Speck Takes Charge In Berlin
by Scott Saunders
Wieland Speck is remarkably relaxed for a man at the helm of one of the
world's truly important film festivals. Wieland is the director of the
Panorama section of the Berlin International Film Festival and everyone
is trying to get his attention. A French radio journalist arrives
without an appointment and is trying to get a last-minute interview.
Filmmakers buzz in and out with anxious questions about their upcoming
screenings. Speck handles it all calmly and graciously.
I ask him how he selects the films he shows. "I look for films which
examine the processes and changes happening in societies. I try to
program films which entertain without switching off the brain. Films
should stimulate the thinking ability," says Speck.
I asked Speck about this year's Panorama. "The films this year are more
complex. The great dualisms are falling apart: East-West, Gay-Straight,
Black-White. It is no longer a bipolar world. American Independent
films are more European and European films are more American. The most
successful films this year don't have a dualistic approach."
The focal point of the Panorama this year is what Speck calls the
"girl's film." These are stories told (usually) from girl's points of
view, most frequently focusing on the late teen-age years. "Men have
typically been the ones making sexual awakening films. Now women are
looking at this," Speck says. "Su Friedrich's film "Hide And Seek," a
film about a tomboy growing up, is a good example." (Friedrich's film
has been picked up for world sales by Media-Luna) The filmmakers are
also making portraits of men, from a female point of view. "These women
are not afraid of men. They portray what they like about men and what
they don't like."
I asked Speck what typically happens to films selected for the
Panorama. "Every film in the Panorama goes on to have a great festival
career, so the next step for many of the films will be to go on to many
more festivals." Distribution comes harder. "Much more time is needed
to finalize a sale today. Beginning in the late-eighties the deals
began to happen much more slowly. Now a film will often arrive in
Berlin with a PR person, a lawyer, and a sales company behind it."
The distributors have changed as well. "The distributors and theater
owners are not as adventurous as they used to be," says Speck.
"Distributors carefully study the films their competitors are bringing
out before they will commit to a new acquisition. It can take as long
as a year to finalize a deal." Aggravating the situation is the rapid
decline in the number of screens devoted to "specialized" films. "In
Berlin in the mid-eighties there were 35 art houses. Now there are 10.
All of those theaters are still in business, but most of them are
showing the big American studio films." Speck hopes that these theater
owners will begin to get frustrated having their program dictated by big
American conglomerates. But as he says this he sounds skeptical.
The prospects for selling an American independent film to European
television have diminished as well. "State funded broadcasters are
trying to compete with commercial television." In Germany, for example,
this has lead to the almost complete collapse of "specialized"
programming on the German "third programs," the third level state-funded
broadcasters which at one time bought a great deal of non-mainstream
American film. "WDR in Cologne is really the only one left," Speck
says. The broadcasters assume Arte will become the new supporter of
this kind of filmmaking, but Arte's resources are extremely limited.
Because of this decline in demand for "difficult" films, Speck has been
gradually reducing the size of the Panorama over the past several
years. "We now show 18 films less than we did five years ago. We try
to focus more attention on each of the films we select." Despite this,
the Panorama is still large, showing 38 features, 11 documentaries, and
22 shorts. To help make sense of all the films, Speck has created three
Panorama subsections. The Panorama Special section (18 films) shows the
larger movies like "Marvin's Room," and "Set It Off." Panorama Documentary
(11 films) shows non-fiction films like Philip Roth's "I Was A
Jewish Sex Worker" and Issac Julien's "Frantz Fanon: Black Skin White Mask" Panorama
Art and Essay (20 films) concentrates on what Speck calls Auteur Cinema,
concentrating on films like Alex Sichel's "All Over Me," David Hare's
"The Designated Mourner," and Alexander Sukurov's "Mutter Und Sohn."
Speck talked about the huge increase in American independent film
production. "There is no similar increase in Europe because the state
subsidy of filmmaking has not increased. And there is very little
market for many European films," Speck says. "In the United States
there is still a chance that you can make a film and get rich. It is
part of the American Dream. In Europe filmmakers know that will never