‘Isle of Dogs’ to Open Berlin Film Festival. But Has it Lost its Way?

‘Isle of Dogs’ to Open Berlin Film Festival. But Has it Lost its Way?


Some critics have argued in recent years that this expansiveness has come at the cost of curatorial selectiveness and prestige, causing the festival to fall behind the two other major European festivals, Cannes and Venice. The debate about the festival’s direction has been especially pointed this year; Mr. Kosslick has already said that he will step down in May 2019 when his contract ends.

In November, 79 members of the German film industry signed an open letter calling for a “new start” for the festival after Mr. Kosslick’s departure, and for a gender-balanced, international selection committee to be created to help find his replacement or replacements. “The change in leadership offers the opportunity to renew and purify the festival’s program,” the letter read. Its signatories included many of the biggest directors in German cinema, among them Fatih Akin, whose “In the Fade” won this year’s Golden Globe for best foreign-language film.

The letter has been widely discussed in the German media. Speaking last week in the festival’s office, Mr. Kosslick seemed tired of addressing the criticism. He said that he was open to discussing changes to the festival, but was disappointed that no concrete suggestions had been made. “If there is no discussion, then I cannot do anything with that. I cannot criticize my own festival,” he added.

Photo

Dieter Kosslick said that pleasing the audience had been one of his primary goals since taking over the festival in 2001.

Credit
Marc Ohrem Leclef/Berlinale

Mr. Kosslick pointed out that two of the five Oscar nominees for best foreign-language film — “A Fantastic Woman” and “On Body and Soul” — competed at last year’s festival. The quality of the films, he argued, “is a matter of opinion.”

He said that pleasing the audience had been one of his primary goals since taking over the festival in 2001. “This has worked pretty well,” he added. Attendance has doubled in the past 15 years, he said, and a recent survey commissioned by the festival and carried out by an independent polling firm had found high satisfaction among attendees.

Berlin is also the most politically minded of the three main European festivals. Mr. Kosslick said that, in an era of rising populism, he sought for his programming to “show what the world really looks like.”

This year’s lineup includes several films about migrants, like Mr. Petzold’s “Transit,” an adaptation of a novel about World War II refugees in France that will be screening in competition; and “Eldorado,” a documentary addressing the economic causes and social consequences of Europe’s refugee crisis.

Mr. Kosslick said that this year’s festival had been shaped by the #MeToo movement, which he said “overlays everything.” He praised the festival’s various initiatives for combating sexual violence and gender inequality, and he has said elsewhere that the festival had excluded several films from consideration because people associated with them faced accusations of sexual misconduct.

This week, however, a South Korean actress held an anonymous news conference accusing the festival of hypocrisy for including “Human, Space, Time and Human,” the latest film by South Korean director Kim Ki-duk, in the Panorama section despite her claims that he hit her and forced her into unwanted sex scenes during the filming of his 2013 film “Moebius.” Prosecutors later dropped the sex abuse charges for lack of evidence, and Mr. Kim was ordered to pay a fine for slapping the actress, South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency reported.

In an emailed statement, Mr. Kosslick wrote that the festival would “eschew prejudgment” and go ahead with the screening, but that “the Berlinale condemns all kinds of violence on set — be it of sexual or other origin.”

Plans for the festival after Mr. Kosslick’s departure remain unclear; his successor is due to be selected this year.

In any case, Mr. Kosslick, has few regrets. “The audience has stayed loyal to the Berlinale over 68 years, and grown, especially in the last 17 years,” he said last week. “And that makes me happy.”



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