The German Film Festival: Interview with the Festival Director

By Alida Tomaszewski and Nienke Huitenga

Nienke Huitenga and Alida Tomaszewski catch up with Klaus Krischok, AFGF director and programmer, at the 3CR radio studios in Melbourne. Krischok is one cool cat. As the interview begins he dons his aviators and lights a cigarette, explaining that he has in fact quit smoking but, well, you know…

How does the Goethe Institut reconcile its commercial and cultural agendas?

You’ve got to understand that there are always stakeholders in a festival, and certain interest groups. The Goethe Institut is not a commercial organisation, it is a cultural organisation. So we don’t have any commercial interests, we’re not here to sell anything. But we team up with an organisation that’s called German Films, which looks after German film exports, and they have a more commercial interest. That creates a nice kind of friction. 

As the director of the AFGF, what are your personal interests?

I’m more interested in showing the stuff that I really like, and what will work really well with Australian audiences, whereas German Films are interested in making deals with the distributors.

Is there much of a marketplace for distributors at this festival?

Well, in theory yes. We team up with Australian film distributors. The distributors get screeners and have access to the cinemas. Usually there are a few films that get snatched up by Australian distributors. So there is a bit of a marketing side to it, but let’s face it, it’s not that huge.

The Australian film distributors are really well networked, and they travel to Berlin in large numbers, as well as Cannes. Rotterdam, maybe, but it’s really Berlin and Cannes that really are the gateways for foreign films into Australian cinemas.

So that makes for a stronger cultural role of these national film festivals – I think it’s the same with the French, Italian and Spanish film festivals. If you want to shop you go to Berlin and Cannes, if you want to see things you go to our film festivals here.

Aside from German Films, are there any other parties that influence the course of the festival?

Here we work with a commercial chain of cinemas, and that’s Palace, and they of course need to see dollars and cents at the end.  I also need to break even at the end, because even with all the sponsorship money it’s a very pricey affair to put on a film festival.

What would you say is the ultimate goal of this festival?

From a cultural point of view, our goal is to create an awareness of the variety of artistic expression, lifestyle and talent in Germany. The second goal is to help German Films find an audience.

Say we look at the supply chain, one of our partners is World Movies. World Movies usually buys 4 or 5 of our films that are screened at the festival. They then screen those on TV, if they are successful there then SBS will snatch them up.

So, I’ve got 20,000 bums in seats, when World Movies buys a film we have about 60 or 80,000 viewers per night. Then if it’s picked up by SBS we’ll get around 100 to 120,000 viewers on top of that. So in terms of creating the avalanche effect, the festival is what people see, what happens afterwards is the effect that we desire.

Have the numbers attending the festival accumulated over the years?

Absolutely, the festival has grown. When I took over 4 years ago we had 15 films. We have 30 films now. So a lot more screenings take place, in more cinemas, on more days. There are more program slots, and program slots at the cinemas are always an economic risk. Believe me, some of the cinemas are struggling, and therefore are very happy to have us.  For example, a weak session for me is a session with 50 people, but I know at maybe the same time slot on a Friday afternoon there would usually only be maybe 25 people in the cinema [if there was no festival].

We’ve noticed you take good care of your guests and have been showing them around Melbourne during their stay. Is looking after the actors a lot of work?

It can be. In the four years that I’ve been doing this I haven’t had one that was really troublesome. There is a issue with actresses, and that’s blood-sugar levels. It’s such a big thing, they watch really closely what they eat, and once their blood sugar levels are down, I say “OK, I’ve got something I my pocket, have it now!” 

Aside from that, there is a potential clash of egos, so we make a point of not inviting two actors who are on the same level, or would be competing. Australia is too far away, and they’ll say “I’ve taken this long journey, I want to be in the limelight”.

It’s very good with these two [Anna Maria Mühe and Robert Stadlober], because they’re friends. She went to Robert’s concert just a few weeks ago, and it’s all very good.  So it’s better to invite different types, a director and an actor is usually better than two actors. Marco Kreuzpaintner would have been great too, but Robert is wonderful . We had a 45 minute interview on SBS this morning and it was lovely, Robert is full of knowledge.

Can you describe the process of getting Anna Maria Mühe and Robert Stadlober to Melbourne for the AFGF?

In close cooperation with German Films. Because they’re based there [in Germany] and deal exclusively with that subject matter, they have a little more experience than I have, in regards to who can be used for promo purposes and who cannot. Like with Jürgen Vogel who was at the festival last year, who’s really a megastar, it was my own independent decision to go to the agent and say “we want Jürgen Vogel , what do we have to do?”. There was an immediate decision that he wanted to come, because it happened to coincide with his 40th birthday.

In the past we have deliberately not approached a Volker Schlöndorff or a Wim Wenders, because for me it’s very much about this fresh, new, young look – the new generation. For example Wim Wenders travels to Australia twice a year, he only travels first class, he’s got “a thing”, he’s got a Koala complex [laughs]. We know through his agent that he himself suggested he come to this festival, and we said “maybe next year”. We need to find a bigger context for him, because if you get a Wim Wenders it dominates the whole festival, nobody want to hear or see anything else. But I’m not saying no to Wim Wenders! Because on the other hand, it can be good for publicity.

Do you spend all year working on this festival?

Claudia and I work on it for about half a year. Ideally I go to the Munich film festival because you get a good idea of what’s happening, but we start the selection process in later October, early November. Basically pampering the sponsors is a life, not a love, it is a year long exercise.

Apart from the AFGF, we put on about 50 other cultural events per year. Sometimes we support events, like in March we had the St Thomas Boys’ Choir from Leipzig at the Sydney Opera House. It was sold out and there were 9000 people at the Opera House. We invited all our sponsors to a VIP reception at the Opera House and to meet the cantor of St Thomas Boys’ Choir, and they loved that.

Do you agree to give the sponsorship logos visibility over the entire year at all your cultural events?

Yes, that’s all part of it. The easy case would involve deals being made over a short conversation and a hand shake, and a more complicated case involves a contractual negotiation. In the case of Audi, we don’t have a written contract now, they trust us. They have the naming rights, and this is really important for them, and this opens certain gateways for them that they would never find on their own.  By piggy-backing on the back of cultural events, they get very good value for money, like being on all those City of Sydney banners. Or in the cinemas, they are entitled to have their cars displayed which would usually cost them a lot of money.

Are you looking at growing the AFGF into a larger, international event?

We wouldn’t be successful in doing this. There are some very specific factors. Other than Australia I know of no other country that does this circuit of national film festivals. Canada is very much like Australia – it’s a huge country, a federation, has two major cultural hubs and it’s multicultural, the same thing should happen, yet they don’t do this circuit of national film festivals. It’s a specifically Australian thing. They serve their purpose here, in a sometimes healthy and sometimes problematic competition with the international film festivals.

My intention is to plant the right kind of content in the right kind of context. If I think that my German content has gotten the best possible visibility and echo within the AFGF, then I’ve done my job. If  I think a film like Alle Anderen is better hosted within, say the Sydney International Film Festival, then they should have it.

The French Film Festival is a bit of an exception because it’s older, it happens in more cities and has even more of an audience than ours. That could be the benchmark. One could say that we’d like to get to the level of the French Film Festival which won’t happen ’till…I don’t know when. But making it (the AFGF) on par with an international film festival would be wrong.

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2 Responses to “The German Film Festival: Interview with the Festival Director”

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