Bernd Buder • Programme director, FilmFestival Cottbus
“Our main focus needs to be on strengthening the connection between the film and its audience”
by Marta Bałaga
- We talked to Bernd Buder, the programme director of FilmFestival Cottbus, about this year's hybrid, or rather “dual”, edition
The 30th edition of Germany’s FilmFestival Cottbus will take place from 3-8 November (see the line-up news). There, Oleg Novković's The Living Man will celebrate its world premiere, while Ivan I Tverdovskiy's Conference [+see also:
interview: Ivan I Tverdovsky
film profile], Piotr Domalewski's I Never Cry [+see also:
interview: Piotr Domalewski
film profile] and Lina Lužyte's The Castle [+see also:
film profile] and Jure Pavlović's Mater [+see also:
interview: Jure Pavlović
film profile] will also be shown. Programme director Bernd Buder gave us the low-down on the preparations for this year’s unusual edition.
Cineuropa: How are you preparing for the hybrid edition this year?
Bernd Buder: We call it a “dual” edition. At least in German it sounds better. Nobody wants to hear this “hybrid” word any more, and “dual” suggests that there are even more things coming than before. First, we decided not to invite any guests, except from Poland, the Czech Republic and Germany. Then, the Czech Republic became a high-risk area, and now Berlin. We won't invite any filmmakers, but we will invite them to participate in the Q&As via Skype or whatever, and the idea is to have a moderator in the cinema. If in November it's still possible to have cinema screenings, they will be attended by one-third of the usual audience. In Cottbus, for two or three months, there wasn't a single case of COVID-19, so people felt safe. Now, there are some cases, and it's also a high-risk area. We will have to see what effects this will have on potential cinema-goers, but we will do everything we can to connect safety and the live cinema event.
People seem to be glad to have physical screenings again, even with all these restrictions, but what's your take on them?
Of course it's not a real festival atmosphere, but it's the best we can offer, and at least our audience can talk to the filmmakers. The idea is still to have this communication and these spontaneous reactions. I know our audience, and they always start a discussion; they can also be very direct. One filmmaker told me that some things are easier for him now – he is sitting in his European home talking about American politics, making the kinds of jokes about Trump that he wouldn't dare to if he were actually there. It can offer us a chance to talk more openly, even though it might be painful for the moderator!
This is a festival that has always shown films that really need this kind of support: small, independent, in need of attention. What can you still do for them?
We can give these filmmakers exhibition opportunities and space to show their films. At Cottbus, young filmmakers were always able to form their own communities, which would then help them in subsequent years. Now, it's not really possible to offer them new friends, so to say. There will be some online networking events, and [the industry sidebar] connecting cottbus is planning a crossover section between their participants and the young filmmakers, but I am afraid nothing is like having a beer or a coffee together. I myself have established important friendships outside of the events, when walking with others to the hotel or having breakfast by chance. Normally, that's the advantage of smaller festivals like Cottbus – at least you meet new faces. Let's not pretend we can do everything online, especially when it comes to establishing some semblance of a social life. Our main focus at the moment needs to be on strengthening the connection between the film and its audience.
How do you see this year's programme responding to all of that? I’ve heard that, given the current situation, many opted for “lighter” titles.
The main thing I’ve noticed was that the stories have got more personal. They show people in difficult situations, but they learn to assume the responsibility, and some of them even manage to turn things around. When I entered the business, Eastern European cinema was the “cinema of destiny”: spiritual, dark. It still is a bit depressing, but the protagonists do something to improve their situation. At this moment, it's kind of the perfect message. Not only because of the pandemic, but also because of the political situation in some countries. It's the only way to get things done – if you do it yourself. For me, it was always about not showing films offering some form of easy escapism. We are people with brains, so we have the possibility to act. There are many movies that try to explore the current situation, instead of providing flat messages.
So at Cottbus, instead of providing an escape, you will provide solutions?
That’s a good slogan [laughs]. In our National Hits section, sometimes it's not possible to avoid escapism, but as the situation is not that easy for most people, no one really wants easy solutions. And also, commercial cinema often offers food for thought. A good friend of mine told me that if you offer people simple films, they will watch simple films. If you offer them complicated films, they will watch these, too. It's also entertainment, especially if you wake up the next morning and are still thinking about it; in my view, the worst films are the ones you easily forget. Or you come back to the festival, saying: “In this cinema, I saw that film that really annoyed me, but somehow it’s still on my mind.” These hybrid events are a replacement, and it's not what it was before. But at the moment, it's the only way for us to communicate.
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