Dieter Kosslick in Germany.
Eric Kohn Dieter Kosslick in Germany.

Over the past 10 days, thousands of moviegoers and industry types converged in Berlin for the 64th edition of the Berlinale, a massive festival comprised of both its dense program and the equally chaotic European Film Market. But while Berlin’s cinematic events are widespread, one face looms above them all: Festival director Dieter Kosslick, who has presided over the festival since 2001.

A former journalist and speechwriter, Kosslick has been a public figure scrutinized by the international press each year for the selections at the large gathering as well as the festival’s influence on world cinema. In a complex ecosystem sandwiched in between Sundance and Cannes, the Berlinale certainly attracts a lot of attention. But while the industry and the media each describe the Berlinale’s value in different ways, Kosslick himself has his own means of seeing things. Indiewire sat down with the 65-year-old festival director last week to how he envisions the Berlinale’s current identity in the context of its broader history.

At some festivals, it’s very easy to understand their purpose. But it’s trickier at this one. From your perspective, is there a way to characterize the identity of the Berlinale, or do you see it as many different components coming together?

Funnily enough, it’s both. We have very different components, but this is already because of our 10 different sections. We run the sections together, but I give the head of the section the freedom to program their own stuff because I know what they’re doing. On the other side, we are all in our selection group together. This is the trick for how we know the whole program, and this is how we get the identity. But what is the identity? I would say two or three things: It’s an audience-driven festival, first of all. There is no festival in the world that sells so many tickets to normal people, to fans. That’s the first thing, that was always in history, from when it started as a festival for the people in 1951. It became later in 1957 an A-rated film festival with the competition.

Berlinale '10: Guide & Grades
The scene in Berlin.

As it was founded in the Cold War, it always has acted as a kind of political cultural event. Through the Cold War, the Americans wanted to bring culture in to crack the isolation at the time. Then we served as a tool between East Germany and West Germany. That was for a long time the most important thing. You could go as an East German with East German money in one Berlinale in the West, and you could pay with East German money. That was the only location in all of Germany where you could do this. We had posters of the Berlinale facing the Eastern part of Berlin, which was really something.

And then the Wall came, and when the Wall came, the Berlinale became more important. Then we really tried to get the East German directors here, and on top of that, the Berlinale started to have all of the East European people here, which is a big part of its identity. The East European directors and the industry are as well, but the industry came a little bit later. And then we served the Asians. The first Chinese movie here got the Golden Bear, Zhang Yimou’s “Red Sorghum.” Then, when the wall was down, the identity was a little bit shaky. In the meantime, the Berlinale moved from summer to winter, because of the trap between Cannes and Venice. This, by the way, is the reason why we’re in February.

So, I would say that because of all this background, we have a complex identity. One is a political, one is an entertainment, for the audience. Also, we’re the biggest gay festival in the world. People don’t know this, but gay people know this because we have the Panorama, we have the Teddy Award, which is a big one which Almodóvar started, he got the first Teddy Award here. A lot of gay directors. We have so many target groups.

It’s very complex, but there is a profile in this complexity, and the profile is quite simple. We are taking care of big films at the red carpet, but we are also really a red carpet for independent movies, always. And when you see the 409 movies we have this year, the red carpet is just 10%, 5%. So this makes the special flavor. And people are going if it’s an entertainment film or a weird experimental film. They go. They sleep in front of the box office to get a ticket. So I think that’s Berlin.