DIFF MEETS: Dorothee Wenner

Sun Sep 15,2013

Hi Dorothee, Where are you at the moment?

I’m in south Bombay and have decided to make today a viewing day. It’s Ganpati Puja, a 10-day festival celebrating the elephant god Ganesh. From three days onwards, the whole city is a bit like the Berlin love parade 10 years ago but 100 times more extreme. You can’t get anywhere because it’s so crowded. So it’s the perfect time for me to watch films.

The Indian film industry has been huge for many years, but recently film festivals are starting to take notice and introduce specialist segments. Are you seeing Indian cinema becoming much more appreciated on a global scale?

Definitely yes, but it’s also a totally interesting territory commercially. People are just dying the step into this gigantic market. There is this passion that exists for India and Dubai has recognised this from the very beginning by having this special section, which is also a tribute to the unique community here, with people not only coming from Bombay or the Bollywood mainstream. We shouldn’t forget that there is a huge market in the south, with the Tamil industry, Bengal, which is very interesting at the moment, and also Kerala. We try to bring interesting new work from these three territories for local audiences in Dubai, but also to use DIFF as a platform where people from around the world have a window into the diversity and variety of Indian cinema that exists.

Do you think that mainstream Hollywood filmgoers are now more open to watching such movies?

Absolutely. It’s still a long way to go before the traditional mainstream Indian films will have the same market share in the traditional, let’s say Western, UK, North American market. It’s still niche, but it’s developing by nature of its content. A lot of films are made where producers try not to make them exclusively for an Indian audience.

And we’ve also seen a growing number of crossovers between the two markets, most recently with Amitabh Bachchan appearing in The Great Gatsby.

There has been commercial interaction, such as between Reliance and IM Global, for several years, but on this one-to-one film project base I think it’s a sure indicator of how much both sides want to do it, and it’s the big names who have been the most active. The Americans of course know that having Amitabh Bachchan in The Great Gatsby, even for a few minutes, will give a guaranteed lift in terms of revenues from the Indian market for a film that would otherwise be perceived as totally Western.

Looking more at DIFF, in the five years you’ve been working there are there any particular highlights?

Well, last year I liked very much that DIFF provided a platform for filmmakers and producers coming from all over the subcontinent, one that actively explored how they could collaborate, so they became real friends over the course of the festival. I was also very happy to hear a remark from one director who said that from now on he would give all his films to DIFF because it was such a fantastic experience and gave his film so much exposure. What makes me very happy is that DIFF has slots for the whole diversity of films. In terms of reputation, I think DIFF can now say for itself that it has arrived in terms of what it stands for.

For someone who loves watching films, being a programmer almost sounds like a dream job. How does one get into programming?

I think for me it’s absolutely the dream job. I don’t know what I’d love to do more. But I think it’s sometimes underestimated, especially with the amount of films that are coming in. For instance, we get to see some 200, 300 or more films per year, and this is just from India. And definitely there are films that we love, but there are a number of conditions that would prevent us from putting them in the programme. There are time issues, there are slate issues and there are economic issues, along with issues regarding the profile of the festival. As programmers we deal with a lot of dreams of filmmakers and producers and sometimes we are the ones who have to later convey that the dream fails. And sometimes it’s made especially hard because over the years you become friends with certain directors or actors or actresses, and they show us a lot of confidence in allowing us to see their films often before the rough cut is done. We absolutely cherish this, but it’s also very hard to see a film that everyone wanted to have that is not going to be ready in time, for example. It comes with a lot of pleasure, but there are also some sad, melancholic moments.

What do you do outside of the festival?

I’m also a programmer for Berlin, in the same field, but also programming films from sub-Saharan Africa. And half a year I dedicate to being a filmmaker myself. I’m working on two features at the moment, but that’s on hold until the spring. At the moment it’s totally festival.

Have any of your films come to Dubai?

Yeah, that’s how I came to Dubai first! It was with my own film in 2008 called Peace Mission, a documentary about the Nigerian film industry. That’s how I really learned to appreciate the festival.

This year is DIFF’s 10th anniversary. Is there anything you’re particularly hoping for or looking forward to?

I just want to let myself be surprised by the splendour of celebration. When it comes to programming, I just hope that my gut feeling right now in September doesn’t mislead me. I’ve seen some really wonderful films coming from the Subcontinent.

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