The Berlin Talent Campus: Playing in the Pregnant Oyster

By Thessa Mooij

haus-der-kulturen-der-welt-sabine-wenzel.jpgHaus der Kulturen der Welt, © Sabine Wenzel

A major new initiative at this year’s film festival offers a hothouse creative environment for the next generation

Before the Berlin International Film Festival moved to the glitzy, post-Fall Potsdamer-platz, its hub used to be the Pregnant Oyster, as the Haus der Kulturen der Welt is affectionately called by the locals. Now, the House of World Cultures will live up to its name again during the festival this February when it hosts the Berlinale Talent Campus, a five day workshop for 500 international filmmakers.

The campus is the brainchild of Dieter Kosslick, whose signature emerges strongly in his second year as head of the film festival. His first edition was marked by the post 9-11 motto 'Accept Diversity'; now he will put that opinion into practice with the Talent Campus, which he has set up as a opportunity for cross-pollination of cultures and storytelling traditions. As a former journalist, he has headed the Hamburg and most notably the NRW (Nordrhein-Westfalen) film funds, where he co-produced many international projects. Vertigo spoke to him in London, where he was a guest of the Goethe Institute and the Raindance festival.

dieter-kosslick.jpgDieter Kosslick

Thessa Mooij: In your twenty years at the film funds, thousands of scripts must have landed on your desk. Presumably, you only need to read a couple of pages to know what kind of script it is, and where it's going.

Dieter Kosslick: It can be very tricky to base financing on the basis of the script alone. That's why I have always focused on making German writers more professional by organising workshops with experienced writing teachers like Frank Daniel (USC, Los Angeles). I felt it was crucial that screenwriters learn the rules of the game. Only when you know how to write a classic script with plot and subplot, with 'planting' and 'pay-offs', can you start to experiment.

TM: But if you look at countries that have produced very strong films on the basis of their own traditions, like China, Taiwan and Iran, how would they benefit from Western storytelling and the Talent Campus?

DK: Of course there will always be film that seemingly come out of nowhere and tell stories in their own way. Contemporary Indian cinema uses dramatic structures with a logic of their own. Eastern European filmmakers deal with the harsh conditions in their countries by adopting pitch-black dry humour, or embracing full-on psychedelia. Of course, all that has nothing to do with professionalism. But when those filmmakers want to reach an audience beyond their own borders, it won't hurt if they know how films are being made internationally.

TM: How are you going to put that into practice?

DK: We have to select the filmmakers on the basis of creating a discussion, for example about how different cultures deal with screenwriting. I've been reading some Moroccan literature lately, in which doors and windows constantly open to reveal new worlds. Their sense of language is very refined in the way that Shakespeare's was. Nowadays, no one in the English languages uses as many words as Shakespeare did – language in scripts gets condensed and reduced. By working with partners like the Film Council (UK), the Script Factory (UK), the Pitch Point (Berlin) and by getting festival guests – well-known filmmakers – to talk about their work, we can hopefully create some sort of crossover.

TM: In your twenty years as a film financier, have you ever seen too much focus on script development?

DK: When I was a journalist, some articles got researched to death, so to speak. If the foundations of a story are solid, you have to stop at some point. A writer should never forget that they only have 90 minutes to tell a story and to show its different dimensions. Unfortunately, screenplays and films often diverge into a thousand different directions, so no one knows which storyline to follow anymore.

I would love to show a film that has been edited in three different ways, so that people can see how one script can produce several films. I've just read an interview with a director who did a remake and he still lost the plot! He admitted that he could have made an entirely different film from exactly the same material. It would be so exciting if we could have someone talk about that process, someone like George Sluizer, (who made both European – Spoorloos – and American – The Vanishing – versions of the same script).

The Talent Campus will also show writers that there are other non-technical aspects, such as pitching. You have to be able to talk people into actually reading your script in a brief, comprehensive way.

TM: So how would you summarize the reasoning behind the Campus?

DK: I see it as a playground for curious people, almost like a fair, rather than a film school. The participants should be open to that idea. It won't be as simple as finding a seat and waiting for the next lunch break. They will have to participate actively. Otherwise it'll be boring.

'Boring' is a concept that Kosslick rather likes to avoid. He puts on his coat but doesn't leave before signing a self-penned book on the history of the bagel. New titles, on coffee and pastries, are on the way. He heads off then to Luini's bakery on Theobald's Road, one of his latest discoveries. Talent is everywhere; you just have to look for it.

The Talent Campus takes place from 10-14 February during the Berlin International Film Festival 2003.

Thessa Mooij is a screenwriter and journalist. She lives in Brooklyn.