Film festivals can compete with smartphones: Berlinale chief

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Berlin (AFP)

Film festivals still have a bright future in a world in which more audiences watch movies and television series on smaller and smaller devices, the veteran head of Germany's Berlinale says.

The pageantry of stars on the red carpet, the magic of a premiere with a giddy crowd, the glory of a big screen and surround sound -- Berlin film festival director Dieter Kosslick said true cinema-lovers would in the long run never settle for anything less.

"Our huge ticket sales show that there is still a strong desire to see films in a theatre with other people, and to share reactions to it afterwards," he told AFP, pointing to the more than 500,000 seats filled during last year's 11-day event.

In an interview ahead of the February 11-21 festival, Europe's first major cinema showcase of the year, Kosslick said that younger viewers who grew up binge-watching television series were actually developing longer attention spans thanks to multi-chapter plot lines.

He said a hunger for rich stories and elaborate productions were in many cases luring audiences away from smartphones and tablets.

"There's a lot in our society that could stand to be slowed down," he said.

"And that will create a reverse trend. It can't be that everyone stays addicted to a little machine they carry around in their pockets."

- Sweet-talking Streep -

Kosslick, 67, said the Berlinale was appealing to an evolving audience by also putting a spotlight on ambitious TV series, while giving them the full cinema treatment on big screens in darkened theatres.

"At the same time, there are feature films that really take their time to tell a complete story," he said, pointing to a trend toward longer movies such as "The Revenant" which led this year's Oscar nominations, and Quentin Tarantino's opus "The Hateful Eight", which was made to be seen in a giant format.

Kosslick is credited with strongly boosting the international profile of the Berlinale since he took the reins in 2001, winning fans for his quirky humour and stellar connections in Hollywood.

The Berlinale, now in its 66th year, is the only major festival to sell tickets for all of its featured films to the public.

It will open with Joel and Ethan Coen's all-star romp "Hail, Caesar!" and screen movies with Colin Firth, Nicole Kidman, Jude Law, Emma Thompson, Don Cheadle, Kirsten Dunst and Adam Driver, to name a few.

However he admitted that persuading Meryl Streep to head up this year's Berlinale jury was likely the biggest feather in his cap.

"Meryl Streep has been a guest of the festival several times and when we gave her the Honorary Golden Bear in 2012 for lifetime achievement, she told me she'd like to stay in Berlin at some point for a bit longer," he said.

"Of course that means for a festival director: ask her! She could have said no but we got lucky -- we didn't know if she would have two weeks free for us."

Kosslick said beyond the German capital's reputation for creative buzz, the festival's own standing as a key launchpad for topical international cinema had likely also appealed to the three-time Oscar winner.

"If you know her career, you know she's a politically engaged actress and so perhaps she thought that the Berlinale wouldn't be a bad festival to be jury president for the first time."

Last year's Golden Bear for best picture went to Iranian dissident director Jafar Panahi for "Taxi", an innovative movie made in defiance of an official ban.

- A woman successor? -

In light of a raging debate about sexism and unequal pay in the movie business, Kosslick said festivals too had a responsibility to ensure diversity.

Of the 18 films vying for this year's Golden Bear, two were made by women.

As his tenure winds down, Kosslick called it "problematic" that in the history of the A-list festivals since World War II, including Cannes, Venice and Berlin, none had had a female chief.

"I think it is our duty as cultural institutions to stand up for equality," he said.

"I believe in quotas for women -- not because I think quotas are intelligent but because it's the only thing that works."

Asked whether he would consider staying on after his current contract runs out in three years' time, Kosslick demurred.

"That's a question for shareholders," he said.

"In 2019 I'll be 70 and I have a small child. But until then, it's Berlinale all the way."