Festival Selection Criteria Hard to Describe

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Dorothee Wenner Delegate and South Asia Programmer to the Berlin International Film Festival

The upcoming edition of Berlinale reflects the huge panorama of filmmaking in India. However, the selection criteria are hard to describe in theory, says Dorothee Wenner, delegate and South Asia Programmer to the Berlin International Film Festival

Congrats on the Berlinale festival selections. It has been another successful year for India and we have got exciting discoveries from the country. How has been the journey to discover films and talent from India this year?

We had indeed an exciting year. Thanks to the great works by directors whose projects we anticipated with high expectations and many new names in the arena which made us curious. Overall, there are plenty of films to see. However, some interesting films arrived too late to be considered. There’s a running joke among my colleagues about Indian filmmakers always winning the competition in masterfully ignoring deadlines!

How much of movie consumption you had in your regions for fest pick? You do this with passion and reserved energy year on year…

Well, after we closed our programme early January, many days went without watching a single film. It felt almost like being on a diet after feasting: healthy deprivation. Sometimes I wonder with concern, where in my brain all the films and images go to and what kind of traces they leave in me? On the other hand, I completely enjoy this work and feel extremely privileged to get so much exposure to the world of cinema. It is an intense learning experience, year after year. I couldn’t imagine a better job, so absolutely no complaints.

What are the three or four things that you aim to achieve in Berlinale 2019?

It is going to be a special edition for all of us in the Berlinale team, as it is the last with Dieter Kosslick as festival director. Hence, I hope the overall festival will be both – a festive farewell for Dieter – and a warm welcoming of the times ahead. Then, like every year, there are a few fragile, small, controversial films which I particularly like. I know, rather: we knew when selecting those films in our programme that there are chances for these “to drown” in the huge festival haywire. Here, I count on the Berlinale audience with a really diverse taste in cinema, appreciating especially those unique films which stand no chances in a purely commercially driven environment. After all, festivals are not only places of celebration. We also need to understand our responsibility in turning them into an arena where we are fighting for the diversification of filmmaking.

Gully Boy is a Bollywood film, but it is not formula piece. Especially, the narration, the choreography and the music of this film are outof-the-box, fresh, daring and new 

What’s your perspective on the diversity and your insights on films and talents from India this year? Can you talk about the Indian film slate at Berlinale 2019? We have some wonderful picks…

 I’m quite happy looking at our overall selection for this year’s programme, as it reflects the huge panorama of filmmaking in India. Allow me to mention Zoya Akthar’s Gully Boy. It is a Bollywood film, but it is not formula piece. Especially, the narration, the choreography and the music of this film are out-of-the-box, fresh, daring and new. This is why we as a festival are very proud to host the film’s world premiere. At the same time, we are very much aware how courageous it is of the production house to embark on this new territory. I hope that the big gala screening we’re doing on February 9 will give an extra boost of attention to Gully Boy’s worldwide release on 14th of February.

It is easy for us to celebrate films once selections are announced. What are the unique challenges you face in India?

India might easily rank among the top-three most challenging countries on earth for festival programmers. It is incredibly demanding and difficult to get an overview, to do research. At times, my colleague Meenakshi Shedde and I wouldn’t mind some more support.

Can you give a perspective of what goes into selection of a film that emerging filmmakers should take a note of for any film festival/ and a festival like Berlinale?

It’s a difficult question. Criteria are hard to describe ‘in theory’. It is much easier to explain why we selected a film. Usually, when filmmakers ask me this very question I recommend to them to look at the latest programmes of a festival, it is the best way to get a sense of a festival’s profile. Of course we look with key interest at cinematographic craft if the film expands the boundaries of filmmaking. For example, by its innovation of storytelling we try to reflect in our programme filmmaking from all regions of the world. We have a special eye on the presence of female directors, balance docs and features, etc. And I would be lying if not admitting that personal taste blends all those other criteria.

What are some of the tangible goals that Indian filmmakers should set to accomplish in 2019? 

I’d be happy to witness an extension of the distribution practices, which, at this moment, I find rather suffocating. India has huge audience potentials which are not catered for. If the industry would finally give way to see that targeting niche audiences can be commercially viable, much would be accomplished. Anyhow, from a European point just looking at numbers. An ‘Indian niche audience’ is what we consider a ‘mass audience’ over here, so why not explore these?

In between picking films for Berlinale and balancing work-life, have you had time to focus on projects that you are working on? Are there anything specific on the works in India-Germany collaboration in film space?  

In fact, I’m currently doing research for a new project. My previous work as a filmmaker was the webseries ‘Kinshasa Collection’ between Berlin, Kinshasa and Guangzhou, on pirated fashion and how the three continents are connected through the fashion industry. I got increasingly fascinated by the options of how – by making films for the internet – different layers of storytelling can be interconnected. Even though, for me as a cinephile, it is hard not to produce for the big screen. But I’m enjoying to explore these new options in my next project further. On which subject: this is too early to tell, I’d dive into that after Berlinale only.

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