Reflections on the Rotterdam and Berlin Film Festivals from Mark Cosgrove, Cinema Curator
"Too many films......not enough time," is a sentiment I heard a few times at this year's Berlin Film Festival. The Berlinale present approximately 200 films. Combine that with the European Film Market's in excess of 200 films and add in the 200 or so from the previous month's Sundance and Rotterdam and well, you have a lot of films to work your way through and only so much time. Producer Ted Hope, one of the most illuminating of thinkers on contemporary film culture, has pointed out on his blog hopeforfilm.com that already this year there are more films made than he would be able to see in his lifetime. At one point in a discussion about European funding for film I found myself thinking "Could we have a five year moratorium on filmmaking?" Remember butter mountains and wine lakes?
In a pre digital world this volume of films would be filtered in a number of ways. First they were on 35mm and both expensive to make and move around. Secondly, the lay person/audience would not have known of all the films shown at festivals as reporting was of a rather different order in the pre-digital world. Thirdly, films would be bought/sold to territories and only these films would become known to the general audience in that territory/country. There would be a small - and I mean small - amount of cinephiles who would maybe know a bit more.
In a post digital world everyone knows everything and the films themselves are theoretically available right here, right now; after all they are already in a digital format. I remember telling a colleague, a researcher from HP labs in Bristol that I had seen this amazing film in Cannes - it was Alexander Sokurov's Russian Ark (you can work out the date.) His response as he poured over his computer was "where can I watch it ?" That day, as David Bowie knows - but the film industry is finding out - is here. Also the amount of bloggers, tweets and online coverage of festivals such as Berlin and Rotterdam is, to understate, extensive.
But how do you know where to look and what you might find? At Rotterdam I attended two events which for me demonstrated both a possible answer to those questions but also the dilemma film culture currently finds itself in.
The first was a discussion about how Festivals might position themselves to make available films which do not get picked up for distribution to wider international audiences. The proposal was to beam them into cinemas with linked Q&As with the filmmakers during the period of the festival. A great way of getting more films out wider but....... aren't there already enough films available?
The second was a discussion with some experienced eminent Film Festival Directors including Rome's Marco Muller about what they see as the challenges for film festivals in this post digital era. An idea that was mentioned by Viennale's Hans Hurch struck a chord: in an ideal world he would like his festival to be 20 titles which he as director feels are the most interesting films currently in circulation. However the internal engine and irresistible logic of festivals - more films= more admissions=bigger impact=more income + stronger sponsorship possibilites - makes reducing scale counter intuitive.
What Hurch was hinting at is a curated festival which articulates a curatorial attitude and provides a route for audiences through contemporary film culture. In this post digital era of everything now, where these hundreds if not thousands if not hundreds of thousands of films will be readily available on digital platforms, how can audiences navigate? And, how can we professionals who run cinemas play a part in making sense of the multitude of possibilities. Increasingly I think we need to think of ourselves as curators - not programmers, schedulers or selectors - but as people whose choices provide a critical, in both senses of the word, pathway through contemporary film culture.
In that spirit then: I saw 30 films in Berlin. If i had my own mini festival these are the five essential films I would show.
'71 (Dir: Yann Demange)
Television director Yann Demange's dynamic feature film debut.
Triptyque (Dir: Robert Lepage/Pedro Pires)
Cinema as meditation, and on themes of mental health, art and memory
History of Fear (Dir: Benjamin Naishtat)
A Ballardian study of fear and social breakdown from post crash Argentina and striking feature debut
Kidnapping of Michel Houllebouq (Dir: Guillaume Nicloux)
Off the dial exploration and exemplary documentary of Houllebouq's philosophy.
Macondo (Dir: Sudabeh Moertezai)
Another excellent debut feature which portrays experience of asylum seeker through the eyes of young Muslim from Chechnya.