Dieter Kosslick, Berlin Film Festival

The Fest director downplays Berlin's rising costs, extols the virtues of message movies and salutes the Spartans.

A casual manner and goofy grin could fool one into thinking Berlinale boss Dieter Kosslick is running a wee regional festival and not the No. 2 film event -- after the Festival de Cannes -- on the calendar. After surviving the industry influx last year, Kosslick is looking to renew Berlin by focusing, again, on the films. Kosslick spoke recently with The Hollywood Reporter's German bureau chief Scott Roxborough about the challenges facing Berlin as it continues to grow.

The Hollywood Reporter: Berlin had a huge year in 2006. The European Film Market doubled in size, German Chancellor Angela Merkel visited for the first time and virtually everyone in the U.S. industry showed up. How's 2007 shaping up?
Dieter Kosslick: From everything we can see, Berlin is going to be even bigger this year. We had a record number of films submitted. I don't even know how many -- I stopped counting at 5,500. There were 1,000 titles submitted for the competition alone. Everything is getting bigger. Now, I'm not for growth just for growth's sake, but we can't do anything about it. Most of the growth is because of the film industry coming to the market. All the hotels around Potsdamer Platz are booked solid, and the market is long since sold out.

THR: There have been complaints that costs are also going up ...
Kosslick: Berlin is not more expensive than the other big festivals. Yes, you pay €299 ($387) for a market badge in Cannes and €400 ($518) for a festival badge in Berlin, but our badge also gives you access to all the festival films, all the galas, to everything, not just the market. Our badge for the market costs €1 more than in Cannes. The cost for stands is comparable to Cannes, not more expensive, and the screenings are much cheaper than at other markets. And where else but Berlin can you get a decent hotel room for €76 ($98) a night so close to the festival center? Compared to 20 years ago in Berlin, when everything was free, or compared to five years ago, before the market expanded, it has gotten more expensive. But it is definitely not more expensive than the other big markets.

THR: Is there a theme running through this year's competition lineup?
Kosslick: They are all very different, individual films, but if one is looking for an overarching theme, I would say it is the individual -- the fate of individuals living in this economically unbound, culturally globalized world, whether it is the problems in Asia, where money is the only thing that counts, or in Europe, where boarders have dropped away. The challenge is dealing with immigration and the mixing of culture and the loss of cultural identity.

THR: Under your term, Berlin has become a very political festival -- last year, all three of the top awards went to overtly political films. This year's lineup doesn't seem as polemic.
Kosslick: The films this year aren't as obviously political as they have been in past years, but most do have a message. (Director Clint) Eastwood's film (Warner Bros. Pictures' "Letters From Iwo Jima"), for example, looks at a war from both sides, trying to understand both perspectives. But in the end, it shows how pointless and idiotic it is, the murder of hundreds of thousands of people.

THR: What film in the official selection do you think will most surprise people?
Kosslick: All films will hopefully surprise (audiences). I think Chan-wook Park's film is very, very special. It even has an appropriately Berlin title: "I'm a Cyborg, But That's OK." It is very different from anything he's done before, except that everything he does is passionate and visually powerful. I'm also pleased to say that probably the biggest music star in Korea and maybe all of Asia -- Rain, who stars in the film -- will be coming to Berlin.

THR: Last year, you put Sidney Lumet's Vin Diesel starrer "Find Me Guilty" in competition, which many saw as a sign that Berlin was becoming more open to commercially driven films. But the official lineup seems more art house-oriented this year.
Kosslick: Well, I think the Clint Eastwood film and (Robert) De Niro's film (Universal's "The Good Shepherd") fit into the category of a quality commercial film. This year, we've again managed to balance (critically received) art house films with crowd-pleasers. The opening film, (director Olivier Dahan's) "La Vie en rose," is very ambitious, but it is also very entertaining, very much intended for a wide audience. And there is Zack Snyder's highly anticipated "300," which will have its world premiere out of competition in Berlin. It's about the Battle of Thermopylae, when 300 brave Spartans fought against (King) Xerxes' million Persian warriors. (One) can't get much more crowd-pleasing that that. Thumbs up for the Spartans.