EXCLUSIVE: The return of the Zoo-Palast cinema to the Berlinale’s roster of screening venues is “the greatest challenge facing us this year,” according to festival director Dieter Kosslick.

Kosslick spoke exclusively to ScreenDaily less than three weeks before the 64th edition (Feb 6-16) kicks off with the world premiere of Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel on Feb 6, explaining that the festival will now have three centres throughout the city: at the Zoo-Palast where the Berlinale was based until 1999; at the Berlinale-Palast at Potsdamer Platz; and at the Friedrichstadtpalast in the former East Berlin.

“We now have a focus in the Western part of the city which is something we had always wanted: the Berlinale is back in the West! We have a balanced cinema situation in the whole of the city,” he said.

“We had to abandon the original idea of having the Friedrichstadtpalast only as a temporary venue while the Zoo-Palast was being renovated. There would have been protests by the audience because the Friedrichstadtpalast is extremely popular.”

Consequently, the Zoo-Palast main cinema will only be used for three gala premieres: for the Panorama opening film Yves St Laurent; and Berlinale Special screenings of Andreas Prochaska’s Alpine Western Das finstere Tal, starring Sam Riley and Tobias Moretti; and Volker Schlöndorff’s Second World War drama Diplomatie.

Recently renovated by veteran German exhibitor Hans-Joachim Flebbe at a cost of some €5m ($6.8m), the cinema complex will again play host to screenings from the Panorama and Generation programmes as well as have five screens reserved for the European Film Market.

Kosslick pointed out that the frequency of the shuttles from the EFM market venues of the Martin Gropius Bau and Marriott Hotel to the Zoo Palast will be increased to meet the demand from market participants and festival guests wanting to travel to screenings.

However, he recommended that a quicker way to get from Potsdamer Platz to the Zoo-Palast would be to take the U2 underground line (westwards in the direction of Ruhleben) or the 200 bus from outside of the Filmhaus.

Eastern Europe absent in competition

Turning to this year’s Competition programme, Kosslick observed that there aren’t any films from Eastern Europe this year in stark contrast to 2013 when the Golden Bear was won by the Romanian film Child’s Pose and there were also films from Poland, Russia and Kazakhstan

He said that the focus on Eastern Europe has found a new home at the Forum, but there are more films this year from Latin America, especially Argentina. Kosslick also has the first official German-Brazilian co-production with Karim Ainouz’s Praia di Futuro in competition.

He suggested that, thematically, the competition’s films revolve around such subjects as children, sexuality, the Church and the dark chapters of German history in the last century, with such titles as the first part of Lars von Trier’s Nymphomaniac, Dietrich Brüggemann’s Stations of the Cross, George Clooney’s The Monuments Men and Schlöndorff’s aforementioned Berlinale Special title Diplomatie.

In another interview given before Christmas, Kosslick recalled that he had made trips to the US, Poland, France, Italy, the Czech Republic and Poland to make discoveries for the Competition.

Some 140 titles had been screened for consideration for the festival’s main section, although a local Berlin newspaper was under the (mistaken) impression that Kosslick was having to view all of the 6,500 titles submitted to the Berlinale and had only seen 200 by mid-December.

“Lively” German film industry

In his Screen interview, Kosslick said that, after seeing the local German films under consideration for the Competition, he felt optimistic about German cinema’s standing in the international marketplace.

“One can see how lively a film industry is by the fact that there is now a certain continuity with films of various genres, and that is definitely the case with German cinema thanks also to a functioning funding system,” he said.

“There are the Til Schweiger/Matthias Schweighöfer comedies, a film like Fack Ju Göthe, a large-scale production such as The Physician, and then arthouse films like Feo Aladag’s Inbetween Worlds about German troops based in Afghanistan:“

Indeed, the four German films in the Competition - Dominik Graf’s The Beloved Sisters, Dietrich Brüggemann’s Stations of the Cross, Aladag’s Inbetween Worlds and Edward Berger’s Jack - deliver the largest presence of domestic titles in the festival’s main section since 2006.

Other German cinema highlights, according to Kosslick, will be screenings - in cooperation with Bertelsmann - of the restored version of the silent classic The Cabinet of Dr Caligari, and the resurrection after 44 years of Volker Schlöndorff’s Bertolt Brecht adaptation Baal, starring Rainer Werner Fassbinder in the title role with Margarethe von Trotta and Hanna Schygulla.

Moreover, two films selected for this year’s Berlinale programme have already won prizes even before they have even been projected.

Tobias Moretti won the Best Actor prize at the weekend’s Bavarian Film Awards for his performance in Das finstere Tal, which also picked up Best Direction for Austrian director Andreas Prochaska; and DoP Michael Wiesweg received the prize for Best Cinematography for his work on Graf’s The Beloved Sisters.

Germany as co-producer

This year’s selection shows once again the key role played by German companies as co-producers.

Studio Babelsberg is the partner on three films: The Grand Budapest Hotel, Monuments Men and Beauty and the Beast. Berlin-based Hank Levine Film and Hamburg’s Detailfilm are co-producers of Ainouz’s drama set in Berlin and Brazil.

Berlin producer Peter Rommel joined the Dutch outfit Waterland Film and executive producer Martin Scorsese on Argentine film-maker Celina Murga’s The Third Side of the River, and Leipzig-based Vitakuben as a partner on another Argentine film, Benjamin Naishat’s feature debut History of Fear.

Other co-productions with German production partners in other sections of the Berlinale include Saodat Ismailova’s 40 Days of Silence (Rohfilm) and Hüseyin Karabey’s Come To My Voice (Neue Medoupolis Film).

When asked which films he would have liked to have shown, Kosslick quipped that he would be able to give an answer once Cannes has published its 2014 line-up.

This notwithstanding, he suggested that gala screenings in the Zoo-Palast or Friedrichstadtpalast for the German premiere of The Wolf Of Wall Street and Keanu Reeves action film Man of Tai Chi would have been ideal, and he had hoped to show Andrzej Wajda’s Walesa - Man Of Hope since he has a good relationship to the veteran director after giving a special presentation to Katyn at the festival.

At the same time, Kosslick was aware that the festival could not dictate where and when a film should be premiered because this decision is usually dependent on a distributor’s release strategy and availability of screens, among other factors.

Focus on quality television

After putting quality television programming under the spotlight at the Berlinale for the first time last year, Kosslick will be showing 3D six-part TV series Cathedrals of Culture.

The project was initiated by Wim Wenders who delivers an episode on Berlin’s Philharmonie concert hall alongside further contributions by Michael Glawogger, Robert Redford, Karim Ainouz, Michael Madsen and Margreth Olin.

NFP will release the six episodes as two feature-length films in German cinemas from May 29.

Australian 13-part series The Turning, which will also have screenings at the EFM.

In addition, producing for TV will be one of the subjects discussed at the EFM’s Industry Debates, while the Berlin-based German Federal Film Board (FFA) will be hosting an international summit on best practices in television with public funder colleagues from around the globe.

Accreditation price hike

In response to criticism of the festival’s decision to increase the standard festival accreditation charge from €100 to €125, Kosslick replied that the price hike had not had any discernible effect on the demand for accreditation to attend the Berlinale.

He was aware that freelancers would not necessarily have the opportunity to get these expenses reimbursed in the same way as employees in a company could.

But Kosslick pointed out: “One could try to regulate the demand through the price, but the run on accreditation is unabated. However, we are not increasing the price just for the sake of it. The reasons can be found in the last eight years where we have had annually costs of about €500,000 for the digitisation of the screens and a brand new fibre glass digital system.”

“We can sell more accreditations because we now have more seating thanks to the Zoo Palast, but you still have the crux of more people wanting accreditations, more people wanting to see films. It’s a vicious circle.”