Carlo Chatrian Talks Upcoming Berlinale Edition, Luring Major Stars to First Post-Strikes Festival and Why His Mandate Wasn’t Renewed

Carlo Chatrian Talks Upcoming Berlinale Edition, Luring Major Stars to First Post-Strikes Festival and Why His Mandate Wasn’t Renewed

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Berlin Film Festival artistic director Carlo Chatrian is in an upbeat mood as he puts the finishing touches on assembling his fourth and final edition. It appears to be shaping up nicely with a rich mix comprising prestige star-driven titles, such as the world premiere of Netflix’s “Spaceman” in which Adam Sandler plays an imperiled astronaut, and films with “political elements” that are intrinsic to the fest’s DNA.

The day before revealing his Berlin Special lineup that includes several star-studded galas – the main lineup will be announced on Jan. 22 – Chatrian spoke to Variety about how the 74th edition is starting to take form and why management changes at the Berlinale aren’t distracting him from his main mission: supporting good movies.

Berlin will be one of the first major festivals to take place after the Hollywood strikes. Will it benefit from this?

We are very happy that we will be able to show films along with stars, which is something that happened only in part, or did not happen, in the fall. So we are confident that the festival will have the same combination of films with political elements and films that bring entertainment and stars along with that.

Talk to me about the ones with stars

So to give you an idea, we will show a Netflix movie called “Spaceman” with the great Adam Sandler in the main role and Carey Mulligan at his side. We are going to also have a film from FilmNation by the German filmmaker Julia von Heinz [originally] titled “Iron Box” [about a New York businesswoman who decides to take her aging father back to his native Poland, where she hopes to explore her Jewish roots]. The film is now called “Treasure,” with Lena Dunham and Stephen Fry. We have an American film, which we really liked a lot, called “Cuckoo.” It’s German-American [directed by Tilman Singer (“Luz”)] with Hunter Schafer, who is one of the protagonists of “Euphoria.” We have, as always, some films premiering in tandem with Sundance. So we are going to announce “Sasquatch Sunset,” the very hilarious, irreverent film by the Zellner Brothers with Riley Keough and Jesse Eisenberg in the lead. We have the Atom Egoyan film with Amanda Seyfried called “Seven Veils” [that premiered in Toronto sans talent in tow]. Just to give you an idea. These films already give a flavor of what the festival will be.

To be clear, the stars from these films will be on the red carpet?

Exactly

Your successor, Tricia Tuttle, has been announced. I’m not going to put you on the spot too much. But I think the question a lot of people have been wondering about is: could Berlin have benefitted from continuity? 

What can I say? I cannot hide that I think that, yes, continuity is an advantage. But it’s not my call. It’s the [culture ministry’s] call and If they think the current governance [system] is not the right one, they have a right to change it.

When you say governance, as I understand it, you’re referring to scrapping the dual director set-up under which you were hired

I am the artistic director. Essentially, someone who knows how to shape a program and who has a vision for the festival. But this is just one part of the job of running a festival. So, if you think that you just need one person to run a festival, then I understand that I represent only one part of that. I am not so pretentious to say that I can do things that I haven’t done, or that were not in my contract. So, with [Berlinale executive director Mariëtte Rissenbeek] we have a clear distinction of roles. And when it was decided that that [governance] model would not continue, I decided not to go on.

After you stepped down – as it were – there was a petition signed by big directors, lots of big names, including Martin Scorsese, asking for a rethink of the structure and a prolongation of your contract. How did you feel about that?

I was overwhelmed with this solidarity that I got because the petition was completely unexpected. Also because I think the media focused only on a few names, but the thing that moved me a lot is that there were filmmakers from all over the world, from the Philippines to South America. It was the result of a personal relationships that I built with filmmakers and some of them had their films rejected at the festival.

In terms of your vision of the festival, one of the narratives that’s been going around is that basically the conditions for you to continue were made difficult – if not impossible – basically because you were considered to be too cinephile.

You should ask these questions to the people at the ministry who decided to change. It’s not on me. I don’t consider myself too cinephilic. I’m someone who loves many kinds of films. What I can tell you is that the structure that was presented to me didn’t have the artistic director position. So, my position was not there anymore. I had to accept the consequences of that.

How much do you think the budget cuts have impacted your work so far and perhaps even the governance structure? And how might they affect the Berlinale going forward?

I don’t think the budget cuts have impacted the festival significantly. Of course hosting the festival during the pandemic was a great challenge for everyone. I mean, for the government who supported us with extra money during both years. So, yes, the festival would have been very different without the pandemic. And the minister herself just announced that there will be some extra support for Berlinale, not only for ’24, but also the future. But, I didn’t feel, to be honest, that there was that much pressure regarding the budget. Until the end of August I was not aware that the artistic director position was in discussion. So I don’t think that happened for a budget reason.

Just to reiterate, the decision to not separate the artistic director position from the executive director position came as a surprise. Could it have been handled differently?

Yes, I think the decision could have been handled differently. I didn’t see it coming. But, as I’ve already said, I’m not sad because I had a five year contract, so there was always the possibility that I would do my five years and then the festival and I take separate paths. So, I don’t feel that I have been fired, because I fully served my mandate. 

More or less the same day that your successor was announced, it was also announced that Dennis Ruh’s contract was not being renewed as head of the market. I think there is some acrimony on his part about the way that this was handled. Do you have any comment on that aspect?

It’s not for me to comment on that. I understand his disappointment.

Any other considerations? 

This is important: for me, the festival comes first. So, I’m not doing this edition to prove what I’m able to do. I’m not doing it to say: “Hey, you made a mistake by not renewing my contract, or whatever.” This is very far away from my thoughts. My thoughts are: “I’m doing this festival because I want to support the people whose films will be in the selection.” This is what has always been on my mind. Festival directors are at the service of films. It’s not the other way around. 

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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