunter" scandal, where the East bloc pulled all films from Berlin in protest over that film's perceived anti-communist sentiment. "There was a lot of work to be done after that film," he said. "It was a very difficult year. The Americans didn't want to come and neither did the Eastern Europeans."

The scandal provided a taste of what was ahead, however.

De Hadeln recounts how two Russians diplomats appeared in his office the year he programmed "Ninotchka" as part of an Ernst Lubitsch retrospective.

"A 300-page memo arrived explaining how the Soviets would block all films from the East Bloc playing at the festival if we screened it," he recalled. "So we booked the Paris theater opposite the Astor and played the film outside of the fest around the clock. Everybody knew about it. The Russians poured in."

The same thing happened another year, when the fest planned a South African film from playwright Athol Fugard.

Although he had many dubious encounters, there was only one time that de Hadeln said he felt really scared. He recalls a scouting trip to Uzbekistan when he was taken outside of his villa a thousand miles from anywhere and given a strange talking to.

"I had a KGB agent accompany me for the whole trip who was supposedly a film expert," he recalled. "I was out taking a breath of fresh air when a guard started talking about Switzerland's international policy. Then he mentioned the Czech Republic's Red Organ, then Soviet airplanes and so on. He was trying to see if I was willing to work for them!"

The de Hadelns are now working as consultants out of their Switzerland base. Their Web site comes complete with pictures of the mountains and the sounds of cows with their neck bells ringing in the distance.