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BERLINALE 2020 EFM

Martina Bleis • Director, Berlinale Co-Production Market

“We always try to be on top of what producers and their projects need”

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- BERLINALE 2020: We spoke to the head of the Berlinale Co-Production Market, Martina Bleis, to find out what’s in store at this year’s edition of the industry event

Martina Bleis  • Director, Berlinale Co-Production Market
(© Míriam Boixader)

Starting tomorrow, this year’s Berlinale Co-Production Market (22-26 February) is ready to welcome an array of new projects, and we had a chance to talk about them with the head of the event, Martina Bleis.

Cineuropa: This is the 17th edition of the market, so it’s close to reaching “maturity”. Is it hard to stay active and vibrant by following the current trends in cinema?
Martina Bleis
: We always try to be on top of what producers and their projects need, and for this, I think experience helps, rather than hinders. We’ve always tried to incorporate trends that are useful and strong, but at the same time, we are not running after every bubble. Technical innovations, for example, do not need to be covered as a topic by us right when they occur; there are other places in the festival and the market that explore them. We can really focus on the powerful and innovative themes of the projects, or financing topics, and we also include new players and new groups that would be useful for our participants for networking purposes.

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Talking about themes, what are the major topics that the projects are dealing with this year, and are there any obvious changes from the previous editions?
One striking change over the past few years has been the emancipation of female main characters. We’ve always had many projects by female producers; we’ve also always had a larger percentage of female-directed projects than female-helmed films released, and since last year, we’ve had almost equal figures in terms of male and female directors being represented – in the Official Selection, there is even one more female director than there are males this year. Apart from women making films about women, male writers and directors are also exploring the female characters in more depth, and this still feels special. However, we usually come across female main characters with special abilities or problems, and we would like to find this becoming less noticeable as the next step, so women can become more “natural” heroines, as already happens with male characters. Family, belonging and representation are also issues that play a big role in this year’s selection. On another note, we received fewer biopics and historical projects than we did in other years.

You mentioned that in the Official Selection more than 50% of the projects are directed by women, and you also had well-balanced selections before. Do you have to carry out more extensive research to obtain these results?
No, the projects are submitted to us without any gender research going into it. We scout for good projects, not necessarily for a particular kind of representation. Of course, we do keep track of the statistics, but only after the selection is finalised. I think there are small steps that are taken at all ends – by us, by the producers who submit the works and by the participants who book the meetings – that can help even more, as everyone is more aware of the need for representation and gender equality also in funding and in the selection of films by festivals. Despite the higher number of projects by female directors selected by us, the quota of fully realised works that reach the audience has always been lower. Projects by women have long been out there, but their films have a harder time getting funding or being made, for various reasons. It is high time that even more female-directed movies get made and seen, without this being an extra “tag”.

There have also been some changes made to Co-Pro Series; what are the highlights, and how important has this section become in recent years?
Co-Pro Series itself has not actually changed – as usual, we are presenting a selection of ten exciting projects at the development and financing stages in a pitching session, and we are organising a get-together and meetings afterwards (see the news). The event has grown immensely over the years, from a two-hour slot and six projects in 2015 to two days and ten projects since last year, and about 450 selected participants, and we wish we could accommodate even more, as the demand is still very high.

With only ten projects, each of them is a highlight to us, of course! The selection includes The King’s Wives, a darkly humorous drama series by Golden Globe winner Hany Abu-Assad, dealing with modernisation in an Arab monarchy, and Dome 16, a sci-fi series from the makers of ZombieLars and Valkyrien, which took part in Co-Pro Series in its first year. And there’s Snow, a mystery-drama set in the Alps, to be directed by Barbara Albert and Sandra Wollner, whose feature The Trouble with Being Born [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Sandra Wollner
film profile
]
is screening in Encounters. We are happy that, for the first time, one of our Co-Pro Series projects is coming back to screen in Berlinale Series: FREUD, directed by Marvin Kren, which was with us as a project in 2017.

The Berlinale Series Market label (which Co-Pro Series is also a part of) has been introduced to make it more visible that Berlinale Series and the Berlinale Series Market & Conference (previously “Drama Series Days”) are connected and not actually two entirely different things – much like the festival and market here in Berlin are always closely connected.

As you’re now the only head of the Berlinale Co-Production Market, what responsibilities does it entail for you, and what are your duties? Is the organisation more decentralised?
The structure of our team and organisation has not changed very much. Luckily, we have a small but strong team where everyone is ready to take a great deal of responsibility. I do have more administrative, financial and staff matters on my desk than I did before, but that does not influence our overall orientation. Kathi Bildhauer, who used to co-head with me, is still on board running the Talent Project Market, and Henning Adam, as usual, organises Books at Berlinale. And many of our other team members also come back every year, which is wonderful. Festival work always means having a very short time to get stuck into it, and 150% commitment. In such a small team, we are centralised and decentralised at the same time, I’d say: everyone oversees his or her field responsibly, but we also try to look out for one another and take care of each other. Team spirit and actually enjoying what we are doing – despite the incredible amount of work – is probably the most important prerequisite to make our event successful, and we do our best to keep this up!

Could you also give us an overview of the other sections of the Berlinale Co-Pro Market?
In the Talent Project Market, there are again ten projects by emerging producers from around the world. The Talent Project Market selection is always very diverse, and it adds a great deal to the amazing figure of 34 countries that are represented this year in our overall selection of 36 feature-film projects. As usual, it is a great place for discoveries! At Books at Berlinale, we present 12 specially selected international books for adaptations – partly novels, but also biographical material as well as research material on a real-life criminal case that once shook the world: Stieg Larsson’s archive on the Olof Palme murder. In our framework programme, we talk about connecting successfully, using a case study on making Siberia [+see also:
film review
trailer
film profile
]
as a mainly European co-production, as well as about how to build your own network of reliable partners – your film family – when you start out and also along the way. Sustainability is an important issue, particularly in professional relationships. Also this year, our so-called “Visitors Programme”, where institutions nominate emerging producers who can then participate in some of our talk programmes and start building their international network, has grown and become more international. We’re also excited about this and curious as to which connections we will see grow out of this for the future.

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