Artistic director Carlo Chatrian and executive director Mariette Rissenbeek have confirmed the Berlinale is abandoning plans for a physical 71st edition in February 2021 in favour of a two-stage event, involving an online industry offering and potentially a physical competition element in March. This will be followed by a public event in June for Berlin audiences. The move is in response to ongoing challenges caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Under the emergency plans, the European Film Market (EFM) and the festival’s other industry platforms, the Berlinale Co-Production Market, Berlinale Talents and the World Cinema Fund, will take place entirely online from March 1-7, 2021.
The second part in June will be a celebratory, public-facing festival during which the selection will be shown to audiences on the big screen for the first time.
Chatrian and his selection committees are continuing to build a 2021 selection across all sections related to new films and the aim is to hold the main competition and all the other competitive sections. However, the format is currently under development.
The artistic director told Screen on Thursday (December 17) that his preferred option was for a jury to physically watch the competition titles on the big screen in Berlin with the announcement of the Golden Bear and other winners in March and a public awards ceremony in June. He noted, however, that the holding of the competition was not dependent on how the jury will watch the films, even if the festival was in favour of physical screenings.
“We’d like to have a competition and if there is a competition, there will be a jury. How the jury will be composed and how it will work is something we have to figure out,” he said. “I already have something in mind but it will depend on the evolution of the pandemic and what the situation is with travel. Our goal is to avoid an online competition. We believe it makes sense to announce the winners during the market, to give a bigger value to the films and also create a bit of hype.”
The aim is for the selection to be made available to the industry for online screening in March. However, the press may potentially have to wait until June to watch the films in the line-up.
“We hope that the trades and some press can also access these films [in March] but this is something we have to discuss with the rights owners,” Chatrian explained. “We’d like to show these films three months later during what we’re calling the ’Berlinale Summer’, which will be a celebration for the public and the moment we’ve all been waiting for when we can gather again without fear.”
Chatrian said he felt it was important to retain the selection’s different sections for new films, spanning the main Competition, the new Encounters sidebar, Berlinale Special, Berlinale Series, Berlinale Shorts as well as long-running line-ups Forum and Forum Expanded, Panorama and Generation and Perspektive Deutsches Kino.
“These sections are at the heart of the identity of the Berlinale, as it offers different kinds of films for different kinds of audiences. I believe this will also be good for the market,” he said.
Such a move would also distinguish the Berlinale 2021 selection from Cannes 2020 label, he suggested.
Chatrian emphasised the two-part structure had been created in response to feedback from film professionals who usually physically attend the EFM.
”We’re doing this March event to support the market,” he said. ”We received so many messages saying how important it was for the Berlinale to take place in the first quarter. It would have been much easier to have only done a public event later on in the year, but we feel we have a duty not only to the films we select but also to the world film industry.”
Chatrian acknowledged there would likely be a smaller selection but said it was too early to give exact numbers. “Everything is still totally new and we’re discussing everything with rights owners but there will definitely be fewer titles. I think this also makes sense for the market – without physical screenings, it can probably absorb fewer titles.”
The Berlinale had been scheduled to unfold from February 11-21, 2021 with the EFM running alongside as a hybrid online and physical event. These dates have been in doubt for some weeks, however, following a sharp rise in Covid-19 cases in Germany, which hit close to 30,000 a day last week.
Germany entered a strict national lockdown on Wednesday (December 15) until January 10 and few in the industry expected the country to stage a major film festival just one month after opening up again.
Rissenbeek said she and Chatrian had been confident back in September that the festival would be able to go ahead in February 2021.
“It really looked like the pandemic was under control but as cases began to rise again from mid-October, we started to realise the February date might be difficult,” she said. “We then started looking at the option of pushing back the dates but then the curve of the pandemic in Germany reached a point where it was hard to envisage a return to normality in time for a public event, even with a distance of two or three months.”
“With the change in the festival format in 2021, we will have the chance to protect the health of all guests and to support the restart of the cinema industry. With the summer event, we want to celebrate a festival for the cinema and offer the Berlinale audience the long-awaited community experience of cinema and culture.”
Rissenbeck added that most of the festival’s traditional sponsors were continuing to support the event and that other sponsors might come on board for the June component.
She noted that state funding also remained intact and could be increased to make up for the shortfall in income due to the absence of ticket sales and accreditation fees as well as EFM booth charges, events revenue and screening and badge fees. For the 2020 edition, public funding came in at €10.2m of the overall €27.2m budget, she noted.
“We usually cover two-thirds of the budget through other means but that will not be the case in 2021,” she said.
In the backdrop, many in the industry had expressed hopes a physical edition would be rescheduled for the end of March or early April in the belief the world will be turning a corner with regards to the pandemic by then.
The move of the market online means the international film industry will not have met in person at a major market since last Berlin. Some sales agents and producers have continued to travel to smaller regional events and there was also a strong European industry presence in Venice.