Dialogue: Dieter Kosslick

The Berlinale director talks about film politics, star power and having the same Stratocaster as Keith Richards.

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Dieter Kosslick is the goofy genius behind Germany's premier film event. Before he kicked off the 58th Berlinale with the Rolling Stones' documentary "Shine a Light" (Paramount Vantage), the affable Schwabian sat down to talk with The Hollywood Reporter's German bureau chief Scott Roxborough to discuss some of the surprises in this year's eclectic lineup.

The Hollywood Reporter: Martin Scorsese's Rolling Stones' documentary, "Shine a Light," is the opening film this year. This is the first time a documentary has opened the festival, isn't it?
Dieter Kosslick: It's the first time. We've never opened with a documentary, and there's never been a documentary in competition in Berlin -- we have one for the first time (with Errol Morris' "Standard Operating Procedure"). It just signifies that we saw the two films and said they were great for the "Competition Program." I'll tell you, though, it's been crazy since we announced that about the Rolling Stones. Everyone from 12-year-old kids to grandpas have been calling, asking for tickets.

THR: You're a bit of a rocker yourself. Are you planning to get out your electric guitar and jam with Mick and Keith?
Kosslick: Keith Richards and I play the same model Stratocaster, but I won't be jamming with the Rolling Stones. At most, I can sing along to the concert documentary. Back in 1966, my band, the Meters, did all the Stones covers. But I'm a festival director now, not a rock star.

THR: Music is a theme that runs through the whole festival this year. You have the Rolling Stones' film opening, the documentary "Patti Smith: Dream of Life" and Madonna's directorial debut, "Filth and Wisdom," in Panorama; a documentary on Ugandan hip-hop, "Divizionz," in Forum; and a docu on German rappers in the Generations sidebar: "Love, Peace & Beatbox."
Kosslick: As one of the papers here said, this year it's the Pop Festival! We also have Thomas Grube's documentary on (Berlin Philharmonic) conductor Simon Rattle, "Trip to Asia: The Quest for Harmony," where we get inside a world-class orchestra, see what really goes on down in the pit. After the success of (Grube's) "Rhythm Is It!" in 2004, we really wanted to do a similar thing here again.

THR: Politics don't seem to play as big a role in the competition lineup this year. Is that deliberate?
Kosslick: There are a couple of films with political themes, but not many. You have Errol Morris' "Standard Operating Procedure" -- which is about Abu Ghraib -- and Andrzej Wajda's "Katyn" (about the killing of Polish war prisoners by the Soviets in 1940). A more important theme, and one that runs through all the sections of the festival, is that of children. How children see the world and how the world treats its children. We also have a number of films dealing with Israel, simply because it is the 60th anniversary of the founding of the Israeli state. But that wasn't deliberate -- it was just because so many of those films are being made right now.

THR: But you did pick probably the most famous maker of political films, Constantin Costa-Gavras, to be jury president this year. Is that intended to send a political message?
Kosslick: There are many reasons Costa-Gavras makes an ideal jury president for Berlin this year. He does stand for a certain kind of political cinema, and I think now, 40 years after 1968, it is the right time symbolically. He is a representative of political cinema, and political cinema has long had a home in Berlin. He also knows the Berlinale very well and has been here with a number of his films. He is a great filmmaker; he's the president of the French Cinematheque.

THR: In past years, you've shown yourself adept at playing politics of a different kind: studio politics. But this year you have almost no studio films.
Kosslick: Yes, it's true. We've shown a lot of studio films in the past. This year we have three: Paul Thomas Anderson's "There Will Be Blood" and "The Other Boleyn Girl" by Justin Chadwick and "Standard Operating Procedure." And we are very satisfied with them. But I don't think there is any politics behind it. I have good relations with all the studios. It is just that a lot of studio films get released in January and often in several territories at once -- not just in the United States, as was the case with "There Will Be Blood." And so we can't take them.

THR: Will that mean there will be fewer stars on the red carpet this year?
Kosslick: We'll have a strong star presence. We expect Scarlett Johansson and Natalie Portman, Penelope Cruz, Ben Kingsley, Tilda Swinton and more. There will be no shortage.

THR: How important is star wattage for the festival?
Kosslick: As an "A" festival, we need the stars on the red carpet. We have 4,000 journalists here, and a lot of them are here because of the stars.