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"Labours of Cinema are always Labours of Love"

This year, we received an incredible 2,255 applications from 116 countries. New to our selection committee is critic and alumnus Wilfred Okiche, who joined film curator and programmer Rebecca de Pas, sales agent Gabor Greiner and critic Dana Linssen for the rigorous process of finding the final 200 Talents. After their two months in the screening room, we caught up with them to get their thoughts on Berlinale Talents' significant birthday and this year's applications.

Clockwise from top left: Dana Linssen, Gabor Greiner, Wilfred Okiche and Rebecca de Pas.
Clockwise from top left: Dana Linssen, Gabor Greiner, Wilfred Okiche and Rebecca de Pas.

This year is Berlinale Talents’ anniversary edition. What do you think makes the initiative unique and still relevant after twenty years?

G: As Berlinale Talents has grown into adulthood, it has gone through several changes and adjustments, always keeping a close look at trends and developments in the audiovisual sector. That's why it has been able stay so young and energetic. By keeping the focus on exchange and common experiences whilst building up a global and widespread network of film professionals, the programme is just as relevant and useful as ever before – and this shines through in the consistently high number of applications.

W: A happy 20th to Berlinale Talents! As far as I can see, Berlinale Talents is the most important and influential training and networking programme for mid-career film professionals in the world. Just look at the impressive alumni list. Whenever there are announcements about major film festivals or awards, there are Berlinale Talents alumni in the mix. It speaks to the integrity and thoughtfulness of the selection process, which I am now part of. I met an incredibly rigorous and inclusive process that strives to gather the best of the best, regardless of provenance, and helps them access networking and training opportunities. 

R: The idea that brought Berlinale Talents into being is more relevant now than ever. To welcome the creatives involved in filmmaking from all around the world seems to me the best cure against the standardisation of cinema. The diversity and variety of form and languages that we encounter during the selection process is always a source of joy for me.

D: Programmes like Berlinale Talents are, in 2022, even more important than they were before. Our worlds have become more interconnected, and created space for a great awareness about the positionalities of filmmakers, and the stories and voices that are underrepresented, underserved and unheard. Berlinale Talents is a space for encounters and exchanges, to listen and to learn, a crossroads in the hectic film, media and festival world, which tries to be a place for radical openness and trustful opacity at the same time. We need these places more than ever, chance and change meetings, unexpected inspirations, new questions, to innovate our art, but also to heal the world.

Wilfred, it’s your first year on the selection committee, but not the beginning of your relationship with Talents. Tell us about your development from Talent to Juror.

W: I joined Talents Durban in 2017 and have been part of the family since then. It has been one of the best things that's happened to me. I had been writing about film for a few years, but Durban was my first international film festival experience and it convinced me that I was doing the right thing. I met Christine Tröstrum [Berlinale Talents Project Manager] there and she urged me to apply for Berlinale Talents, which I did, twice before I was eventually selected in 2019. The Berlinale was on another level. Talent Press was hard work but also plenty of fun. My cohort was incredibly talented and experienced, great people who have remained friends. During lockdown last year, I was asked to first choose, then mentor the Durban Talents. From there I was asked to join the selection committee for Berlinale Talents, which I consider a real privilege. It's been very rewarding diving into the submissions from filmmakers and creatives around the world and working with a great team of colleagues. I am both humbled and excited.

Obviously, there has been huge upheaval in the world these last years. Have you noticed this reflected in this year’s submissions, in particular recurring themes or common characteristics?

G: The beauty of this year’s applications is the positive energy and motivation that the candidates managed to keep despite the challenges within the industry worldwide: I was so happy to feel that filmmakers have not given in to the overall negative mood and kept on being creative and playful whilst reflecting on the current situation and its challenges.

W: The last two years have been traumatising for everyone. In some ways, artists are privileged because they can look to their art as a conduit for processing the overwhelming feelings of their time. A lot of the submissions reflect the wake of Covid, it would be false not to respond to this. Some of it has been direct, clips of people wearing face masks etc, but applicants have also addressed their personal and professional challenges, how Covid has heightened them and how they are navigating these new realities. All of these anxieties, concerns and vulnerabilities were represented in the submissions. As a committee, we took account of this during selections and tried to respond to it the best way we knew how to.

R: There is indeed a lot of concern about the ongoing pandemic in every country and in every field of work. Above all the film community is asking itself what are the already visible scars that this virus is leaving. The recrudescence of violence and discrimination that the pandemic accelerated is a recurring topic in the applications.

What have you found particularly outstanding in this year’s submissions?

G: What really touched me this year was the persistence and perseverance of certain applicants. It is not easy to get selected, some candidates have been trying for many years but have managed to keep their energy, and motivation, returning yet again with new samples of their work – and many of them will receive good news this year!

W: The privilege of delving into different worlds created by the talented people who trust us with their submissions will never not be exciting to me. I am a big believer in the ability of film to bridge cultures and help people understand one another so this has been a huge learning process for me. Learning about the similarities between, say, the Malaysian film industry and Nollywood where I come from, or the small and large ways that icons like Jane Campion and Pedro Costa for instance influence cinema in their respective countries. There are filmmakers and voices here who will no doubt become industry leaders in the future, it's an endless thrill!

R: There is a great awareness of the crucial moment we are living in and a lot of questioning the role of cinema in the construction of a more sustainable and fair society, and an incredible willingness of sharing experiences with peers and to meet again in a physical space.

The theme of Berlinale Talents 2022 is “Labours of Cinema”. What does it mean to you?

G: To me it means what the magic and power of cinema can achieve and how it can help to not only change mentalities and educate but also to transform, enchant or simply entertain.

D: Labours of cinema are always labours of love. We cannot create if it is not out of love, and like love, these labours are multifaceted and colourful and sometimes painful. A labour can be hard work, or a test of our endurance. It can be gratifying to see the result but sometimes the process alone makes it worthwhile. Working in cinema becomes a kind of philosophy of life, and for the etymologists among you: there is love in philosophy, too.

W: For me I think that it calls for a reflection on all of the work, both seen and unseen that goes into creating moving pictures and bringing them to the audiences that they are made for. It is a celebration of the creative work, sure, but also the emotional, psychological and structural efforts.

R: Since I started to work with cinema, in the middle of the 2000s, there have been many changes. The arrival of high standard digital cameras and the dissemination of broadband internet changed all the labours of cinema greatly. To me it is exciting to see in each application the amount of love, time and dedication that filmmakers put into their specific field of work, the craft put into each detail. It is so moving and remains the clearest evidence that cinema still has its magic, in spite of all the turmoil. Aside from this more direct idea of common labour in creating a piece of art, it is also important to underline how in the last year there is more consciousness about the need to create a safer and more inclusive work environment. I look forward to this year's Talents discussing it.

Wilfred Okiche is one of the most influential critics working in the African culture space. He has attended critic programs and reported from film and theatre festivals in Locarno, Rotterdam, Stockholm and Sundance. Wilfred has worked on the selection teams for the Encounters International Documentary Festival in South Africa and the Africa International Film Festival (AFRIFF) in Lagos. For two years now, Wilfred has mentored fast rising film critics at Talents Durban. This is his first year on the selection committee of Berlinale Talents. His writing has appeared in Variety, IndieWire and Senses of Cinema among other publications. He is a member of FIPRESCI and has participated in juries at the Berlinale and the Carthage film festival. He tweets from@drwill20

After his studies of Cultural Management in Vienna, Birmingham and Chicago, Gabor Greiner worked as a journalist and film critic. In 2003, he moved to Brussels to take charge of the distribution support department of the MEDIA Program at the European Commission’s Film Fund. In 2009, Gabor became acquisitions executive at the international sales agent, The Match Factory. In August 2010, Gabor moved to Berlin to take over acquisitions of the French-German sales company, Films Boutique, winner of the Golden Bear in 2017 and 2020 and the Golden Lion in 2011 and 2016. Gabor is a member of the European Film Academy.

After graduating in cinema studies with a dissertation on “Eurimages and the New European Cinema” Rebecca De Pas started working for festivals in 2004, at the Bologna Film Archive. After different experiences in Italy, France and Spain, in 2009, she joined FID Marseille where she served for 11 years as programmer as well as co-head of the FID Lab, the international co-production platform.  In 2018 she became program advisor for the Viennale and starting by September 2019 Rebecca joined Visions du Réel team as programmer. She is also participating in the selection committee for the Berlinale Talents program.  In the past, she has been mentor for the Feature Expanded Training Program, artistic director of the Journées Cinématographiques Dionysiennes, manager of the training program Ex Oriente Film and  she collaborated in the programming of La Roche sur Yon IFF and as matchmaker for the Orizzonti section of the Venice IFF.

Dana Linssen is a film critic for NRC Handelsblad and de Filmkrant, curator of the IFFR Critics' Choice, and teacher athletes the HKU and ArtEZ academies for the arts from The Netherlands. Currently she is also working as a quarter master for the new talent development institute FilmForward and writing a theatre play for Het Zuidelijk Toneel.