Thanks to his his open and congenial style, Dieter Kosslick, director of the Berlinale since May 2001, has become a familiar public personality in Germany's cultural scene.
As his contract ends in 2019, many people in the film industry are already discussing how his successor should be chosen.
The state-supported film festival is a major cultural event. While the world's two other top film festivals, Cannes and Venice, are mostly restricted to film industry experts, the Berlinale is open to the public, and every year, hundreds of thousands of people flock to the festival's cinemas.
A declaration signed by 79 directors
These factors play a role in the current debate, which was publicly ignited after 79 German filmmakers signed a joint declaration calling for a new beginning for the festival.
"The Berlinale is one of the three leading film festivals worldwide. The appointment of a new director offers the chance to renew and streamline its program. We suggest setting up an international selection committee, made up of an equal number of women and men, that should also reflect on the festival's fundamental direction," said the declaration.
Among the 79 signatories are past Berlinale winners Fatih Akin, Maren Ade, Christian Petzold and Sebastian Schipper.
Although the declaration itself was very diplomatically formulated, it was published on Spiegel Online amid a very critical article that directly attacked Berlinale director Dieter Kosslick. The article mentioned the "deplorable results" of Kosslick's era, adding, "It cannot go on this way."
"Above all else, the competition is seen as a mix of irrelevant movies by stars and diffuse political films, making it by far the weakest of all the major film festivals," concluded the article.
Searching for a 'curatorial personality'
For some signatories, this criticism went too far. For instance, in the German weekly Die Zeit, director Dominik Graf distanced himself from all the Kosslick bashing. "Had I known that our declaration was to be published in this form, I wouldn't have signed it," Graf said. The petition did not aim to attack the festival's current director, but rather to reflect on the future of the Berlinale, he added. For Graf, Kosslick's first Berlinale in 2002 was the dawn of a new era for German cinema.
Nevertheless, the call from the 79 filmmakers to "renew and streamline the program" and to appoint a "curatorial personality" to direct the festival does criticize Kosslick, even if it's in a diplomatic way.
A "curatorial personality" could refer to Kosslick's background in governmental film funding organizations. The implied accusation is that a functionary has too many political considerations to take into account, which leads the artistic ones to be neglected. It could be aimed at Culture Minister Monika Grütters as well, as she is the one who will make the final decision on the successor's appointment. The person whose name has been circulating as a potential successor, Kirsten Niehuus, is also from a film funding board.
Without the public, more funding from the state would be needed
And how does Kosslick react to this criticism? In Die Zeit, he pointed out how popular the Berlinale is with the public. If the film festival were to become smaller in the future, the state would have to provide additional funds to compensate for the lost income, explained Kosslick.
As a rebuttal to the criticism that the competition includes many weak films, he said: "The problem is that there are only 30 to 40 really great films every year, and three festivals are fighting to get them."
On December 5, Dieter Kosslick wants to present his concept for the future of the Berlinale at a supervisory board meeting. One idea would be to have two directorial positions, to separate the artistic and executive functions. For the latter, Kosslick himself is being considered as an option. A final decision will be made in 2018.
Experts are also meeting on December 4 at Berlin's Haus der Kulturen der Welt to discuss the future of the film festival. Culture Minister Monika Grütters will open the discussion. Among the participants are some of the signatories of the declaration, as well as Kirsten Niehuss. Dieter Kosslick is not one of the guests.Jochen Kürten (eg)