Mariette Rissenbeek Faces Challenges as Berlin Festival Executive Director

Ed Meza

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Making her debut as the new executive director of the Berlin Film Festival this year, Mariette Rissenbeek is facing some big challenges after taking over management duties at one of the world’s biggest public film fests.

Rissenbeek and new artistic director Carlo Chatrian succeed Dieter Kosslick, who left an indelible mark on the fest after nearly two decades overseeing both the film lineup and the event’s management. Those duties are now split between the new co-heads.

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From finding new theatrical venues, boosting the profile of German films, making the fest more attractive for young filmgoers and luring Danny Elfman to the Berlin Philarmonie as part of the Berlinale’s 70th anniversary celebrations, Rissenbeek has had her hands full.

“I always imagined the task of managing the Berlinale to be very complex and wide ranging — a great responsibility — and it has ended up being just that,” Rissenbeek says. “At the same time it’s incredibly exciting and stimulating to immerse yourself in so many new topics and to get to know the people here who all have a great deal of experience and make you feel very well cared for.

“There are so many sections to manage and you have to make sure they are all communicating and working with one another as synergetically as possible. It’s like the work of a conductor. Having this senior function is to make sure everything is well-orchestrated.”

One of the Berlinale’s biggest tests has been the closure of the CineStar Sony Center theater at Potsdamer Platz. Berlinale organizers had to find more screening venues, such as the Cubix multiplex, located at Alexanderplatz, where the festival has booked all nine screens, six more than it had previously used there.

As the former head of promotional organization German Films, Rissenbeek has long championed the domestic industry and is continuing to do so at the Berlinale, with a higher profile for the Perspektive Deutsches Kino sidebar. Films screening in the section will now enjoy splashier premieres at the iconic Kino International venue rather than unspooling at the smaller Cinemaxx theaters.

In an effort to make the festival more interesting for younger viewers, the Berlinale is introducing a new Generation 14plus prize backed by the AG Kino arthouse association. The move is aimed at promoting appreciation for cinema among young audiences.

“We’re really trying to inspire the young people who come to the festival and we are working with cinema operators to find ways to keep young people excited about film beyond just the festival,” Rissenbeek says. “That’s really important.”

She has also welcomed the arrival of MagentaTV, Deutsche Telekom’s streaming service, as a major sponsor. MagentaTV will have a big presence at the Berlinale Series sidebar and is helping expand the fest’s appeal to new festgoers and streaming audiences, Rissenbeek adds.

As part of the Berlinale’s 70th anniversary celebrations, Rissenbeek and her team worked closely with the city on a number of events in the runup to this year’s fest.

Elfman, the former Oingo Boingo frontman and famed film composer, will be taking part in the festivities, attending the German premiere of his piano quartet by the Berlin Philharmonic Piano Quartet at the Berlin Philharmonie on Feb. 16.

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