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Interview with Oliver Bradley
by Shelly Schoeneshoefer

At my first time at the Berlinale, I met Oliver Bradley at a film and noticed that he had a unique way of keeping track of all his films that he intended to see. It looked more like a work of art than it did a schedule but after he explained it to me it seemed to make sense. The only problem was that it was too complicated for me to duplicate. Since then we have become friends and I decided it was about time to learn more about him.

Shelly Schoeneshoefer: Perhaps you could tell me a little bit about yourself and how you came to live in Berlin.

Oliver Bradley: I was actually living in Rome just before coming to Germany. In 1991 I was scouted and asked to work for the privatization agency. At the time, it was Germany’s largest holding company which was responsible for transforming East German, state-owned enterprises into market oriented ones and selling them. I ran the press office of the branch responsible for the privatizations in West Mecklenburg, in Schwerin. I was also responsible for the branch’s international marketing. I used the press as a main leverage in gaining investor interest in East Germany. I intended to be in Germany for only one year. In August I will have been here 20 years.

S: Who do you work for and what is the focus of your work?

O: I’m a freelance PR/marketing consultant and journalist. Although I studied political science, my work revolved mostly between journalism, location-marketing (privatizations, economic development), state and corporate protocol, event management and the like. Currently, I am focused on promotional work, global media relations and press.

S: How long have you been coming to the Berlinale?

O: The first time I went to the Berlinale was in February 1992. Before that, I had no idea about its existence. A former colleague of mine, who was living in Berlin, asked me whether I would want to join him to see a film. I said yes. I can still remember the content of the film – although not the title. It was a feature from Rumania. The main protagonist played the role of a prostitute. When asked about her job, the protagonist replied that she “worked in tourism.” I remember seeing the movie on a Sunday morning at the Haus der Kulturen der Welt. It was a sunny day!

Although I was based in Berlin, my work always took me elsewhere. Thus Berlin was a weekend retreat for me. On a Friday evening in February 1993, I arrived in Berlin, coincidentally saw a Berlinale poster and spontaneously set out to see a film… and then another and another.

I was lucky. Everywhere I tried to see a film, I was always able to garner a ticket. And so began my tradition of running around like a banshee, seeing one film after the other and I never had a ticket in advance.

One year, one of the ladies selling tickets at one of the venues remembered me. She remembered the countless times I waited in line to get a ticket and how hopeful I was in getting a last-minute ticket. At one point, she asked me for my list of films I wanted to see and she would arrange to get the tickets that I needed. Some of the tickets were full-price, others were reduced and some even free and sometimes she was unable to help me. In such cases, she would offer me tickets to other films that had received good reviews. This “relationship” went on for three years. Eventually, I no longer saw her. Perhaps she moved on to bigger and better things.

S: It sounds like you are a Berlinale film addict; did you miss any years?

O: Only once and that was in 2002. Choosing between Carnival in Rio and the film festival in Berlin was not a hard decision to make. By 2003, my work kept me in Berlin so that the film festival no longer became a weekend ritual. With no ticket counter lady sourcing my tickets for me, I was left to my own vices to guarantee that I would get to see the films that I wanted to see.

Daily I would get up and place myself in a queue that had yet to be formed, at 7:30 a.m. I used to get my tickets at the Europa Center. Later, I discovered that the lines at the Potsdamer Arkaden Shopping Mall were a lot shorter there, at 7:30, than at the Europa Center. Arriving at 7:30 virtually guaranteed that I would get the tickets for the films I wanted to see. Only once did I not get a ticket when the ticket office opened at 8:30 a.m. and I am still convinced that something un-kosher took place, so that no tickets were available. Also, 7:30 a.m. gave me the right amount of time to peruse through the film festival catalogue and figure out which films I would want to see for the upcoming days. At that time, tickets could be bought two days in advance.

With so many films and so many options to see them, I had developed a type of brain-mapping schedule, usually in various colors, in order to maintain a good overview of what I wanted to see and when it would best fit into my schedule. Usually I was one of the first 20 at the ticket counter window. Of course, I was under a lot of pressure, by the huge queues behind me, to get my tickets bought fast. My brain-map helped me to choose all the alternatives quickly. I never left the ticket counter with fewer than six tickets.

Now that I am an accredited journalist at the festival, I no longer have to wait in such queues. However, there have been moments in which I do miss the 7:30 ritual.

S: How has the Berlinale changed since you have been there? Since you live in Berlin, does the city embrace the festival and what changes do you see in Berlin before it comes?

O: The Berlinale changed quite a bit over the years.

When the festival had its hub at the Haus der Kulturen der Welt, it was not uncommon to see the general public mix and mingle with members of the press, the jury and film makers. I felt an amazing, vibrant energy there. Once the festival moved its focal point to Potsdamer Platz, that luster went lost.

Back then, however, the festival was an experience. Although the festival still remains a wonderful venue to take a trip around the world without getting onto an airplane, it has literally been reduced to a place to see movies one would normally never get a chance to see – nothing more and nothing less. You no longer simply bump into the shakers, the makers or the promoters of the films, as in days gone by. Twenty years after the fall of the Berlin wall, walls have certainly gone up to block the Berlinale mystique.

I do not want to be unfair to the Berlinale. It still has its purpose, for the industry and the audience. But that special air I experienced in the ‘90s is gone.

The festival has grown. I am certainly being subjective when saying that the quality of the films has gone down. But with the quantity of the films screened increasing, many films don’t belong to a film festival.

What constitutes for me a film that is not film-festival worthy?

I would say: films that have mass-box-office appeal, such as the Bollywood, Hollywood and Kung-Fu-Chinese features, to list several examples. This is not to say that these films are bad. However, the Oscars are there to cover those kinds of films and the Berlinale should really make more effort to try and attract stars that are also appearing in art-house cinema which the Berlinale, traditionally, was meant to represent.

S: Do you think the changes have been good for the Berlinale or not?

On the one hand, the festival has been increasing public viewing opportunities immensely. However, the main purpose of the festival is not satisfying the viewing public or people like me who want to feel that spirit which I had felt in the 1990s. Its raison d’être is to sell films at a global level. We cannot lose sight of the fact that the festival is actually a film market – a trade fair of sorts. If we can believe the statistics, then the film festival is benefiting from its changes

S: For example: the competition section has fewer films and an odd assortment or what is your opinion?

O: After almost 20 years of festival participation, I still cannot quite figure out what the festival management’s criteria for choosing films are. The festival is divided into four sections (Competition, Panorama, Forum, and Generation) as well as a school of sorts (Talent Campus). Because the kinds of films presented at Competition tend to be so different from each other, I find it impossible to create a fair criteria-matrix which could be used to decide on a winner. When I take a close look at the winners, I usually fail to see the artistic value which sets the winner apart from the other competitors. Rather, I clearly see political decisions tipping the scale in a winner’s favor. Also, I have yet to understand the reason for dividing the Panorama from the Competition section. I also find it completely superfluous to have out-of-competition films screened in the Competition section merely for the sake of having some world-renown stars walk on the red carpet.

I think the festival needs to set better criteria when inviting films to any of the sections as a lot of trash gets screened.

S: Perhaps you can sum up how you got involved in this work?

O: I suppose you could call me a Berlinale junkie. I dearly miss the film festival of years gone by – when the center of the Berlinale revolved around the Haus der Kulturen der Welt. At the beginning, I went to see films merely for the sake of taking a trip around the world vicariously through the talents of the filmmakers. Eventually, I began reporting on films for a Jewish press agency – which I do to this day. I follow every film which has a Jewish relevant theme. Such themes include tolerance, Palestine, Israel, religion, etc. Finally, I also do a lot of networking, since I also do promotion work. In the end, I see about 60 films of the festival, some at press-screenings that begin several weeks before the actual festival. I still find the festival a delight, despite my critiques, and could not imagine a February to pass without a chance to participate at some level.