Wieland Speck and Andreas Struck on celebrating 40 years of Panorama films.
Berlinale royalty and co-creator of the queer Teddy Awards, Wieland Speck has worked for the festival since 1982 and served as director of the Panorama section from 1992 to 2017. The Berlinale strand known for successfully reconciling wide audience appeal and daring politics is turning 40 this year. To celebrate, Speck has joined forces with long-standing collaborator and Panorama 40 co-curator Andreas Struck to whip up a special programme with films ranging from Lasse Hallström’s kid-friendly My Life As A Dog (1985) to Cyril Collard’s groundbreaking AIDS drama Savage Nights (1992). We met the pair to discuss their 40th-anniversary reflection programme, the highs and lows of the section, and the evolution of the cinematic landscape.
This special line-up includes eight fiction features and four docs. How does one go about condensing a lifetime’s programming into such a slim lineup?
Wieland Speck: It’s less about condensing and more an eclectic selection, where every film stands for a couple of others. I picked films that stuck with me, especially films that hardly anyone else recalls!
It’s not what you would call a ‘best of’?
WS: No, it’s the opposite of other retrospectives I’ve done over the years. Those had a more crowd-pleasing approach to the programming. This time I wanted to reflect on the past, which is apparently something people do once they reach a certain age! The films we picked include some big names, but this wasn’t the defining criteria. It’s more “who remembers Tsai Ming-liang’s first film Rebels of the Neon God?” (photo).
So it’s more about rediscovering forgotten gems?
Andreas Struck: The first word that Wieland said when we initially met about this programme was “obscure”. And obscure means so many things, especially thinking about filmmakers that were doing things nobody had done before – film artists and their works that burst aesthetic forms, that broke with traditions and had the courage to champion topics no one had before. Take Phil Zwickler’s and David Wojnarowicz’s Fear of Disclosure (1989), for example, a film that combats the AIDS crisis and exposes fear in a feverish loop of video images. This is in collaboration with two exhibitions at KW Institute for Contemporary Art running alongside the festival.
Looking back, what have been the highlights of curating Panorama?
WS: Panorama means 360 degrees, so we could do everything and there was never anyone to stop me from showing anything I wanted to show! It was a real luxury, and that is why I was able to do this for so long. It was a new challenge every year and my biggest motivation was that special audience we have in Berlin. The highlight was every year, because every year the festival asked me to come back! One highlight was when I travelled to South America in the late 1990s. It was not on the map film-wise at that time, and I brought back Lucrecia Martel’s The Swamp for Competition. That was a bit of a watershed moment, when people started paying more attention to what is happening in that part of the artistic world.
You’re both filmmakers in your own rights. Has that helped you be better curators?
WS: It helps that we understand the effort put into filmmaking. We know what the filmmakers went through when they come to us with their work. I’ve always worked closely with the film market, more than other sections, and that’s another reason behind the success of the strand. I want to get the audience but also the market people interested in the films we show. With Panorama, the main idea is always for the films to have a long cinematic life after the festival.
AS: For me, it’s about having my expectations challenged. As a filmmaker, when I’m writing, a lot of clichés come knocking at my door and I have to keep them from entering. When I see a film that really surprises me, it’s magic.
You’ve witnessed many changes in the cinematic landscape over the years. What about today’s challenges posed by Netflix and streaming services?
WS: I remember when VHS was invented and we thought that this was going to kill cinema. Like TV in the 50s! And cinema always suffered a little bit, but it also gained a lot. Now Netflix wants to possess the world because they feel that if they can’t have it all, someone else is going to have it. There’s a market and it’s a race, nothing new under the sun. Another question that’s maybe more contentious in the streaming age is who gets to define what a good film is? I’d suggest that festivals remain the best falters, and that we’re one of the biggest festivals precisely because we do this so well. I can understand why Cannes didn’t want Netflix in their Competition and I also understand why Venice did, and I think it’s good we can argue about it. We’re going through a transition phase, and we have to bounce around these companies like Netflix as much as we can because they basically come with an army of brainwashed corporates! I can say that because I have nothing to lose, it’s my last year!
AS: I think it’s great that audiences can rediscover the feeling of how it was to watch a film on 35mm or 16mm. We’re showing Lasse Hallström’s My Life as a Dog and Ulrich Köhler’s Bungalow, Pascale Ferran Lady Chatterley and Cyril Collard Savage Nights as they were, with the visible reel changes. It’s really a different texture and a great viewing experience, a far cry from the small screen home experience.
Panorama’s remit – to offer a 360-degree snapshot of the year’s most exciting world cinema – can at times seem frustratingly broad. But the strand favours more accessible fare than the avant-garde-leaning Forum, typically offering a compelling mixture of edgy docs, provocative polemics, future queer classics and buzzy critical darlings fresh from Sundance.