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Berlinale: The Past Regained

Television
by Sydney Levine
January 2, 2014 6:19 PM
1 Comment
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During AFM I was privileged to interview Beki Probst, Director of the European Film Market, one of the three top international film markets in the world and Wieland Speck, Director of the Berlin Film Festival’s Panorama. Both are innovators of what have become the standard features of film markets and festivals. Beki and Wieland speak about their roles live-on-video filmed during AFM by doc filmmaker Robert Ball. 


The Berlin International Film Festival began in 1951 at the height of the Cold War as a signal to East Germany that West Berlin was still in the Avant Garde. It is now one of the world’s leading film festivals selling something more than 300,000 tickets to the public.

When the festival moved from West Berlin to Potsdamer Platz in time for its 50th anniversary in 2000, its name was changed and trademarked as the Berlinale.

The European Film Market (EFM) was created by the Berlin International Film Festival somewhere in the mid 1980s because those whose films were screening in the Festival also needed a place where distributors around the world could meet to acquire the rights to license the burgeoning home video rights along with the theatrical and TV rights. Other festivals scouting films to program also began attending in greater numbers. Today about 20,000 industry visitors attend along with some 4,000 journalists from a total of 130 countries. Trade alone purchases some 175,000 additional tickets to screenings.

Beki thus took a leading role in how markets operate, although hers was originally a market strictly for festival art films. This is in contrast to the American Film Market which had no affiliation to a festival and offered genre films as well which were being licensed for home video. At that time in the 80s, there was also the Cannes Market which ran alongside the Cannes Film Festival but was pretty chaotic.  There was also the now defunct MIFED, a market in Milan Italy for international films.

When MIFED went out of existence, the EFM expanded its role by popular demand and became an equal on “The Film Circuit “ as a Must-Attend Market for most of the world’s 400 + international sales agents. In spite of its growth, Beki has retained the jewel-like quality of the market.

When the Berlin Wall fell and the wasteland which had been Potsdamer Platz was reclaimed and rebuilt by the united Germany, “Her Market” (she is still very much the elegant grand dame of the international film business), retained its artful demeanor by relocating to the Martin Gropius Bau.

It remains the unique trait of EFM that the Berlin Market was developed by the festival programmers. The festival programmers are still influential for the market offerings. The market and the festival are symbiotic and are also symbolic of more than the former cold war challenge it threw down to the Eastern European Soviet block. It remains a beacon for discussion of art, culture, politics and international coproductions which reflect countries’ unique points of views.

While the larger international sales agents like IM Global, The Weinstein Company, FilmNation and others are located in the nearby Ritz-Carlton, Hyatt or Marriot Hotels, the originators of the market, the German entities, the Italians, French, Latino, Spanish, Scandinavian and other international sales companies, along with some U.S. companies, are housed in the Martin Gropius Bau, one of Berlin’s top museums except for the 10 days of the EFM in February.

The Martin Gropius Bau was built by Martin Gropius who was the father of Walter Gropius, one of the original architects who gave Los Angeles, California its modern look.

Parenthetically, as I write this from Havana, I must remark on how the Walter Gropius signature seems to appear on many of the houses and apartment buildings here as well. Bauhaus architects brought their ideas to Cuba as well as to L.A. In Havana, I visited the Swiss Embassy which is in a house by Richard Neutra, another of the German/ Austrian modernists.

The EFM maintains its jewel museum quality even with the larger sales agents selling out their slates. As you enter the Martin Gropius Bau, you are greeted during the first days by guards, dressed in quite beautiful red and gold uniforms wearing white gloves. I get great pleasure from the gorgeous red carpet awards ceremony where I can see the sort of films winning the top awards which then go on to win Oscars like the Golden Bear winning A Separation which later won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film 2011, or Child’s Pose which should have been nominated for Best Foreign Language Academy Award. On the last two days after the Awards, going to Friedrichs Palast, another jewel of a theater in the old East Berlin to see the best of the films I missed, seeing filmmakers there doing the same is a rare treat, one that I count on having every year.

Beki and Wieland present themselves as active but also the “memory” of the festival. Knowledge of the past is important even while they are choosing the best of new films. It is important for the market that the public audience of more than 300,000 (plus another 175,000 professionals) also attend the festival, unlike in Cannes where the public is not included at all, or AFM where there is no festival or public participation. Likewise, the market is important as part of support for the big city audiences in on the five continents as the buyers are encouraged to take films which will play well in big cities. Professionals need to experience public reactions to films and the public enjoys its ability to view with a critical eye the films selected for the festival.

Festival audiences are not exactly like normal year round moviegoers, even though Berliners are spoiled by cultural events galore and therefore are a very critical audience. Berlin is also a very historical city with its own special memories with a politicizing effect.

AFM, EFM and Cannes are all very collegial and each one is quite different. AFM’s nature is different – ocean, sun, it is in a beautiful setting. EFM is cold, it forces the people to watch movies — both art and mainstream. Small films still have a place in the sun. They get attention at EFM which is very important. Press is not allowed unless the producers want to OK their presence in their screenings.

The Place of Documentaries

Beki recently developed The Doc Corner, but docs have a long history in Berlin. The Forum was begun in 1971 as a sort of counter-program to the Berlinale and from day one docs had a strong role. In 1980 the Panorama began as a different sort of counter programming, including GLBT programming and docs. Out the 50 films shown, ⅓ are docs. In 1990 the docs changed because television had shortened the doc form and the audiences wanted something more substantive to chew on. Cinema took over the documentaries with in depth subject being covered. Panorama Dokumente showed premieres during the festival at 5pm. Earlier in the day were market films, later in the evening were the larger gala and competitive films.

Beki saw the market as including docs of course since there are lots of docs in the festival sections. A woman at the Jerusalem Film Festival said to Beki it would be good if Berlin had a place doc producers, buyers and sellers could meet up, and so Beki set up The Doc Corner. This year in partnership with the Leipzig Doc Festival and Visions du Reel from Nyon, there will be a strong place for documentaries to attract attention.

A Place for First Timers

Last year an introductory session, “Shortcuts for First Timers” to the market was held in the Mirror Restaurant for some 300 to 400 newcomers. This year it will continue, perhaps with some changes. If I might suggest some changes, I would recommend that the names of those explaining how to navigate within the market and all its sidebars and attractions have their names posted visibly on the screen behind them, where maps and other graphics could also be displayed. It would helpful to know the audience makeup - are they filmmakers? journalists? actors? It was a surprise to hear such a question as “How do I meet financiers for my film?” asked last year. I would also love to post a replay of the panel to help my students learn about what to expect at a film market.

The new Berlinale Residency Program for writer/ directors to stay four months in Berlin working on their fiction, doc or cross-media projects with professional mentors in September to December, followed by the February presentations at the Co-Produciton Market was introduced last year.

The Talent Campus which has now changed its name to Berlin Talents and the tours I give are also briefly explained at the First Times event. This program was one of Dieter Kosslick’s best ideas when he took over the festival from Moritz de Hadlin so many years ago.

And the use of Wi-Fi and the password written on our badges needs a bit of explanation along with the red-lighted paths which direct participants to screening venues are other innovations. Also there is a new educational innovation called Making Waves in which five film schools participate by making business plans for the sales and distribution of films in the market. Making Waves includes the London Film School under the leadership of Ben Gibson and Columbia University Film School under the leadership of Ira Deutchman, Le Femis from France, the dffb from Germany and l’ESCAC, the Romanian Film and Theatre University.

Structural Changes in 2014

This year will be remarkable in a shift back to West Berlin which will evoke memories of those who recall the old market. The festival returns to the newly restored 800 seat Zoo Palast where the festival was originally held. Panorama Specials and Generations will show there along with market films in the smaller theaters.

This is a shift back to the west of Berlin which will evoke memories of those who recall the old glamorous West. The Kempinski and Savoy Hotels are very hot there as well. So the Berlinale is regaining the past in some ways.

For more info on the European Film Market visit HERE

Free Indie Movies and Documentaries    

1 Comment

  • CarolynAbramowitz | January 13, 2014 5:53 AMReply

    I think that European Movie Market is so very successful Market in the western countries.
    http://greencoffeefatburn-us.tumblr.com/

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