Berlinale artistic director Carlo Chatrian and executive director Mariëtte Rissenbeck reveal the festival’s main Competition and Encounters selections at a press conference on Monday, January 23, as they gear up for their first fully in-person edition since 2020 from February 16 to 26.
Judging by these earlier announcements, the festival has pushed the boat out to secure big names and lure back U.S. and Asian titles and professionals, which have been largely absent due to pandemic travel restrictions since at least 2020, if not 2019.
Deadline talked to Chatrian and Rissenbeck ahead of Monday’s press conference for some first thoughts about the upcoming 73rd edition.
DEADLINE: How does it feel to be finally getting back to a full physical edition for the first time in three years?
MARIËTTE RISSENBEEK: For me, it’s super exciting because I will finally get to meet all these people at the festival. Carlo has been involved with films for a very long time but me not.
CARLO CHATRIAN: The feeling is a very positive one. Making a festival is not only about supporting films but also about meeting with people, making a big public event and enjoying the emotion of the public, which happened in the last two editions but in a limited way.
DEADLINE: In terms of what the festival has announced so far such as Kristen Stewart as the jury president and U.S. titles like Reality, Perpetrator and Passages, it feels like you worked hard to tie down U.S. titles and talent this year and come up with a starrier line-up?
CHATRIAN: I’m happy you say that. One of our goals in the selection process was to bring back the glamorous side that was missing in the last editions. We’ve been lucky but we’ve also worked hard to achieve that. There will be a consistent presence of U.S. films and more generally well-loved and well-known artists.
There’s also Guy Nattiv’s Golda with Helen Mirren; John Malkovich will be at the festival with a great performance in Seneca. Reality in Panorama is a very unique piece with Sydney Sweeny. It’s not only about a bigger presence of U.S. talent. We also just announced the documentary Kiss The Future, on the Siege of Sarajevo, involving U2 and Bono. We also have the film with Fan Bingbing. We’re expecting all the guests to be back at the festival with others who are soon to be announced.
DEADLINE: Will Joan Baez be coming in for Karen O’Connors’s documentary Joan Baez I Am A Noise, which has been announced for Panorama?
CHATRIAN: The full list of guests will be revealed in February. The film was only selected 10 days ago so we are in still discussions on her (Baez) attendance with agents and other people around her.
DEADLINE: Going back to the bigger U.S. presence. You announced that Jacqueline Lyanga was joining the team to work alongside Ryan Werner as a U.S. delegate over the summer. Did that boost your connection in L.A. or did you already have strong connections there?
CHATRIAN: Berlin has always been a great platform to launch U.S. films, either in combo with Sundance or as an individual platform. This year companies were more confident. They were confident in 2021, to tell the truth, but things got disrupted in the autumn. On the other side, I’ve known Jacqueline since my time in Locarno. We had exchanges with her when she was at AFI. I was looking for a stronger presence in L.A. She’s great. She knows everyone. She helped us a lot.
DEADLINE: How do Werner and Lyanga work together?
CHATRIAN: Ryan is in New York and is involved in a lot of films. The decision to find extra support was his suggestion because he is very involved with films that are campaigning, and time-wise, November, December and even now are very busy times for him. We are good friends and he is still supporting us a lot but we agreed it would be good to have someone in L.A. We now have two people who get along well and each brings something different because they have different backgrounds. The connection between Berlin and U.S. cinema, independent as well as the studios and now the streamers, is very strong. We want to keep that and enhance that if possible.
DEADLINE: Do you think the bigger gap between Sundance (January 19-29) and the Berlinale (February 16-26) will result in more U.S. professionals making the trip to Berlin?
CHATRIAN: In 2020, there was also a gap because the festival was even later. People in the U.S. said it was better because they have time to go back to Los Angeles or New York, wrap up and then fly to Berlin. Also this year, we have around 10 to 12 titles that will screen in both festivals, both U.S. and international titles. We have a very good relationship with Joana (Vincente), Kim (Yutani), John (Nein) and now Eugene (Hernandez). We’ve both known Eugene for a long time so we’re looking forward to exchanging with him.
DEADLINE: How did you manage to secure Kristen Stewart as jury president? She is an artist more associated with Cannes than Berlin.
CHATRIAN: She has attended the festival in the past but also, festivals don’t own talents, they don’t belong to festivals. it’s like UNESCO, if they’re great, they belong to the whole of humanity. I met Kristen Stewart in Cannes when she was in Olivier Assayas’s Clouds of Sils Maria, which we also screened in Locarno. I was impressed by her as an actor but also as a person. We were looking for somebody that was established, politically committed but also young. She also believed the kind of selection we’re doing and the values we represent at Berlin were a good fit for her. It was not a long battle.
DEADLINE: China has recently lifted its strict Covid restrictions and we’re seeing the Chinese enthusiastically embrace international travel again. Are you expecting a big Chinese contingent this year as well as a bigger Asian presence in general?
RISSENBEEK: At the market, we’re hearing that accreditation requests from Asia, China, Korea and Japan are strong again. So we do believe we will have strong attendance.
CHATRIAN: In terms of the line-up we have a very strong Asian presence this year. This was another of our goals. We had one film last year, Return To Dust which was very successful, maybe even too successful, in that it was so successful that it was banished from theatres. We’re not talking only about China but Asia in general. We have already announced some titles, Green Night in Panorama with Fan Bingbing. We have selected one very funny genre movie Mad Fate, produced by Johnnie To for Berlinale Special and we will have Chinese films in the Competition and in Encounters. We have also invited the very original Japanese thriller #Mannhole.
DEADLINE: Two territories set to have less of a presence are Iran and Russia. Like many festivals, you have announced that bodies, professionals and films with links to the governments of thos territories will not be welcome. How does that work? Sometimes professionals working for state-backed bodies are not necessarily politically aligned with their government’s thinking.
RISSENBEEK: You’re correct. It’s not always clear. We already announced in the summer that we didn’t want to boycott either Russia or Iran but that we would very carefully check who is working for whom and which films are financed by which state bodies. It’s taken a lot of time over the past months because we went case by case on this.
CHATRIAN: There will be an Iranian presence in the line-up but all the films were done by Iranian filmmakers living abroad. We also have the documentary Where God Doesn’t Exist in the Forum, about torture, but all the films were done by Iranian filmmakers living abroad. It’s very, very difficult for an Iranian filmmaker to travel. We have been told is that in order to travel they have to sign an agreement that they won’t say anything about the government. And, Towards Happy Alleys is by a young Indian filmmaker who talks to figures like Jafah Panahi and Tara Alidoosti about the role of cinema in society and the difficulties they have in expressing their ideas.