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Berlinale 2012: European Film Market Director Beki Probst Speaks

beki probstIn 2012, the Berlinale had another successful year as the largest audience-oriented international film festival by selling 299,362 tickets. Total professional accreditations came close to 20.000 including 3.800 members of the press. 402 films were featured in its public programs  and 760 were seen at the European Film Market.

The festival continues to expand each year, yet over the last year the strongest growth has been experienced by the European Film Market under the direction of Beki Probst. Appointed in 1988 as the Director of the Film Fair for the Berlinale,

Probst promptly renamed it the European Film Market. Her prior experience included work for the Locarno Film Festival and representation of the Berlinale in Turkey and Greece.  Born in Istanbul, Probst pursued studies in law and journalism.

Her 25 years as director resulted in the  transformation of the EFM into one of the three most important global film markets, with it now considered by many observers to be on par with the American Film Market and Cannes and it ranks as the most important market for independent and art house productions.

In 2012 about 8000 professionals from 100 countries were accredited at the market, a 15 % increase over 2011 in spite of the economic crisis.

1,739 buyers reviewed the latest productions amounting to 760 films of which 600 were market premieres and 31 in the 3D format. 400 exhibitors represented 408 companies from 55 countries.  

Among noteworthy features of the market were the expanded EFM market venues at the Marriott, the EFM Industry Debates, panels on cross media distribution attracting over 1,000 participants, the Berlinale co-production market, and the allied world cinema fund.

Seminars run with the European Documentary Network as well as a new special lounge for American independents set up in collaboration with Sundance and IFP placed additional emphasis on documentaries.

CM: It seems that the EFM is frequently identified as the single most successful component of the Berlinale. What accounts for that achievement? 

Beki Probst, EFM Director: There are quite a few successful programs and initiatives at the Berlinale, among them the Berlinale Talent Campus, the World Cinema Fund or the Berlinale Co-Production Market. What is special at the European Film Market is the exceptional growth following the move to the Martin-Gropius-Bau in 2006. The Market established itself almost at once as one of the top three international film markets in the world. And it kept growing steadily since then, and has become a must-attend event for the industry. We aim to keep it that way…

CM: How do you assess the impact of new production technologies such as 3D and internet distribution platforms on your market business? 

BP: New technologies and trends in digital distribution are still hot topics in the industry. While the number of 3D films at the EFM was stable or even slightly up (from 29 films in 2011 to 31 in 2012), we had to adapt quickly to the big changeover from 35mm to digital formats. This year, around 70% of the submitted films were digital.

As far as it concerns the quality of the film itself, it’s still the same formula – a bad film won’t sell well at the Market, whether it’s 3D or not. 

CM: At one point you suggested that too many films are produced. Is there a limit to how many films can be absorbed by the European Film Market and how would you curtail submission if that is required?

BP: There are certainly limits to the number of films being screened at the Market. We don’t aim to rent more and more facilities scattered throughout Berlin, in order to offer more and more screening slots. With more than 1.000 screenings during 9 days, the schedules are pretty tight already.

Most companies want to have their films screened at the first weekend. But as the day has only 24 hours for buyers, too, there is a limit to what they are able to watch during these days and between plenty of meetings in addition…There are certain criteria and regulations for the films we screen at the EFM – first and foremost, if the entered film is part of the official festival programme and/or a market premiere.

CM: Various EFM initiatives seem to indicate a greater emphasis on documentaries. Will that trend to continue during the next years?

BP: We have established the documentary networking platform Meet the Docs in 2009. As it was received well right from the beginning, we developed this initiative further by extending the meeting place and offering more information sessions. It is going well in view of the rising number of documentaries being made and more and more documentary people like producers and filmmakers attending the Market. 

CM: Compared to the 2011 EFM do you detect in the 2012 EFM important differences?

BP: Despite all talk of an economic crisis, we were sold out very quickly this year. Both our locations – the Martin-Gropius-Bau and the Marriott - were fully booked in December. Another difference in 2012 was that some companies have left the national umbrellas and set up with their own stand, and more Asian companies were participating.

However, the big leap compared to 2011 was the changeover from 35mm to digital screening formats – as mentioned above. We strongly focus on keeping up to date and respond swiftly to new developments in technology to accommodate our client’s demands. We invested especially in cinema equipment this year, and were able to provide a total of 39 state-of-the-art cinemas, 31 of them digitalized.

CM: Since you assumed direction of the EFM 23 years ago, what do you consider the most significant changes you introduced?

BP: Move to the Martin-Gropius-Bau

CM: And what was the single biggest problem you encountered?

BP: I think it’s hard to define one single biggest problem over a period of more than two decades. Of course, like in any other job there were quite a few challenges and surprises to manage and especially technical developments to adapt to. And there are global financial crises, which affect the industry and you need to see how it affects the Market, too.

One of the biggest changes and challenges of the last ten years was certainly the move from the Debis Atrium to the Martin-Gropius-Bau in 2006. It was not only about setting-up a new infrastructure in an art museum, but to organize a market which doubled from one year to the next. A very exciting endeavour

CM: What sets the EFM apart from the American Film Market and the Cannes market?

BP: Unlike most other film markets, the EFM operates in close proximity - both spatially and in terms of co-operation - to the Festival. It’s a symbiotic relationship. This also includes the Berlinale audience, acknowledged as one of the Festival’s greatest features.

Every year it seems like the whole city turns out to see the films on offer providing the filmmakers with an immediate and popular voice in the reception of their work. This reflects back on the Market as well. To have a festival with this kind of public is a very important part of Berlin.

The sellers are very interested in attending public screenings where they get the reaction from a real audience. Furthermore, the EFM is the year’s first trade and meeting platform for the international film industry, where trends of the upcoming film year and business is reflected.

Julie Delpy & Alexia Landeau Talk "2 Days in New York" during Tribeca Film Fest

Julie Delpy in Two Days In New York

What happened to French politesse? Judging by that country’s presidential debates preceding François Hollande’s triumph over Nicolas Sarkozy – and by the Gallic gall featured in 2 Days in New York -- it’s been replaced by rudeness and bickering. Could the barbarous nation could use a little “civilizing mission” itself these days?

As its title hints, the new comedy from French actress-director-writer-musician Julie Delpy presents a sequel to 2 Days in Paris

Now settled on this side of the Atlantic, Marion (Delpy) has jettisoned Jack (Adam Goldberg) for journalist and radio talk show host Mingus (Chris Rock), who joins her in raising their respective offspring.

Read more: Julie Delpy & Alexia Landeau...

Interview with Lauren Greenfield: The Queen of Versailles

Lauren GreenfieldLauren Greenfield is pleased. Her latest work, The Queen of Versailles, has just played at the 15th Full Frame Documentary Film Festival to more cheer than it drew at the Sundance premiere. How fitting that Full Frame's Quinceañera would mark a girl’s coming into responsibility, via this portrait of Jacqueline Siegel, trophy wife of David “the timeshare king” Siegel.

The billionaire couple was building a 90,000 square-foot mansion -- Orlando and the country’s largest -- when the recession put the kibosh on their dream house. That the screening took place on the 100th anniversary of the Titanic’s sinking supplied an apt metaphor for this Franco-Vegas-styled hulk frozen in time.

Read more: Interview with Lauren...

Asia Society's La Frances Hui On Docs, Film & Filmmakers

la frances hui

Assistant Director of Cultural Programs La Frances Hui of the Asia Society is also its film curator. In that role she has produces many fascinating series including the recent Extreme Private Ethos: Japanese Documentaries -- which runs from March 10 to 31.

Along with her role as curator, Hui has conducted many interviews with important figures in Asian cinema, including Tsai Ming-LiangSharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, and John Woo.  

Recently I spoke with her about this new film series as well as film trends in Asia, the subtleties of documentaires, and the ins-and-outs of interviewing film makers.

Q: Could you tell us a little about yourself?

LH: I’m the film curator at the Asia Society. I don’t think I've been interviewed much. Most of the time I interview people. And there’s something liberating about interviewing people. 

Recently I interviewed Tsai Ming-liang. He made Face, Rebels of the Neon God, and I Don’t Want To Live Alone. His films are very personal, about people living lonely lives, about feeling alienated, and I was really scared before I interviewed him. I thought, "How could you talk about these things on a stage?"

I didn’t want to come off like I was asking about his personal life, even though sometimes with artists and film makers it’s part of who they are you want to talk about. These things are so dark, that it’s not something you want to pry. But then we got on stage and had a really nice conversation. Then I spent some time with him off the stage and...I could not ask [those questions] off stage, but on stage I was fine. It was like I had some sort of protection.

Q: What is your mission at the Asia Society?

LH: The mission of the Asia Society is to promote the understanding of Asia, and we are a rather unique organization. Depending on who you are you know the Asia Society as just one thing and you miss the other parts. But it’s an interesting place because we have a multi-disciplinary approach to understanding Asia.

In terms of my film program here, I want to bring really fantastic works from Asia and as much as possible bring film makers here to talk with the audience.

Q: Do you have an attraction to very personal or documentary type films?

LH: Of course, being the curator, whatever I pick reflects a little bit of myself. But I don’t think I have a preference towards documentaries, even though they just came up ... I just realized that most audiences, even cinephiles, they know fiction films from Japan much more than documentaries. 

So when you think of Japanese cinema you think of directors like Akira Kurosawa, or contemporary ones like Takashi Miike. People are not very exposed to Japanese documentaries even though it has a very long tradition and some of the film makers have influenced many other, even outside of Japan. 

For example, Shinsuke Ogawa, some people don’t know that a lot of contemporary Chinese independent film makers name him as an influence. But of course I did not program Ogawa in this series.  

I like both fiction films and documentaries, but for me, when I show documentaries, I particularly like documentaries that are interesting because of filmmaking. They’re not interesting just because it is about bombing in Afghanistan or earthquakes somewhere.

But I particularly like documentary film makers when they think about the form itself, how they should approach documenting something. So this series is particularly interesting because it takes a personal approach and they address some very important issues of documentary film making, like authority, who can tell that story and authenticity.

The Emperors Naked Army Marches resizeFor example, The Emperor’s Naked Army Marches On and Extreme Private Eros: Love Song 1974, the subjects in these films, they’re performers. So how do you approach performers in a documentary? Is it non-fiction anymore?  And then they raise questions, like responsibility. 

The film maker of Dear Pyongyang (Yang Yonghi) talks about a family separated, half in North Korea and half in Osaka, and after making the film she’s banned from entering North Korea even though her brothers still live in Pyongyang. What does it mean for them to have that part of the family’s history exposed?  The debut film of the festival, Death of a Japanese Salesman is very interesting. 

The director (Sunada Mami) is very young, it’s her debut documentary and she worked for Hirokazu Kore-eda (Nobody Knows), the acclaimed Japanese director. She decided to make this film three months after the passing of her father. She had been making home videos since the age of 15 abd she’s putting those videos together to make this film documenting the last months of her father’s life. Interestingly she speaks over the film as her father.

Obviously there’s something fictional if you’re speaking as your own father... In the film you only see the film maker for about 20 seconds, and the rest of the film is her family. So having the voice of this filmmaker is so important because she participates, the audience can hear her, so in a way she’s there as well.

Q: Why are there so many female directors in this program?

LH: To tell you the truth, I am a woman, but I was not looking for female film directors or films about women. I wanted to include these films and I didn’t even think about it until last week. Oh! It turns out my film series is heavily about women! I didn’t know that!

Q: You were just picking what was interesting.

LH: Absolutely. Death of a Japanese Salesman and Dear Pyongyang are both film about fathers, Embracing is also about a missing father, but it’s the female sensibilities shining through these films. But seriously it was so unconscious of me.

Q: What about the chronological progression in these films?  It seems each film is from a different era, from post-war, to today.

LH: The films are ordered in reverse chronological ordering of the years they were made, but really that’s just one side of this ordering. The other side is that it’s a progression of madness and obsession. If you look at Death of a Japanese Salesman, I was telling people at the opening of the series that this film is very, very sad, but it’s actually the sweetest film in the series. Death of a Japanese Salesman resize

As the series progresses, you will see that the films get darker, the subjects get more personal, and the film makers get more obsessed. So you watch the first two as preparation to see the later films. I tell people that Extreme Private Eros is a film that would leave them trembling for several days. 

Both of his [Hara Kazuo] films are very interesting because it’s like he’s staging those events. For example, in The Emperor’s Naked Army, in the film, Kenzo [Okuzaki], finds out about cannibalism during the Second World War in New Guinea in his own army unit. And he gets increasingly mad and crazy and violent. And before shooting, Hara Kazuo went to visit his former unit of soldiers and Kazuo found about the cannibalism before shooting and he thought “it’s going to be so great to capture the moment when Kenzo finds out about that.” And there’s so much staging, he’s anticipating moments of confrontation.

Q: How do these films reflect the era they were made in?

LH: Hara Kazuo is from a time where he experienced more political radicalism, so he’s probably more influenced by that. These film makers, Sunada Mami and Yang Yonghi, are sort of from the same [current] time. I think Hara Kazuo is probably more influenced by the social-political context he is from than the other ones. The other ones are more personal in a way that is their direct experiences with their families.

Q: What was it like getting the film prints?

LH: It really wasn’t that hard.  Some of the films have distribution and the distributor have the prints. Extreme Private and Embracing are two 16mm prints from the Japan Foundation Archive in Tokyo.

Death of a Japanese Salesman was a digital film done on HD cam, so it was not too complicated. Though I must say it’s such a pity that all the 16mm prints are not in great condition. These are all really important films, they need to be restored.  But of course for me, whenever the prints are available and we can show it on film, I want to show prints.  It’s a very, very different experience for me and hopefully the audience.  I know there are some people that can’t distinguish.

Q: Were the films selected before or after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami?

LH: It was after.

Q: Did it play a role in the decisions?

L: Not necessarily.  I knew from the very beginning that I wanted to do a documentary series simply because I think the audience should know more about Japanese documentaries and I didn’t want to restrict myself to the past decade, because I wanted to show a variety and bring some classics.  It’s not an extensive series, it’s a small package, but there’s coherence and a beauty about them. 

Tarachime resizeThe earthquake and tsunami didn’t really play a role.  I did try to bring a documentary about that, but I didn’t come across anything suitable.  And then for the time I had to confirm everything, I mean some of these films were probably still being made.  And also I’m not going to tell you what I don’t have that were considered.

Q: That was my next question!

LF: I cannot tell you that [laughs]! There were some really great films, but due to financial resources and the availability of those films, there were issues with the availability of those films, and we couldn’t get them.  But I’m happy with these.

Q: What directors would you like to have at the Asia Society or think deserve attention?

LH: Someone like Naomi Kawase deserves a retrospective where she comes here. That would be more proper.  She’s somebody who has such a rich repertoire of both documentaries and fiction films, I don’t understand why her films don’t really have distribution in this country.  I don’t know whether it’s some problem with female sensibilities [or] something that it’s not biting enough. She’s the most under-recognized among Japanese filmmakers.

Q: What other countries do you look at while selecting films?

LH: I like interesting films, so it’s not so much about the countries.  There are certain countries that are doing interesting work right now, there are certain countries that used to do really exciting works.  Last year I did a Thai film series because I think Thai cinema is extremely exciting right now.  And I was glad to be featuring the sort of Thai new-wave that started in late 1990’s to around 2000, a new crop of film makers made things very exciting. People usually know Thai cinema as Apichatpong [Weerasethakul]’s films, but there’s a lot more people doing really creative work. 

Nowadays, Chinese independent cinema is doing really well.  I’m not talking about commercial Chinese cinema, which is not particularly exciting, because they do all these big-budget films and they’re very generic looking, with big film stars, and it is very market driven.  The independent Chinese film makers are doing really exciting works.  And the Iranian film makers are similar.  And I think there are some interesting films coming out of other parts of South-East Asia, like Indonesia and Malaysia, as well.  I keep looking.

Q: Did the earthquake change how Japanese documentaries will be made or what the political attitudes in the documentaries will be?

LH: It’s hard to generalize because film makers, each one is a creative individual, but I feel that Japanese documentary film makers will continue to do very personal works.  It’s something they do really well...  It is hard to speak of a trend.  It’s too much responsibility to say something about that.

Dear Pyongyang has a political dimension, but it is primarily a personal film.  For some people it is very interesting because it has this North Korean aspect to it.  North Korea is very mysterious and this film brings them to that world, but it is really a film about family.  Maybe the Emperor’s Naked Army has a political dimension, but all the other ones are very personal. 

Q: Are films from Thailand more about social crusading than the ones from Pakistan and Iran or are they more personal? 

LH: The Pakistani film, Saving Face, involves activism and the film maker is like a film journalist.  And Thai films, what is very interesting about them, what I called the Thai New-Wave earlier, 1990’s to the present, is that it goes hand in hand with commercial sides and artistic sides. 

You have people like Apichatpong making art films, and then you have people making commercial works that are very interesting as well.  For example, The Iron Ladies (Youngyooth Thongkonthun) can seem crazy, but it was a big box-office success. 

Then you have people like Pen-ek Ratanaruang who seem to be somewhere in between. So I’m excited by Thai cinema because of the variety all over.  People doing very different things, very different artistic approaches, but together they contribute to a very vibrant industry.

Q: Is there any guiding figure among Japanese documentary film makers?

L: Well obviously Hara is not a household name, but people really look up to him. Even Michael Moore is a fan of Hara.  It is not like too many people know about his work, but he is truly admired.  I’m sure he has a cult following.  And even fewer people have seen Kawase’s work, but hopefully they’ll be showing more in the United States. These are masters to follow. 

Hara is not very productive; he’s not making too many films.  The last time he made a film was a few years ago (Mata no Hi no Chika, 2005) and he has long stretches when he’s not making films.  But how could he?  After making Dear Pyongyang resizesomething like Extreme Private Eros or Emperor’s Naked Army, you would need a seven -ear break.

I would watch Sunada Mami’s work. She has a babyface, but she’s actually 30 years old. I want to see what she has coming up.  And I heard that Yang Yonghi’s new film (Kazoku no Kuni) is really nice.

Q: How do you feel about film right now?

L: We have really interesting films here, and some of them are hard to find, some you can get on DVD or online, but there’s something really, really beautiful about watching films on a big screen.  And it is very painful for me, how the young generation likes to watch things on a tiny little screen. It frustrates me greatly and I don’t get much pleasure out of doing that myself.

There are a lot of venues in the city, not just the Asia Society, that allow them to have a real cinematic experience.  They should be bold and try to expose them to those experiences.It’s a great time for cinema. More than any other art form, it excites me and it still does.

I feel so exhilarated when I watch a really well made film, and it happens far more than when I consume other forms of art.

It is a good time for people in New York who watch films too, because I remember when I was in school, I went to cinema studies, and you’d read about these films being shown at major film festivals in Europe or wherever, and those films never came to New York, not to mention the other places in the United States. If they didn’t come to New York they wouldn’t go anywhere else. 

In the past few years, there’s a proliferation of cinematic events in this city.  It drives you crazy, because you cannot cover everything. You give up eventually, and it doesn’t help that some of those things can be found online and so people are not really encouraged to go out. 

But it is a good time. Whatever happens elsewhere in the world, you can see them in New York.  But the only problem is that that particular film you are dying to see might play once, and then it will be five years before it might show up again. So at the Asia Society we want to participate in making those films available.

To see Hui's interviews with Tsai Ming-Liang and other filmmakers, go to:

For more info about The Asia Society, the Extreme Private Ethos film series and more, go to

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