Back-story: Festival seeks Director
On May 30, 1976, an advertisement for the position of director of the Berlin Film Festival appeared in several daily papers and specialist journals. Alfred Bauer’s contract expired for reasons of age on November 30, 1976, and a delay of his well-earned retirement was not seriously discussed.
By the time the deadline came around, fifteen people had applied for the position, including Forum director Ulrich Gregor, long-time Berlinale press officer Hans Borgelt, journalists Hans C. Blumenberg, Kurt Habernoll and Joe Hembus, film director Ulrich Schamoni as well as theatre director and manager Rainer Antoine. The future director was not, however, among the first applicants. The film journalist Wolf Donner initially only appeared as one of six experts charged by a finding commission to review a list of criteria according to which the applicants were to be evaluated. This finding commission in turn had been appointed by the board of trustees. A certain degree of uncertainty can no doubt be detected behind this complicated delegation of responsibilities. The decision had to be well thought out; after all, a prestigious position was at stake.
There was immediate criticism of the fact that in the three-person finding commission, besides a representative of the federal government and of the senate, there was only one representative of the SPIO (the leading organisation of the German film industry). The filmmakers who stood for the international reputation of German cinema at the time – Fassbinder, Herzog, Kluge, Lilienthal and others – were not represented by SPIO, however. To include contemporary German film in the process would have meant inviting the “Association of New German Feature Film Producers”, the “Syndicate of Filmmakers” or the “Author’s Film Publisher” to participate in the decision-making. This was refused by both federal government and senate, and so old conflicts threatened to flare up again.
The length of the decision-making process and its lack of transparency were also criticized. There were also various, even defamatory, attempts at siding with or opposing a certain candidate. The Bild-Zeitung behaved particularly ignomiously. After the applicant pool had been narrowed down to five – Antoine, Blumenberg, Borgelt, Gregor and Schamoni – the paper launched a defamation campaign against Ulrich Gregor by more or less openly insinuating a proximity between him and the Red Army Faction. In the political atmosphere of the time, which soon after came to be called the “German Autumn”, this verged on character assassination.
A latecomer wins the race
But the filling of the post was a political issue even without excesses of this kind. Whoever was appointed had to be capable of creating consensus among differing agendas. Wolf Donner was not put on the shortlist until late into the process, which resulted in other new names being submitted – and so another round of applications was underway. Many considered the belated nomination of Wolf Donner to be a clumsy move. The Berlin Culture Council, which was backing Ulrich Gregor, said that it was “inadmissible, after the deadline has passed, to shortlist an expert consultant who was already involved in the process, and then to go on and nominate him as director”. But after the board of trustees unanimously elected Wolf Donner as the new festival director on February 18, 1976, he was quickly accepted as a suitable successor to Bauer. No one doubted Donner’s competence, he was young and had not yet made himself any enemies. “Soon he will realize that it’s not so easy to go from being a critic to being a festival director”, the specialist journal Filmecho/Filmwoche commented dryly, although this was hardly a secret.