Upon receiving his two Silver Bears (for Best Director and Best Artistic Contribution) at this year’s Berlinale, Paul Thomas Anderson thanked the jury and added that, “he’s amazed at how Festival Director Dieter Kosslick manages to run the annual filmfest as if it was a party in his living room”. Although Anderson may have meant it as a compliment, perhaps it is part of the reason why the Berlinale has lost some of its lustre in recent years: Kosslick, who used to run the Filmfonds North-Rhine Westphalia, seems to be unaware that he’s not in his living room but on the world stage. To say nothing of the embarrassing fact that two jury members - Susanne Bier and Sandrine Bonaire - walked out on him this year, offering only the flimsiest of excuses for their sudden pull-out.
By looking at the uninspiring films in Competition since Kosslick took over seven years ago, it is easy to forget that filmmakers like Todd Haynes, Jean-Luc Godard, Ang Lee, Roman Polanski and Pedro Almodovar first got their big break in Berlin - a long time ago.
The Berlinale today suffers from an identity crisis: having never had the cachet of its rivals, Cannes and Venice, it used to be known as a political festival with an almost alternative bent, not afraid to show films by exciting newcomers whose films had not yet been known to a larger audience. Instead of remaining the gritty, slightly renegade festival it once was - thus keeping its authenticity - meant-to-be glitzy red carpet extravaganzas and opening and closing galas have since become part and parcel of Berlinale’s bid for glamour and exposure in the ever expanding festival circuit. The selection of films shown in Competition in recent years prove my point as clearly, more often than not they are chosen for their ‘star power’ and its associated glitter, rather than their quality.
Although the local press appears to be blissfully unaware of the worsening identity crisis of its annual filmfest, revelling instead in the increasing number of visiting celebrities in attendance by ignoring the decline in quality of the films on offer, Kosslick needs to realise what’s at stake and urgently make up his mind where he wants the Berlinale to go and what he wants it to be(come).