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Film Festival 101 with Mariette Rissenbeek

I N T E R V I E W  |  O C T .  2 8 ,  2 0 2 2

Going into my third interview, I was able to noticeably improve on my previous shortcomings. For instance, my ability to improvise questions that build on statements as the interview progressed was something that I was able to make use of while interviewing a festival director, which is a profession in which I have the least amount of experience. However, I could’ve improved on asking questions that covered a variety of topics rather than a variety of questions on the same topic. Regardless, I was still able to have an incredibly insightful conversation with Mariette Rissenbeek, the director of the Berlin International Film Festival.

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In the film industry, the biggest and most prestigious film festivals are often referred to as the “Big Three” which comprise the Cannes Film Festival, the Venice Film Festival, and the Berlin International Film Festival. Although Cannes and Venice are considered to be more prestigious, Mrs. Rissenbeek informed me that Berlin is the largest of the three making it one of the largest film festivals in the world, selling on average around 300,000 tickets every year. I was stunned, to say the least. In North America, I always assumed that perhaps TIFF or Sundance was the largest considering how much news coverage and internet attention they get. With this knowledge, I was curious to find out how the festival prepares for these many attendees. I was surprised to hear how meticulous the early stages of planning the festival are.

For example, small details such as what month the festival happens can greatly affect numerous parties such as attendees, celebrities, and filmmakers. Mrs. Rissenbeek noted how Venice and Cannes take place in the summer whereas Berlinale takes place in February during the winter. This means that planning out events such as the red carpet can be tough since the weather could cause unforeseen issues. Furthermore, the fact that the festival takes place in February can be beneficial for filmmakers who are planning on submitting their films to the Academy Awards. Since the festival is Oscar-qualifying, screening one's film at the festival can allow for numerous strategies for getting into other prestigious festivals and working their way up with the amount of time they have. As someone who has a similar goal with future projects, this bit of advice was extremely helpful in helping me discern an appropriate festival strategy for future films, as thinking about when and where your film will debut can greatly affect your chances of building off of your success.

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As for the more general checklist for preparation, Mrs. Rissenbeek gave me a long and in-depth look into the other responsibilities of a festival director. Because Berlinale is such a large event in the city of Berlin, contacting the city, as well as local venue owners, is a priority that must be addressed first. This can mean getting permits to hold events inside venues that you must secure ahead of time. After these duties are taken care of, festivals need to reach out to news outlets and celebrities to attend the festival, allow press accreditation to specific attendees, market their festival, select films, appoint jurors, hire festival workers, and work with technicians to ensure screenings will run smoothly. I always knew that a lot of preparation goes into festivals, but these answers changed my perception of film festival directors, showing how much more goes into planning events than I realize.

The information that Mrs. Rissenbeek gave me is something that I will most certainly need to retain, as it can help me in more ways than I think. As someone also interested in the field of the business of film, the practical knowledge of what experience is useful for working your way up to being a festival director can help me find jobs in the industry that isn't just directing. However, the biggest takeaway I had during this conversation was film festival strategies. Campaigning your film is something that I always overlooked when planning out a production schedule. Figuring out what time of the year and which festivals can open which doors could take a lot of careful analysis, but is something that will get me ahead of others and is something that I will be taking forward with me. My next steps after this interview would be to contact more festival directors and film directors who went to film festivals to gain more information about festival campaigns and marketing strategies for short and feature films. Anyone can make a life-changing work of art, but if they can’t market it properly, no one would ever see it.

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