After 30 years at the Berlin International Film Festival, Wieland Speck will be celebrating his 20th year as head of the festival's Panorama section next year. While he was in Seoul on his annual film hunting trip around the region, Jean NOH met with him to talk about his thoughts on Korean cinema, the Berlinale audiences and how he programs for them.
KCT: How important for you is this annual trip around Asia, after the American Film Market (AFM)?
Speck: For me, the trips to Asia and South America are very important trips because there are so many amazing filmmakers and they are inspiring the Western filmmaking a lot. The European view on the world, especially the Western European view on the world, is a little bit like simmering in the same broth for many years now. And then, yes, we already have the most interesting film countries in the world [in Asia].So having our eyes out for where inspiration lurks, this is what we definitely need for our culture in general, but also for the filmmaking.
KCT: When you program the Panorama, are you looking for a sort of cross-fertilization between cultures? The films that you program from say, Slovakia and the films that you program from Korea, how would you say they are similar or different?
Speck: That depends, they can be very similar or worlds apart. This is very difficult to say because it's always also about the personality of the filmmakers. But often enough the personality's shaped due to cultural or political circumstances.It's the perspective that changes through these new films. It is just fantastic to see how culture can show, like an avant-garde feeling of society where we will develop to. Because we have to question all the roles that we play again and again and again. And if films do that, then they are of course very good for our specific festival and my specific program because we have in Berlin an audience that is fortunately smart enough and critical enough. They want something to chew on. And this is the reason why I still do it for so many years. That audience!
KCT: What are some of the memorable Korean films you have shown?
Speck: Coming into Seoul, I was thinking of this wonderful dinner we once had with Im Kwon-taek
in one of these beautiful old palaces that you have in this city. Im Kwon-taek
's work was the first that brought Korean films to my attention. His work including "Chunhyang"
and "Mandala" were in Berlin many times, in Panorama, Competition and the Forum.
, also, Kim Ki-duk
, of course, one of the strongest filmmakers of the '00 years in my opinion. Lee Song-hee-il
's "No Regret
", supposedly the first gay film from Korea which I happily showed in Berlin, of course, because we have a queer film award, which I also founded. This year, it was the 25th anniversary of the Teddy Awards.
I had in 1996, Park Chul-soo
's"301, 302" and LEE Min-yong's "A Hot Roof" in Berlin and these films were also very important to open the door to Korean cinema in the West. Because this was before the Korean Wave started.
Of course last year I had "The Unjust
", "Dance Town
" and "Life is Peachy
". Sometimes I have three films from Korea in a year, which is a lot from one country in a world cinema program. It's quite a lot.
KCT: In terms of what you are seeing for your selection, how would you compare Korean cinema with the cinema of other Asian countries?
Speck: Korean films are like, if it's not the sweet side of cinema - if it's not so sweet that it's hard to digest for people from Berlin who are rather savory [laughs], but the daring side, or the – it's not experimental at all in terms of what we say is "experimental". The films are not experimental at all in Korea. But they experiment with the tastes of genre and the tastes of romance in a way that only Korean cinema does. So it's quite quickly distinguishable. That's one of the most enjoyable things about cinema, that you have all these distinct elements to each culture, much more than other arts, because cinema is the art form that is most direct.
KCT: What are the audience reactions like to the Korean films you screen? Can you often predict what their reactions will be like?
Speck: When I watch a film, the main thing I do is, I try to be all the segments of my audience and see how they deal with it, and I'm part of that audience. Korean cinema is kind of non-predictable, which probably has to do with the selection that we make as well, because I'm looking for non-predictable films most of the time.
But this is maybe why we have a slightly high percentage of Korean films. Every film is so different from the others, or at least the ones we pick. It's not the industry trade in that sense that we pick. It's more the auteur type film, and they are very distinct, and you never know what to expect and where it leads you and if there is a certain radicalness that blows your mind, or a certain calmness or depth.
So these are elements that are very difficult to say how they will play in the festival. It also needs to have the right spot within the festival framework. Do you show the film in the first half or the second half? In the daytime or nighttime? What are the other films around? A spectator doesn't think about these things much, but me, who is seeing the whole program and also the whole competition program, within this framework, I try to find the right spot for each single film – which is another fun part, actually, of the work I do.
KCT: Is there a great deal of cooperation between the many different sections of the Berlinale?
Speck: Yes. We watch films often together. I've been in the Competition committee also, for 20 years, as long as I have been the head of Panorama. And for ten years, every section head is in the Competition committee. So we watch the films together and we try to figure out which would be the best for the film and the best for the program. And the combination of these two optimum decisions will be the best for everyone. We go from film to film and see what would be best, and we hope that it works. I mean, there we are, as helpless as any distributor or buyer or producer. You start in believing something and you hope that it will work. But it only shows when you have an audience to react to it, what actually will happen.
KCT: Can you break down your audience for us? General audiences, film industry professionals and so on?
Speck: I show the film four times, so in the first screening, you have 60 – 70% professionals, and in the next screening you have 40 – 50% professionals, and then 30 – 40% in the next. The others, the non-professionals, are Berliners or cineastes that come from all over the world.
But the professionals are again split up into international press, buyers, festival programmers. These are the main groups of the professional audience, but then of course all kinds of film institutions, etc. are coming.
And I'm trying to find the films that will, for one, reflect the idea and character of Panorama, but at the same time, I always want to challenge that as well, so this will never become a structure I feel encaged in. So you always try to astonish, because this is the best that I can do and I hope to be astonished, too, along withthe audience.