Berlin Film Festival Appointment Post-Script: German Ministry Responds To Conflict Of Interest Question

Berlin 2018

The appointment of the next Berlin Film Festival chief was always going to be an involved process. Most festival appointments are. But this situation was more delicate given the calls from prominent industry figures for a festival overhaul.

Rumours had been swirling for months about possible predecessors and last week the decision was made to appoint co-heads in the shape of Locarno Film Festival chief Carlo Chatrian as artistic director and Mariette Rissenbeek, MD of promotion agency German Films, as festival manager.

The choices have met with approval and some surprise among the local and international industry. Some were expecting a name with closer ties to Hollywood given the calls to jazz up the Berlinale. Chatrian had not been widely touted in the media or in industry circles and there was widespread speculation that the role could go to a woman alone.

However, the Italian former journalist is well-liked and respected on the festival circuit. Locarno is firmly established and the well-attended event combines a strong art-house offering and solid industry presence with a sprinkling of Hollywood glamour.

The chances of Kosslick’s role being split after his departure became more likely as the process evolved. But again, Rissenbeek wasn’t widely touted. The Dutch-born fluent German-speaker (which seems more important given that Chatrian doesn’t speak the language), is widely known and respected in the local biz and her appointment is similarly viewed as a pleasant surprise by many. Also, Hallelujah, that one of the three leading film festivals in Europe has finally appointed a woman to its top role, albeit in a shared capacity.

Perhaps some of the surprise over Rissenbeek’s appointment came from the fact that she was one of three people –alongside German Culture Minister Monika Grutters and Björn Böhning, the former head of the Berlin senate chancellery — on the selection committee for the job she ultimately got. Indeed, this potential conflict of interest has been raised domestically in Germany and globally.

So, in the interests of transparency, we reached out to the Culture Ministry and German Films for comment on the process behind the decision. The role is a publicly funded one, after all.

The German Culture Ministry told us that Rissenbeek’s appointment was ultimately “a decision of the Board of Supervisors for the Culture Ministry made on the suggestion of the selection committee” and “before this decision [was arrived at], Mariette Rissenbeek had left the selection committee.”

Furthermore, the ministry directed us to an interview given by Grutters to the German Press Agency in which the question came up:

“That is indeed in need of explanation,” said Grutters. “[Mariette Rissenbeek] herself would never have thought to put herself forward for the role. State Secretary Böhning and I asked her to consider the role. We had a really good and wide field of applications from women, but Mariette Rissenbeek was by far the first choice for us, especially in terms of how she could interact with Carlo Chatrian. She is a connoisseur of the international film scene and a great patron and worldwide ambassador of German film. We didn’t want the Berlinale to miss out just because the best candidate was on the selection committee.”

So there you have it. Rissenbeek didn’t put herself forward and seemingly stepped away from the selection group once she became a firm candidate. A minor but necessary post-script to a generally welcomed decision.

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