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‘We are looking for films in our program that will define the cinema space of the year to come’

  • Published at 09:20 pm September 3rd, 2018
Berlinale
Ms. Meenakshi Shedde and Ms. Dorothee Wenner Dhaka Tribune

Delegate Dorothee Wenner and South Asia consultant  of Berlinale Meenakshi Shedde were in conversation with Dhaka Tribune

The “Berlinale Spotlight” aims to connect the Berlin International Film Festival with filmmakers in Bangladesh, and provides a platform for information and one-to-one meetings with a delegate and a consultant of Berlinale, framed by public film screenings. Dorothee Wenner and Meenakshi Shedde were in conversation with Dhaka Tribune Showtime’s Sadia Khalid about the film selection criteria and the reason Berlinale does not get more films from Bangladesh.  

What are the criteria you look for when you’re selecting films for Berlinale?

Dorothee: That is one of the most difficult questions you’re starting with. I can tell very clearly after we have selected the film why we selected that film.We wait for the filmmakers to surprise us and influence us with their ideas of what cinema of the future is and whatoriginal content is. We look for a film that we haven’t seen before,a film that has outstanding visuals ora captivating story. So, we don’t have quota for countries, we don’t have a checklist, we don’t give points and say: “You’ve got nine out of 10 points, so we chose you.”

We take every film as an individual. Then we sometimes talk about each film for very long. Sometimes we invite films that two of us don’t like at all and the others like very much. It’s not easy to describe that you have to have this and that. The film has to be original, never before seen and have something special in it. Now what makes a film special is when it touches your heart. That’s the only fixed criteria for a curator.

Doesn’t it make the film selection process much harder; especially since you receive a huge bulk of entries?

Dorothee: It makes it harder, but also more interesting. We’re not dealing with refrigerators that we check whether the plug is alright, whether the temperature is so and so. Of course there are elements that are defined. But we are looking for films in our program that will define the cinema space of the year to come. So they have to have something pushing the boundaries. We don’t want to invite a film which we have seen two years before. 

Meenakshi: I think I’ll a little to that. Film festivals are geared towards new filmmakers. Other than selecting ready films, there are scriptwriting mentoring labs and co-production labs.There are post-production anddistribution support.There are different points in a film’s journey where different festivals offer different kinds of support. There’s this fantastically maintained film market in Goa called Film Bazar where you get mentoring for co-production. It helps make a local film international by international co-production money or mentors from different parts of the world who are very good at what they do. 

It’s a little bit easier for those films to get selected into festivals because they begin to understand how the system of festivals work, where to apply, how to apply, how to pitch etc. I have to say on the counterpoint, we have a number of films from South Asia that have not done this international festival circuit thing. We see rare films in dialects in tiny regional languages, with a very small number of people speaking that language, but very original storytelling and for us, both are very important. 

When you are through a system that’s telling you to write the script in a certain way, or telling you thisis co-production where you have French money and German money, it is bound to shape the film to make it universal in a particular way. Whereas a film that hasn’t had the benefit of all this advice,they’re just telling the story they want to tell. That’s it. It makes the film very original, a little bit rough at the edges, not very polished, but that also has a particular value to us, because we’re hearing something we haven’t heard before. So, we’re looking for a wide range of stories. It’s not like “Oh. He’s Sylheti or from Khulna.” Everything is important. 

You said in your speech that you are not getting enough films from Bangladesh. That’s one of the reasons the Spotlight is being done. Why do you think we aren’t getting enough quality submissions from here?

Dorothee: I think you can answer that better. I know enough about Bangladesh to define why this is still happening. We are coming here to encourage (film-makers). Because in your country we never came before, there isn’t that communication that we have established with Indian film-makers. We are very happy that we get this opportunity to start an interaction (with Bangladeshi film-makers). 

There’s no easy answer to this question. I would refrain from talking about it. It’s something that should come from within the country. What kind of support your country gives to its creatives, is something that needs to be looked at. Do the film-makers support each other, do the (senior) film-makers support young film-makers, how does the cultural scene, the cultural institutions support the film-making scene and how does the government support film-making and which kind of films do they support-these are questions I have, but I certainly don’t have an answer. 

Meenakshi: I think Bangladeshis have something in common with film-makers of regional languages in India. We don’t always see ourselves confidently as someone making world cinema. In our heads, we think we’re making a Bangla film or a Marathi film, we don’t think of ourselves as world cinema film-makers. So I think that confidence is lacking. 

Also, the industry is definitely not as developed as Bollywood or Tamil cinema.They have a massive industry with 250-350 feature films per year. They have the technical expertise;they’re very accomplished. But for smaller industries who don’t have that volume or infrastructure, or film schools, in our heads we think “We’re not so great that we can apply to Berlinale.”But all the others are just like you and me. It’s made for newcomers with not much experience. So, it’s for young people everywhere who don’t have an established career.It’s meant to jump start their careers.

Dorothee: Our job is to open doors at various levels. Us coming here is to say that yes there is a lot of competition, but if you want to become a film-maker and you have a really good film, this is what we’re looking for.