Berlin Film Fest Chiefs Talk “Unprecedented” 2021 Edition, Landing Celine Sciamma’s ‘Petite Maman’ & Streamer/Studio Absence

Mariette Rissenbeek and Carlo Chatrian

Berlinale Executive Director Mariette Rissenbeek and Artistic Director Carlo Chatrian were determined to be in a cinema today when broadcasting the lineup for this year’s Competition program.

“It is meaningful to be in a movie theater, this is where the films we select are meant to be shown,” Chatrian commented when unveiling the selection, which features a solid showing of arthouse fare.

Due to the ongoing pandemic, the fest will not be able to show these films on the big screen for now. Instead the selection will be viewable online during the European Film Market (March 1-5) to accredited delegates.

The only people who will see the films on the big screen next month will be the festival’s international jury, composed of past Golden Bear winners, whom the festival are planning to fly into Berlin, authorities allowing, to view the program in a cinema and then debate their choices in person (minus Mohammad Rasoulof who is unable to travel for political reasons).

The Berlinale team are still working on a June event in Berlin where they hope audiences will be able to view the new works from the likes of Daniel Bruhl, Radu Jude, Xavier Beauvois, Hong Sang-soo, and perhaps most intriguingly Celine Sciamma, whose Petite Maman didn’t shoot until November but is already close to completion.

Below, Chatrian and Rissenbeek tell us about the challenge of selecting a lineup amid a global pandemic, what we can expect from Sciamma’s new movie, and why there aren’t any U.S. studio or streamer dramatic world premieres (in another of the impressive gets, HBO will be debuting its anticipated new Tina Turner doc).

DEADLINE: Congratulations on being able to put together a version of the festival this year despite the considerable challenges – what are you most proud of?

CARLO CHATRIAN: I say “thank you” to the filmmakers because they have accepted the challenge, our challenge, to take part in a festival that has an unprecedented formula, to stick with us. That makes me proud.

DEADLINE: You have a slightly slimmed down lineup in comparison with previous years, with 15 films in competition versus 18 last year, can we expect any more titles to be announced?

Petite Maman
‘Petite Maman’ Lilies Films

CHATRIAN: No. We already have enough titles for the event we are putting in place – all the films will have to be shown in five days. We want these films to be seen. In total, there are around 100 feature films across the program, it’s enough. My biggest concern is that these films need to really live, this for now is just a presentation.

DEADLINE: You mentioned in your press event that most of these films were at least part-made during the pandemic (production or post-production). Did you feel that overall there were fewer films to choose from this year?

CHATRIAN: In the end, no. We received the same amount of feature submissions as last year.

DEADLINE: In years past, there were a few high-profile U.S. studio movies at the festival – Disney/Pixar’s Onward last year, for example. Did you try to get any of those movies this year?

CHATRIAN: You are right, that is the part we don’t have this year. The studios and Berlin have a great history and tradition of giving a platform for these movies in a festival presentation – but that’s as long as a theatrical release is planned. Theatrical releases are not planned now. Of course we had lots of conversations, including about our new dates in the summer, but the big studios kept postponing the release dates and at a certain point it became clear there was no way for them to screen these films in March.

DEADLINE: Did you have conversations with the streaming platforms about taking some of their films?

CHATRIAN: Yes, we had conversations, but my feeling is they were also questioning things. They are aiming for the Oscars and because of our dates now we are not really playing in that field. We had discussions last summer but the perspective changed.

DEADLINE: Perhaps some of the films might become Netflix or Amazon titles in the future…


DEADLINE: I was intrigued to see this new Celine Sciamma film selected. It only started shooting in November. What can you tell us about it?

CHATRIAN: It was not just made during the pandemic: it was made possible by the pandemic, because she had some time to make a personal story. It’s a smaller film, though not in ambition, with a gentle touch and magical realism. I don’t want to say anything about the story because it has a twist. But again [like her 2011 film Tomboy, which premiered in Berlin] it is a film that gives a voice to children, she really wanted to play the film at the Berlinale for the kids, which we hope to do in the summer.

DEADLINE: Is it finished?

CHATRIAN: Yes. They came to Berlin and discussed it with us in October. They managed to keep to their schedule and it will be ready.

DEADLINE: Sciamma, of course, had a big splash in Cannes with Portrait of a Lady on Fire and she has debuted the majority of her films at that festival. How did you lure her away from the Croisette?

CHATRIAN: A big part of our job is to track films down. But to be honest, with this one they reached out to us. That is also the beauty of doing this job. I think because of her presence in Berlin with Tomboy [where it won the Teddy Jury Award], this film resonated.

DEADLINE: Mariette, can you tell us about putting this event together under these circumstances? When did you make the decision to split it into two separate events?

Berlin Film Festival
Berlinale Jens Kalaene/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images

MARIETTE RISSENBEEK: At the end of November we saw it would be impossible to have a normal Berlin Film Festival in February. Carlo had already seen a number of interesting films, and he knew the filmmakers were looking for an opportunity to show their films. We felt committed to giving them the possibility to do that, but we had to decide what we could do. We wanted to show them to an audience and it was clear that would be in early summer. At that point Cannes was still aiming for May [it has since moved to July] so we knew the market would need to take place before early summer.

DEADLINE: The vaccine rollout has caused some optimism. How do you feel right now about the prospects for the June event?

RISSENBEEK: I talk to a lot of people every week about the pandemic prospects. It’s so dynamic, it’s impossible to guarantee it will take place in June, but it looks very likely.

DEADLINE: Are you hoping to have international guests in June, filmmakers for example?

RISSENBEEK: Yes, absolutely. Some of our guests already told us that, if the travel rules allow, they will be there.

DEADLINE: The event is fairly close to Cannes…

CHATRIAN: We talked with [Cannes artistic director] Thierry Fremaux before and after we both took our decisions. Our program is already locked and will have been presented in March to international press, so there’s space [for both summer events]. I hope we can welcome him in June.

DEADLINE: Have you been chatting with other festival heads?

CHATRIAN: I have spoken with Frederic Boyer [Tribeca], Alberto Barbera [Venice], Karel Och [Karlovy Vary], Giona Nazzaro [Locarno], but the future is so uncertain, things change all the time.

DEADLINE: I was surprised to hear that you will have a physical jury during the March event. How is that working?

RISSENBEEK: They will be flying in, apart from Mohammad Rasoulof who cannot leave Iran.

CHATRIAN: For us it was very important to have the jury watching the films together, and then discuss face-to-face. We’re not against technology but it’s a different job, and the interactions are different. That was clear to us. And we have good support from the authorities so it looks like they will be able to come and watch the films in a private theater.

DEADLINE: Will they need to isolate?

RISSENBEEK: We will only have them here for a limited number of days, and they will be working all the time, so they can do that without isolation.

DEADLINE: Earlier this week, I wrote a story about various German exhibition and distribution groups writing to Angela Merkel with concerns about the country’s plans to get out of lockdown and perceived deprioritizing of cinemas. Does the Berlinale support this?

RISSENBEEK: Of course we support it but I’m afraid it will not have much effect. There was a meeting yesterday of the ministers and it doesn’t seem they will give any priority to re-opening cultural centers. I do not think cinemas will be open before Easter.

DEADLINE: Are you concerned about the future of cinema?

RISSENBEEK: The June event is in cooperation with cinemas, we are working closely with them. We are confident the audience will return.

DEADLINE: This has been a devastating period economically – how have these tough times affected the financial structure of the festival?

RISSENBEEK: The financial structure is very different this year. We have less capacity to sell tickets, so less income. We have been in touch with the Ministry Of Culture to see what they can do; they normally provide one third of our budget. They are helpful and supportive so we will see. Once we have the June concept clearer we will see what sponsors we have, and I am confident the Ministry will fill gaps.

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