“Our Approach is Pure Berlinale”
This year, Berlinale Talents is celebrating its twentieth anniversary. In this interview, the heads of Berlinale Talents, Christine Tröstrum and Florian Weghorn explain what constitutes the spirit of this talent promotion initiative and how they manage to keep renewing themselves and adapting to adverse realities.
What exactly is the mission of Berlinale Talents?
Christine Tröstrum: We want to bring people together who can inspire each other and share their passion for filmmaking. Because we want to have a lasting effect, we start by building a community and developing its ideas and resources. We keep asking ourselves and the group what the situation will be in five or ten years’ time and we then respond to these future needs and adjust what we offer accordingly. It is our mission to constantly change in alignment with reality.
And how has this mission changed over the years?
Florian Weghorn: The Talent Campus of 2003 was a true pioneer: at that time, the promotion of talent in the film sector was rare, so a huge debut event with 500 participants was very courageous! In the early stages, our colleagues established the key factors of recognition, placing everyone on an equal footing and ensuring accessibility that are still valid today, and initially opened the doors to comparatively young filmmakers. Talents from those early days still speak of this primal energy today: “It all started there for me. It was the first time I was noticed and I was able to feel like a professional filmmaker.”
Are things different today?
CT: Today, some prior recognition is, to a certain extent, a prerequisite for taking part in Berlinale Talents. That means you are already a talent with quite a few qualifications and qualities when you’re invited. We strengthen this, accompany the participants into the next phase of their development and help them to actively change the film industry, their own work, their collaborators and even themselves. As different as everyone, thankfully, may be, the “Berlin effect” is quite similar for many of them: the participants are encouraged to believe that they are of value to others and to the industry – and no longer to believe that only others are of value to them. That makes quite a difference.
What is the composition of the Talents cohort today? Do you implement quotas?
We follow a few essential rules at Berlinale Talents. For example, our gender balance has been at least 50/50 for 20 years and nowadays we are also, of course, much more diverse. We receive applications from 130 countries and usually end up with participants from around 70 countries. We deliberately avoid quotas because we want to retain the freedom to follow the aesthetic choices and sometimes also the enthusiasms of our selection committees. It’s nevertheless obvious that the industry still has some catching up to do, for example, in securing more diversity in the “technical” crafts and, of course, in the areas of directing and writing. There are still too few camerawomen, and we are deliberately providing support in this area.
Looking back at 20 years of Berlinale Talents, how have you developed and which experiences have been particularly formative?
FW: Looking back? We don’t actually drag a heavy baggage of memories around with us. But we have certainly learned over the past 20 years and have also got better at implementing changes in the industry within Berlinale Talents itself. During our first decade, we still focused a lot on the wealth of experience, welcoming first-class guests from Wenders to Binoche and asking them to share their experiences, and then passed these on to the next generation. This is a way of celebrating cinema, and both we and our Berlin audiences love such events to this day! But there’s so much more that’s possible at Talents, because the Berlinale has participation in its DNA. For us, this means meeting others on an equal footing, even some of the most famous “colleagues” in the industry and, where necessary, overcoming preconceptions together.
How is this reflected in the Berlinale Talents format?
CT: Of course, we also look at what has already been achieved – and, above all, how! But today we’re also asking our guests and ourselves: What’s the next thing coming at us from the future and how do we deal with what we have learned? Because the Talents we invite are determining the future, too, and should be given the tools they need for this.
At the moment, the biggest change is that this physical event is having to take place entirely online ...
FW: Our fundamental approach is of course “pure Berlinale”, so the principles of a cultural festival of the larger kind also apply, including the challenges posed by the sheer number of people attending, the special nature of the celebratory moments, the chance events ... But our task is to notice the realities and how the people in the “world out there” are responding to them and then to bring them into our structure. And if reality is what it is right now, we look at each available format, figure out its essence and then re-bottle it.
What experiences have you carried over from last year, which also took place entirely online?
CT: In the very first session last year, we sent the 200 Talents on a digital “Dream Journey” to the year 2024. This brought the group together, but it also surprised them – precisely because the digital and emotional worlds are so rarely connected in our heads. We work with great care to deliver our content in such a way that our participants in over 70 countries can take it in and feel involved in it. If the Talents can’t come to Berlin, then we’ll come to them!
In this anniversary year and the second year of the pandemic, you have put the focus on the topic of work itself. How did this decision come about?
FW: In the midst of the pandemic, we wanted to put manual labour centre stage – clearly also out of a longing for something tangible. Taking the topic of the “Labours of Cinema”, we are looking at the cinematic work in all its physical and artistic dimensions, from the model making in Wes Anderson’s films to writing a screenplay, which is by no means purely mental work. It is important to us that the focus is for once on the many craftspeople who work mostly unseen in the background. Nonetheless, labour – and that’s why we’re using the word “labour” and not “work” – is to be understood not just as creating something but also in terms of political and social struggle. Some aspects of the film industry are changing drastically right now which will then need to be reorganised and for which conditions are being created that are more or – regrettably – less tolerable. In cooperation with a university, we’re asking our Talents for the first time, entirely anonymously, how much they actually earn. That’s also an important aspect of work: recognition and income!
Are the Talent Tanks a new format?
Yes, we combined the Dream Journey and the previous Talents Circles to forge a new activity: we now have four topics and we have adapted methodological concepts of creative processes to meet our needs. Based on the “labours” topic, we are opening ourselves up to the worlds of ideas from this diverse group of 200 Talents and developing future models with them of a fair, resource-conserving and open, creative working environment. And this forum isn’t just an end in itself: thanks to the involvement of our partners – from the Federal Foreign Office to Telefilm Canada, Medienboard Berlin-Brandenburg and Netflix – this is also about creating feedback channels which can help turn ideas quickly into reality. It’s a lot of work, but it’s worth it!
Your headquarters are once again the stage and studio in the HAU Hebbel am Ufer theatre from where you will be live-streaming every day?
FW: Exactly. We are intrinsically an event that is, as always, very strongly anchored in the festival and in Berlin. This year, 116 alumni are returning to the Berlinale with 75 films and we naturally want to celebrate this with them.
And finally, I’d love to hear an anecdote about the history of Berlinale Talents. Is there a moment or certain personalities you would like to highlight?
CT: Yes, these special moments and personalities run through our entire history. For me, this starts with Dieter Kosslick who, at the time, listened to what the industry needed and then established this enormous experimental lab at the festival. And you could also mention the many encounters at which Florian and I have been standing backstage experiencing goosebumps and simply being happy about the fact that Ryūichi Sakamoto is improvising on the piano or that Céline Sciamma doesn’t seem to want to leave. But to be honest, our greatest personalities are the Talents and a magic moment is (re)encountering an alumnus on a bus somewhere in Mexico: “You probably won’t remember me …” And then you do!