Festival of quiet films
Unlike in 1970 and the scandal over Michael Verhoeven’s o.k. (also a “Vietnam War film”), the festival this time was able to continue. Later there would be talk of a festival of quiet films. The Golden Bear for Peter Lilienthal’s David was regarded as a silent commentary on The Deer Hunter: Here was gentle humanism instead of cynical pessimism. The Forum presented new Spanish cinema and there were also new films from India, independent productions far from commercial Bollywood. Three films by Mrinal Sen alone were screened, with a further one in the Competition. Fassbinder’s Die Ehe der Maria Braun | The Marriage of Maria Braun belonged to the Competition highlights and earned Hanna Schygulla, along with “the entire team”, Silver Bears. Jeanne Moreau’s sophomore directorial effort L’Adolescente | An Adolescent Girl, Youssef Chahine’s Iskanderija... lih? | Alexandria... Why? as well as two films by Paul Schrader, Blue Collar and Hardcore, were further titles in a Competition that was strong despite the drain from socialist departure.
The boycott hit the Kinderfilmfest especially hard, where seven withdrawn films amounted to almost half of the programme. Among those remaining, Wolfgang Becker’s Vorstadtkrokodile was most positively received. Where this film was praised for its relaxed treatment of handicap and exclusion, the overeager pedagogical supporting programme of the Kinderfilmfest was criticized in the media. The Kinderfilmfest was itself still in its infancy.
Unexpected Turnover in the Festival's Leadership
Shortly before the 1979 Berlinale, a rapid turnover occurred in the leadership of the festival. Wolf Donner, who with great vigour had just taken over the post two years prior, accepted an offer from the news magazine Der Spiegel and went to Hamburg to be their culture editor. Donner’s decision came as a surprise and disappointed many observers. When he announced his resignation he took stock of his brief term of office: The switch to February had proved a success, the festival and its audience had become younger, the film market had been expanded, the programme had become more diverse and the organisational structure more efficient, and the Berlinale had given itself a clear profile in contrast with Cannes. No one disagreed, but it was an all the more bitter pill to swallow – just about everyone would have liked to continue working with Donner. Many still remembered the protected process that had preceded his appointment, and feared a new candidate-searching marathon.
But this time the board of trustees went about their task in a different way. Instead of going through experts and a finding commission, suitable candidates were approached directly, which put a damper on the rumour mill. The media did not want to refrain from speculating entirely, of course. Numerous journalists were being discussed, including – like three years prior – Kurt Habernoll and Joe Hembus as well as Florian Hopf, whose good connections to France carried considerable weight. But the candidate considered most promising and the favourite of many was again Ulrich Gregor, the Forum director. There wasn’t the slightest doubt in his competence, and there were only a few film personalities on the international scene who enjoyed a better reputation. Furthermore, even the more conservative observers had meanwhile come to think of the 46-year-old Gregor as acceptable: The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung mused that “he would even look good in tails”. Wolfram Schütte wrote in the Frankfurter Rundschau that as Berlinale director, Ulrich Gregor would have to “make more and more painful compromises than he has had to do in his current position”. Gregor needed to be asked whether he “had the guts” for it. No one knows whether he was ever asked, or what might have been his answer.
The Forum's status enhanced
After eleven candidates were invited to come for an interview (not all of them showed up), the board of trustees decided to appoint the incumbent director of the Locarno Film Festival, Moritz de Hadeln, as the new head of the Berlinale. The decision met with immediate and almost universal approval. And Ulrich Gregor was not passed over either – in connection with the appointment of the new director, the board of trustees announced a change in the structure of the festival, which meant an enhancement of the status of the Forum and thus of Gregor’s work. The “productive tension” between the Competition/Country Focus and the Forum was positively stressed and credited with being part of the identity of the festival. The Forum and the Competition were from now on to have their own leadership, whereby the status of the Forum was to be safeguarded by a long-term agreement with the “Friends of the German Cinemateque” to run it on behalf of the Berlin Film Festival Plc. This was a solution everyone could live with, and so the leadership question was successfully resolved shortly before the beginning of the 1979 Berlinale.