Martina Bleis is co-head and project curator of the Berlinale Co-Production Market with additional responsibility for its publications and public relations work. Born in Walsrode, Germany, she studied Applied Cultural Sciences in Lüneburg. In addition to completing her MA, she is also a graduate of the EAVE Producers Workshop, a training program for the professional development of producers in Europe. Whilst studying, she gained experience in both film festivals and film production in Hamburg. She has been working for the Berlin International Film Festival since 2001, initially starting in the organization of panel discussions and working for Berlinale Talents. She is one of the founding members of the Berlinale Co-Production Market and has been co-head of the department alongside Kathi Bildhauer since 2016. In addition, she consults as a curatorial advisor and a mentor – in particular for up-and-coming producers and directors developing feature film projects – for international training and coproduction initiatives.
Kathi Bildhauer is co-head and programme manager of the Berlinale Co-Production Market as well as project coordinator of the “Talent Project Market”. Born in Aachen, Germany, she studied German and English Literature and Psychology at the University of Cologne, followed by European Film Studies at the University College London. After completing her MA, she did a PhD, publishing her dissertation about screenplay dramaturgy outside of the mainstream with the title “Screenplay Reloaded: Storytelling in the Cinema of the 21st Century”. Whilst studying, she worked in casting for a variety of television formats, was a script-reader for New Line Cinema in London, and was an assistant director and in the script/continuity department on the set of a number of television and film productions in Cologne and Berlin. She has taught screenplay analysis and screenwriting at the universities of Cologne, Düsseldorf and Gießen. Kathi Bildhauer has worked for the Berlin International Film Festival since 2003. She is one of the founding members of the Berlinale Co-Production Market and has been co-head of the department together with Martina Bleis since 2016. She is also a long-term member of the Berlinale Talents team where she has been responsible for the “Talent Project Market” since 2004. Between 2008 and 2011, she assisted the projects supported by the World Cinema Fund. And from 2012 to 2016, she was project coordinator of the Berlinale Residency.
Ahead of the Berlinale, Tara Karajica caught up with Martina Bleis and Kathi Bildhauer to talk about the upcoming edition of the Berlinale Co-Production Market, its impact on the film biz and women in film.
Can you talk about how you started working for the Berlinale Co-Production Market and how it has evolved since you have been in charge?
Martina Bleis: We have both already been working for the Berlinale Co-Production Market during its very first year, 2004 – we were only three people in the main team then, plus three more on location. We had many more projects – fifty-three, I believe – but much less participants – about a hundred and twenty), and we were connecting projects more randomly. Meanwhile, the event is much larger with almost six hundred participants, and we have continued to refine our matchmaking, so it is very targeted at each project’s needs now. At the same time, we have also opened to include other related fields of work, such as the publishing industry at Books at Berlinale, and series makers at Co-Pro Series.
Kathi Bildhauer: Since we have taken over, the series part has grown considerably, but basically, we have followed the track that we were already on before: we’re focusing on quality meetings for the projects and we’re similarly eager to offer relevant program and quality networking events to all our participants. But, for us, it has never been about buzz words and names, but rather useful content and connections. If something works well, we don’t try to make it more fancy, we just always try to keep it hands-on and constantly improve bits and pieces where possible.
Martina, you said that the Co-Production Market is like a “dating platform for film projects.” Can you elaborate on that?
M.B.: Sure, that’s our main goal: connecting film projects with the right, best-matching partners. In our platform, there are many participants, so how do you put the right people together? With six hundred participants here, there is a large pool of people, so chances are good that Mr./Ms. Right may be among them. And we help them to identify each other by putting a strong focus on the preparation: the projects have to fulfil the criteria that the other participants expect (financing in place, experienced producers, script ready, co-producible); and the catalogue information is precise, so that the other participants looking for projects can see if they are really interested, and also check if they can offer what the project is looking for so that there might be a match. Then, we check how many meeting requests we have in total, and which of these may be the best matching meetings that we can arrange. Each project can get about thirty meetings, and we determine these together with the project representatives, out of the requests from the participants, to guarantee mutual interest.
Can you talk about the Co-Production Market’s “Company Matching” program?
M.B.: We invented the “Company Matching” because there are a lot of companies that are super interesting for others to meet: as partners for projects, as role models for business strategies, as sparring partners for discussing new ideas, or simply because they may not have one particular project that matches our requirements, but a slate of interesting projects. Participants can request a meeting with the companies just like with a project. And last but not least, the five participating companies also meet each other. They usually really enjoy this exchange beyond single projects.
And, the “Berlinale Directors”?
K.B.: We wanted to support directors whose previous films our colleagues had selected for the Berlinale. For our festival, they have already “proven themselves” in previous years, and so we want to show our trust in them to make a good follow up film as well. Even though their projects are at an early stage, we think they are promising enough already to offer them to potential partners – sometimes the new projects are on the first draft of the script, sometimes further developed, but still with less financing in place than what is required for the Official Selection.
How do you pick a project? What do you look for specifically? What makes you think it’s a potentially good project that can actually become a film?
M.B.: Of course, we look for good stories with an artistic vision – for example, one that we would want to see in the cinema ourselves. Also, commercial appeal is a plus. Beyond that, there are some more criteria for selection: first of all, a project in the Official selection has to fulfill the general criteria: a budget above one million Euros, with 30 percent of the financing confirmed, or with production support from their national fund in place. The producers must be experienced in co-productions, and the project must be co-producible.
K.B.: Plus, they must be looking for co-producers and also be ready to make it a real, creative co-production. These structural elements are important for our selection as well. With experienced and acknowledged directors whose previous films were seen and sold, it is, of course, also usually easier to attract foreign partners and funds. But first of all, again, it is the story that has to catch our attention and our hearts.
What is the success rate of the Co-Production Market? How many projects ended up winning awards or have been shown in competition at A-list film festivals?
M.B.: It’s a bit hard to give an average number, but overall, two hundred and seventy films were made from our projects so far, the rate is around 50% which is very good. Last year, for example, sixteen films were shown at A-Film Festivals, many of which won awards there or in other competitions. Among our previous films that won awards in 2018, are, for example, the winner of the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, A Fantastic Woman by Sebastián Lelio; Samouni Road by Stefano Savona which won the Golden Eye for Best Documentary – and we hardly ever have a documentary, this one was a hybrid – at Cannes; Rojo by Benjamin Naishat, which won three awards at San Sebastián, 3 Days in Quiberon, winner of seven German Film Awards, and Birds of Passage by Cristina Gallego and Ciro Guerra, which is currently shortlisted for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.
How do you champion up-and-coming talent in cooperation with the Berlinale Talents?
K.B.: We annually select ten producers who applied to Berlinale Talents and also submitted a project in the right stage for the Talent Project Market. And we offer them what we do best: matchmaking for their projects with our experienced producers and financiers at the CoPro Market. In addition to the one-on-one meetings, we accompany them through a preparation program where we dissect their current financing plans and draw up a financing strategy with them, go through their project presentations, sometimes the scripts even, advise them on marketing and discuss how to do the follow-up after our market.
How do you spot talent?
M.B.: We go places, we talk to people, and we read applications with an open eye for discoveries. It’s wonderful to see how many fresh ideas come in if you allow people from all over the world to apply without needing any “ambassador”. Sometimes we know the producers/filmmakers from training or script development initiatives they participated in and we have visited as mentors or decision-makers. And we can always ask our colleagues and festival delegates to spread the word to interesting people they know.
Do you sometimes favor more female-led stories or women-centric stories or do you try to make it a balanced selection?
M.B.: We do not generally favor women directors over men, but we favor strong projects. The selection is often naturally balanced, because women actually have as many great projects as men do. However, not as many projects by women get made in the end. They seem to have a harder time getting the financing, and this is probably linked to the state of decision-making in the industry.
K.B.: So in case of doubt, if two projects were competing, we might gladly go for the female director project, because it could have a harder time to be made, and need our support more!
In that sense, can you talk about this year’s selection and the fact that the Berlinale Co-Production Market is closing in on gender parity for this year’s edition with female directors behind 48.6% of the selected projects?
M.B.: We’re happy about that, of course. However, the next step is for the films to be made equally, for women director’s films to have the same chances and find the same financing opportunities as men’s.
K.B.: Our selection is very mixed, in terms of directors as well as topics. There are thirty countries represented, and the projects range from family drama and queer topics, to period, sci-fi, thrillers and an absurdist comedy to a teenage alien slasher, which is told from an indigenous perspective. It is very diverse this year, that is what we can say as a common denominator…
How do you see the situation of women in the film industry?
K.B.: We see it as it is: “urgently improvable”. We are grateful for the attention some topics have already received, but there are so many more actions that need to follow. We try to do our part by dedicating discussion round tables and providing facts and data about those important issues such as the working conditions for mothers in the industry (2018) and (un)equal pay (2019). We collaborate with women’s organizations such as EWA, WIFT, ReFrame. We give the great female filmmakers and producers out there the space and attention they need and deserve by selecting, connecting and promoting their works. We allow the parents among our registered participants to bring their children to our market during dedicated times.
What does this year’s edition of the Co-Production Market have to offer? Are there any special topics in focus?
M.B.: In terms of projects, there were noticeably many LGBTQ topics present – particularly from countries where the freedom of sexual orientation is not guaranteed, or in danger. And we have some exciting projects by indigenous filmmakers, the awareness for the importance of telling indigenous stories is also growing in the industry.
K.B.: In our case studies, we will address the questions on the combination of European public money in combination with U.S. equity and the offers of online distribution platforms, as well as how sustainable art-house co-production is for our international producers. Furthermore, we will put the focus on the necessary changes to reach equal pay in our industry.
Can you briefly talk about the Co-Pro Series and Books at Berlinale? What do these two initiatives bring to the Co-Production Market?
K.B.: We like to build bridges, and these two initiatives support our producers to connect with other industries, such as publishers and literary agents at Books at Berlinale, where the producers can find outstanding material for adaptations. The connections made here cannot easily be found elsewhere and often turn out to be the beginning of great and long-standing partnerships.
M.B.: And at Co-Pro Series, we connect the TV and film industry. Directors like Agnieszka Holland, Pernille Fischer Christensen, Christian Schwochow and Stefan Ruzowitzky that are present in our selection with a feature or series project respectively, work in both arenas, and so do quite a few of our producers. We aim to support them, and the outcome has been great in the first years with series like Babylon Berlin, The Vanishing or Valkyrien – we’re very much looking forward to this edition, too!
Apart from the IFFR and the Rotterdam-Berlinale Express, do you have partnerships with other film festivals? What can you say about the Rotterdam-Berlinale Express?
M.B.: Like feature projects in the Rotterdam-Berlinale Express, we are exchanging one series project each year with Series Mania. We also partner with other co-production markets informally, and we exchange a lot and help each other on the spot at our respective events, because our goal is the same: to support producers in their networking and in bringing projects to life. The formal exchange in the Rotterdam-Berlinale Express is working great: projects from Rotterdam have instant follow-up, plus additional meetings here in Berlin shortly thereafter. They have a high rate of getting made. This year again, one of our RBE projects is screening at the Berlinale: The Miracle of the Sargasso Sea by Syllas Tzoumerkas is in Panorama.
What are the short-term and long-term plans for the Berlinale Co-Production Market?
M.B.: Short-term: make this edition – and even better than before! –, and also to support women filmmakers and producers in achieving a sustainable working environment for themselves, also on a personal level. Long-term: the same, and to stay the place for producers to push their projects forward and to successfully find partners!
K.B.: As well as staying up-to-date with developments, offering our participants insights in viable financing opportunities. In this changing industry, we are fully aware that this can be quite a challenge in the future.