When the 66th Berlin International Film Festival opens its doors Thursday evening, there will be a touch of Hollywood in the air of the German capital once again, and even more than last year.
The lineup of stars expected to attend the annual 10-day Berlinale is impressive, including the French actor Gérard Depardieu, the British actress Tilda Swinton and the American movie stars Julianne Moore and Kirsten Dunst.
Fellow American George Clooney will also walk down the red carpet in front of the Berlinale Palace with his wife Amal Alamuddin to watch the opening film, Hail, Caesar. It’s a tribute to Tinseltown’s 1950s golden age by the brothers Joel and Ethan Coen, in which Mr. Clooney also stars.
Hollywood legend Meryl Streep will serve as president of the Berlinale jury, judging 18 contenders from around the world. That’s a first for Ms. Streep, who despite winning three Oscars and being nominated by the Academy 19 times has never sat on a film festival jury in her long and distinguished career.
In recent years, the Berlinale has secured some of the most vaunted names in the industry to head its jury, including the German filmmaker Werner Herzog, the Austrian actor Christoph Waltz and Mike Leigh, the English writer and director.
It is one of Europe’s three big film festivals along with Cannes and Venice, and is known for showcasing films focused on political and social issues. It often awards films not only for their cinematic excellence, but also for their worthy causes.
“A 14.3-percent increase in audiences and a revenue increase of 19.1 percent speak for an exceptionally good cinema year.”
Last year’s Berlinale Golden Bear award, for instance, was won by Jafar Panahi’s film Taxi, in which the Iranian director posed as a taxi driver who filmed himself riding through the streets of Tehran, engaging his passengers in running dialogues and capturing the spirit of Iranian society.
Other recent Berlinale award-winners that went on to become box office hits include Richard Linklater’s Boyhood and Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel.
Artistically, only one German film has made it into the competition this year, 24 Weeks by director Anne Zohra Berrached about a woman who is expecting a child with Down’s syndrome, but dozens more will be shown.
Economically speaking, however, German film is on a roll. According to figures for the 2015 cinema year, which the FFA German Federal Film Board released on Wednesday, German films had their highest ever market share in local movie theaters last year – 27.5 percent.
German box offices took in a record total of €1.167 billion, or $1.32 billion. The number of moviegoers rose to 139.2 million, of which 37.1 million watched German productions.
“A 14.3-percent increase in audiences and a revenue increase of 19.1 percent speak for an exceptionally good cinema year,” FFA chief executive Peter Dinges told Handelsblatt.
Nine German films attracted audiences of more than 1 million people each. The most popular German film was Fack ju Göhte 2, with 7.7 million viewers, followed by Honig im Kopf, with 6.2 million viewers and Die Tribute von Panem – Mockingjay Part 2, which was partly financed with German money and seen by 2.7 million moviegoers.
With film subsidies currrently being renegotiated, FFA president Bernd Neumann warned the federal and state governments, and the film industry, against reducing their contributions. He said it was “misguided to make film subsidies and the quality of German films dependent on the number of films competing at the Berlin Film Festival.”
Apparently, the problem is not so much the total amount of film subsidies as the distribution of the funds. As a small survey by the Green Party parliamentary group showed last summer, even producers of successful films with more than 1 million viewers are rarely able to repay film subsidies, which are granted in the form of loans.
According to a study by industry association Produzentenallianz, the makers of an “average film,” which attracts between 1 million and 1.7 million viewers, can generally expect to see a loss of €225,000, due largely to the high commissions charged by film distributors.
Against this background, Produzentenallianz chairman Alexander Thies’s enthusiasm about 2015, a record year for the German film industry, remains muted.
“It’s good to know that German films are doing so well,” he said. “But what we need is a proceeds corridor for producers that begins with the first euro collected at the box office.” He was referring to a non-billable corridor at all exploitation levels of a production, which guarantees the producer 10 percent of proceeds from the start.
But in the age of online video platforms such as Netflix and Amazon Prime Instant Video, cinema exploitation is only one source of revenue for producers, albeit a very important one. Other distribution channels are also conceivable.
At the European Film Market, the large industry event that takes place in parallel to the festival, the future is already clearly in focus. Matthijs Wouter Knol, the event’s president, aims to offer the market what he calls a “platform for innovations.” He welcomed a number of startups at last year’s event and will feature virtual reality performances this year. He also hopes to reach out to other sectors, including the automobile industry.
Films and cars? “Sure,” Mr. Knol said, noting that when self-driving cars become reality, passengers would be able to turn their attention to entertainment.
Perhaps, but it’s definitely not advisable to be watching movies like Casino Royale in which James Bond rolls and flips an Aston Martin a history-making seven times – or any other of the nine featured in a YouTube Top 10 car crash flick.