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Happy 15th Anniversary to Berlinale Talent Program
by Shelly Schoeneshoefer

The Berlinale Talent Program celebrates its 15th anniversary and this year’s theme was “Courage against All Odds” which offered a diverse program to 250 talents worldwide plus some venues were opened to the public. The speakers in the program included the artist Christo, Dutch film and television director/producer as well as this year’s president of the competition section jury at the festival, Paul Verhoeven, Irish artist and film maker, David O’Reilly, God Squad (UK and German video and performance artists), Spanish film director Isabel Coixet, Haitian filmmaker and political activist Raoul Peck, and many more.

The talents had to apply and show at least two of their works that they have already produced. They needed to be in the first 10 years of their career in order to be accepted into this program. They included filmmakers, writers, composures, sound designers, sales agents, distributers, editors and even film critics. They received free accommodations and attended six days of a mixture of lectures, workshops, projects and panel discussions. They even had a talent press which worked in collaboration with FIPRESCI and the Goethe-Institut which reported on the films at the different venues at the Berlinale.

I had the chance to attend a talk by Spanish film director Isabel Coixet on “Pleasant Surprises: Stories left to be Found.” I had no idea what she planned to talk about but was pleasantly surprised. She spoke about something that many of the talents probably never thought about but can clearly be a blow in one’s career. What happens when you have a film that is a flop? How do you pick yourself up and start again? Coixet has made several full-length films and in general, has had a lot of success and has worked with many great actors such as Ben Kingsley, Tim Robbins, and Juliette Binoche. The year was 2015 and her film, Nobody wants the Night was the opening film for the Berlinale. She said she never expected that the critics would hate this film. It was so hard to make and so unappreciated for the efforts. The critics wrote that it was artistically flat, frosty, and portrayed a stereotypical naïve female explorer. I am afraid I had to agree with the critics even though I could understand the frustration that Isabel Coixet felt. But she needed the strength to go on and has risen to the occasion making two more films. Her latest short film came aftera demand from the Spanish Television which wanted to feature three Spanish film directors. Coixet said it was difficult since she normally never focuses on herself but, in the end ,it was surprising what she found out about herself. She said that she procrastinated to the last minute before she got started. It took a trip to Siberia where she was on a jury that all the pieces started to fall together. Her short film “It’s not that Cold in Siberia” was a lovely portrait of her, her family and the surprising life that she leads which is filled with mystery photos from a Russian man to the landscapes that she has seen in her life.

I also had the opportunity to interview two of the Berlinale Talents. It was not easy to choose since there were 250 of them and they all are talented in one way or another. I finally decided to pick from the 19 who are living in the US. I think it was appropriate since I think it will take a lot of courage, in fact, against all odds, to still try to be creative and artistic when we have someone in office who will slowly be taking the art funding and shifting it to the military and building walls of hatred throughout the US.

Sung Rae Cho “SOICHI” (Cinematographer and director)

SOICHI is a New-York-based, fourth generation Zainichi Korean from Japan. He is a director of photography who has worked on films and television such as Grace Land, Mudbound (Sundance) and The Americans. His latest and most important work is The Transfigurations which made it to the Cannes Film Festival. He has done several short films and still life photography as well. He admits that he does ads because that is his bread and butter to pay the rent but not what he loves to do. His clip of human trafficking made me want to interview him.

Sung Rae Cho: I actually didn’t study film. I was a political science major but when I finished my studies I had to find a job to pay the rent and fell into this job. So working in the camera department paid the rent while learning the crafts and being among actors’ directors, script writers is helpful. The problem in America is that there is funding for television but not for independent films. I actually made a feature film but still having a hard time getting in. If you don’t have a network it is hard to get in.

My girlfriend suggested I apply for the Talents program. I actually thought of Berlinale Talents as a summer camp and since I am in my 30s and had been in the industry already, it would be a waste of time, but that is completely untrue. I have connected to several groups of people. People are driven to tell a story. At my day job I lose the inspiration and just make a living, I feel smaller here than I usually do. This year I will apply for opportunities that I have discovered through this program. I am a bit different than the others since I am more of a quiet person and also work with technology. Also socially skilled people intimidate me but it is necessary to break down these boundaries.

It is hard times for independent films. There is no government funding like in Canada and in Europe. I am also a person who wants to make films on the human condition or political films which aren’t as well received as other films.

One of the Berlinale Talents with whom I have a lot in common is from Iran. We share a lot of the same ideas. I wanted to invite him to visit me in New York and then realized he can’t come. I thought America was about freedom.

Carla Forte (Film director and dancer)

Born in Venezuela, Carla Forte moved to Miami about 10 years ago. She is a young and vivacious personality who discovers what is under the layers of a topic. She is not only a film director and scriptwriter but also a performer. She is the founder of the Bistoury Physical Theater and Film Company which is based in Miami, Florida. She has made a number of full-length feature films, short films, videos and performance pieces. Her film The Holders, which was a documentary on the plight of an animal shelter was a wake-up call for America. Her portrait of how we treat our animals is a devastating display of how out of touch we are with respecting the world we live in. This shelter receives 36,000 dogs per year. That is 100 dogs per day and the average owner just doesn’t want the responsibility anymore. Her film touched me deeply and I wanted to know if this film had an impact on the community.

Carla Forte: When you euthanize a healthy dog, that is, for me, killing them. That is why I made this documentary. I was supported by the Miami Culture and Affairs and by the shelter itself. I had open access to everything. I spent four years at the shelter. My film is at the International Film Festival in Miami which is the biggest one in the area. People are now fighting to save the animals’ lives. They are doing more relocating of bigger dogs, they are catching and neutering cats and working on helping adopt to pets. So yes I think my film had an impact.

I have a partnership in this dance/film company and we have agreed that one year I have a project and the next year my partner has one. He is currently doing a solo project in Cuba right now which is very exciting. I am much honored to have been picked as a Berlinale Talent. It is an amazing opportunity to meet other talents and people with experience, attend events and workshops. It makes me grow as an artist, filmmaker and as a woman.

I am currently working on a film that I want to finish by the end of the year. I am open-mindedly trying to decide the best way to work and tell the story and here I am learning new ways to do that.

I think that it is a shame to have this president. He is not my president. My family is in Miami so that is where I am. Everything is scary, but I am not afraid; but I am worried.

So for all you talents out there, here is your chance to apply for next year’s Berlinale Talents. I am sure they would be happy to take a look at your resumes and your works in progress.