Phillip Bergson is a busy man. Not only is he a film critic and BBC moderator, but he has also written for publications as varied as The Sunday Times, The Spectator, Screen International, Variety, and the Berlinale Filmfest Journal. He is a FIPRESCI (The International Federation of Film Critics) member and has been a member of FIPRESCI juries in Berlin, Cannes, Karlovy Vary, Locarno, and Haifa, as well as a member of international juries in Brussels, Thessaloniki, and Munich. In recent years, he has added another job to his list: moderator of the nightly Hyatt Filmtalk during the Filmfest Hamburg. While at this year’s Filmfest, he managed to find time to sit down to lunch with a few lucky KinoCritics to share some news and views.
We spent some of the early part of the lunch specifically talking about Filmfest Hamburg, with Becky Tan asking, “How do you prepare for your Hyatt Talks? I see you laughing and talking just minutes before you are ‘on stage’ as if you haven’t a care in the world.” Although Mr. Bergson laughed and answered, “I don’t know how I prepare; I wish I did,” we later found out that he makes sure to see all the films connected with the people on his Hyatt Filmtalk panel. Sometimes he can only manage it earlier on the day of the talk, but often guests send him the films on DVD beforehand so that he can prepare. He also shared a little of the challenges of moderating the English-language Hyatt Filmtalk, especially when panelists don’t want to talk or struggle to talk because they can’t speak English well. He said he often wished that he could coordinate better with the festival people to find out more about his talk show guests. In particular, he mentioned that this year, “I knew that Angelina Maccarone (director of Fremde Haut) would arrive late and wouldn’t talk, which was the case, just as I had thought. It would have been more successful with the actress from the same film, Jasmin Tabatabai. I came early to see Doris Dörrie (director of Der Fischer und seine Frau) since I thought she would be in my Hyatt talk, but she wasn’t. I know that Peter Lohmeyer (German actor from Obaba) will be at one talk, and he is an excellent conversationalist.” But despite these challenges, in our experience, Mr. Bergson always seems to work his way through difficult talk show situations with ease.
Another topic that came up was the variety of film festivals Mr. Bergson attends. Becky Tan asked whether it was lonely traveling from one festival to the next and how often he is home in London. He answered that although he is only home in London about one week each month, he is not lonely because film festival people are like family, and he has friends at each of the festivals he attends. He said his favorite festival is in the Bohemian spa town of Karlovy Vary in the Czech Republic, and that he’s noticed that festivals that take place in small towns (where the festival is the only thing going on at that time) are very successful. Ironically, Mr. Bergson’s least favorite festival is also the most famous: Cannes. He mentioned that this year he attended Cannes as a marketing representative instead of as a journalist, which he found to be more fun. As he said, “In Cannes, it is difficult to get into films even if you are considered a VIP.”
What impressed us most about Phillip Bergson, though, was his amazing knowledge of films and filmmakers. For example, when Becky Tan asked about his favorite directors, one person he mentioned was Jirí Menzel, whose film Ostre sledované vlaky (Closely Watched Trains) won an Oscar in 1968. He also seemed to often see similarities between films and real life, such as when we mentioned critic Mary Nyiri couldn’t attend the lunch because she had to take her cat to a cat specialist in Lüneburg, he quipped, “like in the film Broken Flowers.” Shauna Keeley also liked his witty response to a question about whether feature films are in danger with DVDs being so popular now: he said, “A DVD of a film is like a postcard of the Mona Lisa.” We all learned a great deal listening to him!
I think Adele Riepe summed it up best, saying afterward, “What a pleasure it was to have lunch with Phillip Bergson. A picture-perfect, charming representative of Britain’s best intellectual and cultural traditions, he mesmerized us with his encyclopedic knowledge of the world of film and amazing, seemingly total, recall. I learned a great deal about the workings behind the glamour and glory of film, about film festivals and their hard-pressed juries to whom we, as critics, give little credit, and the demands on producers and directors who often spend as much as a year on the road selling their films to distributors, critics and the public at different festivals. Mr. Bergson was an amusing, fascinating guest!”