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Berlinale Artistic Director Carlo Chatrian Talks Diversity of 2024 Lineup — and How Matt Damon Helped Secure the Opener

For his fifth and final edition, outgoing Berlin Film Festival artistic director Carlo Chatrian has assembled a promising lineup, rich in prestige, star-driven titles as well as more eclectic films containing the political elements intrinsic to the fest’s DNA.

“I am very happy and proud of this year’s lineup,” Chatrian tells Variety. “I think it achieved the balance between highly anticipated titles by filmmakers who are relevant in cinema history and, as always, films that you don’t expect to find in competition. At the same time I know that expectations can be a double-edged sword.”

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The 74th annual Berlinale, held Feb. 15-25, will feature such films as “La Cocina” with Rooney Mara; sci-fi drama “Another End” with Gael García Bernal and Renate Reinsve; and the historical drama “Small Things Like These” starring “Oppenheimer’s” Cillian Murphy.

Chatrian spoke with Variety to break down the lineup that looks to end his five-year Berlinale run with a bang.

How did you pull it off?

If you look at the past, we had a first edition and then the pandemic hit for two years. Last year’s edition was praised by the press, the audience and the market. So that gave production companies like A24 [which has several titles at Berlin this year] the answers they were looking for. At the same time, there are filmmakers with whom I have a long rapport that are happy to be in this year’s edition.

Tell me more about that aspect. How did you manage such great gets?

To give you a few examples, I’ve known Olivier Assayas for a long time. I knew that he was making this film [“Suspended Time,” a COVID-era movie about two couples spending lockdown together] that is a comedy that could play well in Berlin. So I was happy that from the outset he told me that he was aiming to launch it from our festival. With respect to Mati Diop [who has the doc “Dahomey” in competition], I knew that her film was ready at the end of the year, and we offered strong positioning.

On the other hand, with Alonso Ruizpalacious’s “La Cocina,” the fact that his previous films [most recently “A Cop Movie”] were in competition here, and well spotted, played in our favor. Similarly, the fact that Victor Kossakovsky’s “Gunda,” which played [in 2020] at Berlin in Encounters, got great feedback and was bought, helped. This year’s Kossakovsky title, “Architecton,” [a documentary about cement and humanity’s impact on a changing planet] is sold by A24, and for them it is the perfect film for Berlin. With regards to the opener, Matt Damon is a producer on “Small Things Like These” [starring Murphy]. Damon was in Berlin last year as a producer of “Kiss the Future” and was happy with how it was received. So he decided to give the film to us.

There are three African films in competition, which is certainly a rarity. How did the stars align for that to happen?

First of all, I’m very pleased about this. Of course Abderrahmane Sissako [who is bowing “Black Tea” in Berlin] and Mati Diop are well known, but in the case of “Who Do I Belong To,” the first feature by [Tunisian American director] Meryam Joobeur, it happened that we came across a true surprise. I expected the film [a drama about maternal love set on a farm in Tunisia] to be good, but not to be as complex and rich as it is. On the one hand, there was the desire to host these films because I felt there was a lack [of African cinema in our selection]. On the other hand, they were ready at the right time — or at least we grabbed them at the right time.

Two films have pulled out of the Berlinale to join the “Strike Germany” protest that is boycotting German cultural institutions because of the German government’s support of Israel during the Israel-Hamas war. Do you expect more titles to pull out?

The artists who have decided not to attend the Berlinale are part of Forum Expanded, the section that is more related to visual art, so in a way it’s more related to visual artists rather than filmmakers. I am in contact with filmmakers and they are eager to come because they can see that the festival is a great platform to discuss things — and the best way to discuss is through cinema. We are monitoring, and we know there are artists who are against coming to Germany. We respect their decision but still believe that the festival is a great place for dialogue and want to keep that. We are happy that our lineup comprises films by Palestinian and Israeli talents together. One is [Israeli auteur Amos Gitai’s] “Shikun” [in Berlinale Special, with a cast comprising Palestinian actress Bahira Ablassi], and another is the documentary “No Other Land” [made by a Palestinian Israeli collective] and shot on the West Bank, which shows the Israeli army displacing Palestinian farmers. We are not shying away from controversy. That is part of the festival. But we are happy that both of these films are made by both Israeli and Palestinian talents. It’s a great answer to the polarization we are seeing everywhere and in Germany even more so.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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