DAILY NEWS: Festival Chiefs Converge on Berlin to Discuss the State of Their Industry; Stars and the Press Take a Beating at First Summit
by Eugene Hernandez/indieWIRE
(indieWIRE: 12.04.01) -- Film festival directors of all stripes clearly have to
be good jugglers, able to keep many balls in the air at once. They are trying
to somehow please their audiences, corporate sponsors or government funders,
the media, not to mention the entertainment industry.
There are 663 film festivals in the world, according to a statistic offered
at Saturday's landmark "Film Festivals in the Spotlight" summit -- that is
two fests happening on every day of the year, quipped new Berlinale Festival
Director Dieter Kosslick, introducing the morning gathering and later welcoming
each festival to the podium for brief remarks. A large crowd filled the Haus
der Berliner Festpiele in the Western part of the city, for what Kosslick
called, "the first (festival) summit in one-hundred years of cinema."
The event quickly honed in on the challenges that festival heads face, and
the participants navigated a sometimes thorny discussion about film festivals
and their evolving role.
An audience that included European Film Academy members, press, and festival
organizers from Lithuania, Flanders, Strassberg, Romania and other cities in
Europe, sat quietly for the balance of the session, as nine festival heads
offered their own thoughts on the state of film festivals. A short Q & A
session rounded out the program.
Toronto's Piers Handling opened with remarks about the "industrialization" of film festivals, laying a solid foundation for the summit. Venice's Alberto Barbera followed with thoughts about how technology might change the festival experience, while Rotterdam's Sandra den Hamer reflected on the festival as a medium to facilitate production and distribution. Sundance's Geoff Gilmore considered the importance of festivals as a place for discovery and San Sebastian's Mikel Olaciregui advocated that festivals must serve as a place for movies that are challenging or do not have access to audiences via
traditional means. Eva Zaoralova from Karlovy Vary spoke about Eastern
European cinema and Dong-Ho Kim from Pusan touted his production market for Asian cinema. Finally, former film critic Irene Bignardi from Locarno blasted the media for how it covers movies. (Thierry Fremaux from Cannes sent personal regrets, unable to attend after initially being announced as a participant).
Piers Handling's comments about the "industrialization" of the film festival,
echoed by other festival directors, seemed to best sum up the state of affairs
facing these chiefs. Handling explained the sequence of events that has built
film festivals, especially the larger ones represented at the summit, into an
industry in and of themselves. He reflected on the fact that each major
festival has developed its own "brand" identity within this structure. As an
industry these festivals compete vigorously to keep their standing: for
movies, for sponsors, not to mention for attention from the press and
"Without you, God help world cinema," longtime film critic for Britain's "The
Guardian" Derek Malcolm told the festival directors as the event shifted to a
Hollywood, and more indirectly the festivals, took it on the chin as the
discussion evolved. Moderator Malcolm offered criticism of the use of stars
and higher profile films at the larger festivals. This lead to an all-out
attack, fueled in part by Malcolm, on the media's festival coverage.
Speaking out against films with "Brad (Pitt) and Julia (Roberts)" that populate festivals, Malcolm seemed to take the panelists to tasks for making such
selections. While the heads of the larger fests treaded lightly, Sandra den
Hamer questioned the purpose of these higher profile motivations, offering,
"(There is) no longer a place for a simply glamorous party."
"Stars are artists," Kosslick later defended, eliciting some applause, "Without
actors, you have problems making a movie."
The discussion then moved into a talk about how the media should give more
attention to the movies and less attention to the celebrities.
"Editors don't give a damn about films, they give a damn about stars," Derek
Malcolm said as the discussion of the press took root. While Irene Bignardi
offered, "The press does a bad job, (editors) are not interested in criticism,
they are just interested in color." "Color has taken over in 'La Republica,'"
Bignardi said about the paper where she previously served as a critic. Alberto
Barbera, himself a former critic said, "During the festival, press deliver the
worst part of themselves." Continuing, he criticized reviewers for being
tougher than usual on films screened in a festival setting.
Piers Handling eventually cut-off the discussion, encouraging organizers to
"cultivate Internet critics" who are often younger and offer not only a new
audience, but "a different sensibility." It was a creative sentiment he later
revived when encouraging the development of new audiences through children's
festivals or sections of a festival aimed squarely at teens. He offered
rhetorically, "How do you involve your public?"
"The survival of festivals (depends upon) their ability to renew themselves,"
Albero Barbera, the relatively new head of the Venice fest told the audience,
solidly summarizing the views of other panelists. "They have to become more of
a spot for experimentation." Barbera's hope is to "combine tradition and
innovation" in Venice. Meanwhile in Berlin, Dieter Kosslick explained that he
hopes "to make Berlin a new marketplace for talent -- to create a platform for
young talent to meet older professionals."
Rotterdam's actions support Barbera's comments. The event is an important
institution in The Netherlands that has evolved into a distribution outlet.
Den Hamer emphasized her event's focus on the "non-Hollywood format" and
underscored the festival's commitment to "introduce new talent." She also made
clear her interest in establishing "partnerships between festivals." While no
clear ideas about such unions emerged, Berlin's Kosslick expressed anticipation
about an upcoming meeting between he and den Hamer. Later, the German showed a
sign of unity with his colleague from Korea, announcing that a film he viewed
at last month's Pusan International Film Festival would be invited to screen
in competition at the Berlinale in February.
Sundance, the next major festival on the circuit has also proven its commitment
to evolution. Geoff Gilmore, a fixture at the festival since it exploded in
importance, commented on being in the "belly of the beast" at a festival that
has been adopted as a key event for the Hollywood industry. Even as the
festival remains linked with independent films, Gilmore explained that Sundance
also serves in "a role that allows films to be created." Its Institute's
activities continue to thrive, as does its joint-effort to reach a home
audience by way of the Sundance Channel.
Later that evening, down the street from the Grand Hyatt in Potsdamer Platz
where the festival heads spent the weekend, Toronto's Piers Handling was
spotted in the window of a sushi restaurant, dining with Venice's Barbera.
A moment later, Sundance's Gilmore walked towards the same restaurant. "Are
you guys having another summit," I asked Geoff Gilmore, "No," he responded,
"Just dinner." [Eugene Hernandez in Belin]
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