For decades, the Berlin Film Festival has been forging its own iconoclastic path, known for screening the best of world cinema and edgy underground discoveries as well as its cold February temperatures, while the starrier and warmer Cannes and Venice fests have been in fierce competition to grab the limelight (aka Oscar movies). But the Berlinale — a public institution created at the beginning of the Cold War in 1951 — could be changing course next year with the appointment of Tricia Tuttle, a progressive American film journalist and curator who led the BFI London Film Festival during a fast-growing five-year chapter, and has been indirectly tasked by Germany’s culture minister Claudia Roth to turn the Berlinale into a proper rival to Cannes and Venice, while maintaining its political edge and flare for arthouse cinema.
The Berlinale runs Feb. 15-25.
The appointment of Tuttle was greeted with a sense of relief by the bulk of the international film industry, who had been concerned about the German government stepping in to shake up the Berlinale’s leadership six months ago. In the last couple of years, incumbent artistic director Carlo Chatrian, was applauded for having programmed solid lineups for the festival’s post-pandemic editions — and sported Kristen Stewart as jury president in 2023. Although nearly half of his four-year mandate was plagued by the pandemic, he won’t get a second run, along with executive director Mariëtte Rissenbeek, who has decided to retire.
Tuttle has big shoes to fill at the Berlinale. Along with succeeding Chatrian, she will also take over commercial duties from Rissenbeek, as she will be the sole chief of the festival — a role that was previously occupied by the charismatic Dieter Kosslick, who headed the Berlinale for 18 years and handled both artistic and financial matters, including sponsorship. On top of being one of the world’s biggest film festivals, the Berlinale is also home to the European Film Market, which is the second biggest global film market (after Cannes’ Marché du Film); Tuttle is charged with appointing a new EFM director, replacing current topper Dennis Ruh.
Over at leading Berlin-based sales company Films Boutique, Jean-Christophe Simon says the local film world acknowledges that Tuttle is a fitting successor to Chatrian because she has “extremely good taste as a programmer,” but there’s concerns due to the fact that “she’s not German and will have to work with the city of Berlin and sponsors.”
But Mounia Wissinger, head of marketing, distribution and publicity at shingle Protagonist, says Tuttle is the “probably best fit” for that role, given “her background, relationships and instincts.” She’s also been able to “develop the industry side of things” during her tenure at London festival, says Wissinger.
But will Tuttle’s efforts to turn the Berlinale into a glitzier and more mainstream festival dilute its iconoclastic DNA?
“The Berlinale has always been about championing authors and filmmakers, which Tricia always has done in festivals, especially at the BFI festival, which showcased a huge range of films,” says Wissinger, adding that Tuttle “does champion filmmakers and authors and can also look at titles that are more gala-friendly.”
If anyone can achieve this tricky equilibrium, it might be Tuttle, according to multiple industry figures. “[Tuttle’s] a real class act, has great taste and did a terrific job with the London Film Festival in finding the balance between giving the festival a profile and being a champion for new talent,” says Danny Perkins, the head of production and distribution banner Elysian Film Group and former StudioCanal U.K. CEO.
Although the London event is seen more as a “best of the fests” stop on the circuit and doesn’t have the profile of a Cannes or Toronto, Tuttle still managed to convince a number of studios to premiere their biggest titles in the British capital, while also growing its audience 76% since 2019. In 2022, the festival boasted the most world premieres in its history, including the Oscar-winning “Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio” and “Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical.” But for many attendees, nothing will quite beat 2021, when the LFF opened with “The Harder They Fall,” a premiere that shocked most at London’s Royal Festival Hall when both Jay-Z (he was a producer) and Beyoncé showed up (and later appeared — behind some beefy security — at the festival afterparty).
Tuttle is also known for having eclectic tastes in movies. Her top 10 list of the greatest films of all time includes classics from Ingmar Bergman (“Persona”) and G.W. Pabst (“Pandora’s Box”), as well as Céline Sciamma’s “Portrait of a Lady on Fire” and James Cameron’s “Terminator.”
Chatrian, meanwhile, has proven this year that the Berlinale could boast real star power as many A-listers and Oscar hopefuls will attend the festival with their new films, notably Cillian Murphy with the opening night movie “Small Things Like These,” and Carey Mulligan, who will be there to present the Netflix sci-fi drama “Spaceman,” along with Adam Sandler, and Martin Scorsese, who will receive the Honorary Golden Bear. Kristin Stewart’s Sundance hit “Love Lies Bleeding” will screen alongside Hunter Schafer starrer “Cuckoo,” while other star pics include “Another End,” with Gael Garcia Bernal and Berenice Bejo, “La Cocina” with Rooney Mara, “Treasure” with Lena Dunham and Stephen Fry and “A Different Man” with Sebastian Stan.
But, ultimately, notes Films Boutique’s Simon, the Berlinale isn’t meant to play in Cannes or Venice’s league because “it’s got a different idea of cinema than other [top tier] festivals.” Chatrian, who previously headed Locarno festival, says the editorial differences are “not just because of [him] but also because of the fact that we are in the city of Berlin — a big city that is very vibrant and very political.
“Of course, these films aren’t the usual suspects. … The strength of our lineup is that we are supporting independent cinema in a different way,” Chatrian adds.
Looking at the Berlin Film Festival’s track record during the awards season, it’s clear Cannes and Venice traditionally have the lion’s share of nominated movies, but the Berlinale is also often in the mix. This year, for instance, the five contenders for international feature at the Oscars include Germany’s Oscar entry, “The Teachers’ Lounge,” which premiered in its Panorama section, where Sony Pictures Classics acquired it.
Dylan Leiner, Sony Classics’ executive VP of acquisitions and production, says the Berlinale remains crucial because “buyers and sellers agree that having a third market in the year is important,” and it’s also a festival that programs movies that other festivals don’t and it doesn’t shy away from movies with political and cultural subjects.
“We often discover top-quality movies with awards potential there,” he says, citing “The Teachers’ Lounge.”
Besides the leadership reshuffle, the Berlinale will also face major changes in 2025 when it will lose screening venues in Potsdamer Platz. The Arsenal cinema and the Deutsche Kinemathek are set to move out of the Filmhaus due to rent hikes and expiring contracts next year, further diminishing the number of centralized venues; and the future of the Berlinale Palast as the fest’s main theater is also up in the air.
Aside from dealing with the festival’s artistic issues, Tuttle will have to cope with a severe government budget crisis that could make further fest budget reductions and cuts likely, and involve some crucial negotiations with the city of Berlin and other stakeholders.
“Berlin is a different breed than London or even Cannes,” says Simon, “because it’s a festival created for the public, so it’s not just about pleasing the international press with stars and glamorous movies, it’s about attracting German audiences to come see a wide range of films in different sections.”
Much like other festivals, however, the Berlinale is being challenged by the ripple effects of the pandemic as film companies and sponsors tighten their purse strings. With these constraints in mind, Wissinger says Tuttle will have to “remind people that festivals are key in the [marketing] strategy for a film and are a key part of the life and the celebration of films.”
Ed Meza, Alex Ritman and Nick Vivarelli contributed to this story.