Carlo Chatrian, artistic director, and Mariette Rissenbeek, executive director, of the Berlin International Film Festival, reflect on this year’s festival, their personal highlights, handling a difficult situation and what they would like their legacies to be.
After two disrupted years, you must be relieved and thrilled by how well this year’s festival went.
Mariette Rissenbeek: Thrilled, especially. It was so heart warming to see how many people came, how many filmmakers came. The atmosphere was very positive and very warm.
What were each of your personal highlights?
Carlo Chatrian: There were many of course but the peak was the night of the Honorary Golden Bear [when U2 lead singer Bono presented Steven Spielberg with the award]. U2 was my kind of coming-of-age band. Listening to U2 I went from being a kid to being a teenager and [Steven] Spielberg did the same for me in film. Having Bono and Spielberg together on the same night was very resonating for me. But it’s not about me, it’s about what they deliver, especially Spielberg. His speech was amazing. We know how in-demand he is, so we didn’t expect it. He took time to take photographs with fans, to do a longer press conference. It was moment I will cherish for a long time.
Rissenbeek: My personal highlight was meeting Joan Baez on the red carpet. [Karen O’Connor, Miri Navasky and Maeve O’Boyle’s documentary Joan Baez I Am A Noise, screened in Panorama.] I’ve been following her for a long time. She’s such a warm and open person. We only had three mins on the red carpet but we connected and I was thrilled. The things she has been focusing on in her music and in her work, are still, unfortunately, an issue today.
You decided to pull the first screening of Norwegian director Rasmus A. Sivertsen’s animated film Just Super in Generation KPlus after the Anti-Racism Taskforce for European Film (Artef) contacted the festival outlining concerns “about the film’s depictions of Blackface and animalisation of Black people” to give yourselves time to work out how to proceed. Subsequent screenings went ahead with a disclaimer printed at the entrance of each cinema showing the film contextualising the concerns “so as to avoid potentially harming any viewers”.
Chatrian: It is very telling that the way one film is seen by one community or one group of people is not an absolute truth. The film was released in Norway and seen by hundreds of thousands of people. A film is always an encounter between you, us, the viewer, and the film itself. It changes all the time.
When did both of you see first see the film?
Chatrian: In this case I saw the film after it was selected. The film was selected by Generations. For me it was more about the animation style so I didn’t see the film in its entirety before it was selected. I saw it afterwards. But that’s not the point. It’s not because I haven’t seen it. It’s about embracing all the different points of view. And that’s part of the process. A film festival like Berlin is great as we gather a global community.
It’s important to say the first screening was pulled in agreement with the [production] company. Even if one single viewer feels offended by some images we have to take this concern seriously. We cannot say, ‘they read something that is not there’. When it comes to feeling you can not judge feeling. If you feel hurt, simply you feel hurt. In the end we took the right decision. The second screening took place. The filmmaker was there and introduced the film, the audience was informed so we could go with our conscience clear. We said the film might be perceived in the way that the filmmaker didn’t want to.
Rissenbeek: If you don’t have a certain history yourself you just might not be aware of what could be an unconscious implication of the film. It’s a very thin line.
Will you make any change to the processes of the programming team? As you say, Artef saw something that hadn’t been seen by the Norwegian audiences, the programming team, even the press who had seen the film earlier
Chatrian: For sure. The problem in this case was the timing was so short [between the concerns raised by Artef and the first public screening]. At the same time we have to accept mistakes can happen on both sides. And then we have to learn from this mistake or use this mistake as an opportunity to talk about it. We could have used it as an opportunity to explain that a film can be seen differently.
Did you receive any feedback from audiences after issuing the disclaimer?
Rissenbeek: We didn’t get any feedback from audiences after the film.
Chatrian: We prepared the teachers so we know some teachers decided to go with their class and do some special work on that.
You are both now four years into your five-year contracts, with one festival left to go. What would you like to achieve by this time next year? What would you like us to be talking about?
Rissenbeek: It’s our first day after this festival! It was super to see how we can have both glamour and very political films and very entertaining films. My part of the job depends a little bit on what is available here in Berlin, how to improve the synergy between the different locations we have.
Chatrian: My pleasure and my commitment is to support a certain idea of cinema where the diversity and variety of cinematic experience co- habit. The very big and the very small. My commitment is to support young filmmakers. As long as I can do that, I’m happy to do it.
As Mariette says, we are very happy with how the festival went. There are some elements that have to be taken into consideration that are more structural. Potsdamer Platz is no more the place it used to be, as it was in the beginning of 2000 when the festival moved here and we had the CineStar and the CinemaxX. Now we have cinemas with less capacity. [The CineStar closed in 2019 and the CinemaxX was undergoing extensive renovation works in 2023 that cut the number of seats on offer by around half.] There is still this great combination of hotels and MGB is great for the market. But working with the festival more scattered is maybe the new challenge of the festival and how to translate that for the city audience but also for the professional audience. [The festival’s contract with the flagship Berlinale Palast in Potsdamer Platz runs until 2027.]
What is next more immediately?
Chatrian: It’s the wrap up. It’s important to receive feedback internally and externally. To start talking about 2024. And then a bit of rest.
No comments yet