DOROTHEE WENNER

July 14, 2015

Which has been your professional career?

I split my year between being a filmmaker and being a programmer. As a programmer I specialize in films coming from South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. I have been working for the Berlin film Festival for more than 20 years and for the last 5 years now, I have been doing a similar job for the Dubai International Film Festival.

How did you start working in Africa?

I have to go back a little bit: My official title is “delegate”. This is a very exciting but also challenging job. How I became the delegate? – that was a mixture of luck & timing. Before the “delegate-system’ was fully developed, when I brought up the issue with my colleagues in Berlin, I was simply asked: Why don’t you go?”. Well, I was curious enough, but in retrospect I also admit: besides basic knowledge of some classics, I was rather clueless. For example I had absolutely no idea about what was going on in Nigeria, Nollywood. Some years later, as I was asked to join the jury of the African Movie Academy,, I started ‘making up’ and ever since got to see quite a lot of African movies.

Could you explain what your job consists of as a programmer for a festival and what kind of movies you look for?

‘Festival films’, by today, are creating almost a genre of its own. Yet, very often and often to my regret: many of the successful festival films don’t perform too well commercially. There are exceptions, of course – as an example from Africa I would like to mention “VIVA RIVA” by Djo Wa Munga from DRC.

Let’s look for example at Nigeria: here, the bulk of production is being done for consumption locally, with an export market in mainly English speaking African countries and Diaspora. A huge market, self-sustaining!  This allowed the way of storytelling to develop differently from elsewhere. I see these differences stemming from various sources, culturally, but also socially, technically. Then, allow me to put it blatantly: the bulk of films produced in Nigeria are not made for the big screen, when it comes to technical standards. Now lastly, I try and talk of ‘quality’ – in the wider sense of – what makes a film a good/very good/outstanding film? Over the years I became very much aware of the fact that this is a category which not only varies or shifts slightly in this and that direction – depending on personal taste of e.g. programmers. At times, the criteria of “us professionals” even contradict each other! “A good film” – in my eyes – since has become an even more relative category.It has to do with a much more diverse audience, with it comes: audience expectations and viewing realities. We have to be realistic and know that in 2015, there are very different ways of film consumption.

But I owe you an answer… what kind of films we are looking for in Berlin and Dubai: very generally – we are looking for innovation on all levels of cinematic expression, extraordinary craft, interesting new styles – e.g. in storytelling, in provoking audiences, in challenging traditions – and yes: entertainment value.

What would be your advice to the younger generation? And do you think it’s important to have their films screened at festivals?

I have no general advice. I think any filmmaker should first of all, listen to his/ her heart and find out why they want to become a filmmaker, or: why, for whom do you want to make your first film? E.g. if you say: you want to screen your films to a maximum number of Africans and make films with an impact to society – you may decide to make educational films.

As a short filmmaker, for instance, you should know that most of the festivals will exclude your film if you make it available on the Internet. So, do you want that or do you want everyone in Africa to see your film, because there is no cinema in your country.

Do you want to make a documentary? Here again, different routes, challenges. You have to find out how to cooperate with TV stations, let alone: how to release documentaries theatrically. Take a look at India, which  produces about 1000 feature films a year, yet there is no way a documentary can find a theatrical release in the country.

But coming back to the initial question- maybe I do have an advice for very young filmmakers, one: get started on your own! Given that in today’s world filmmaking is not that difficult or costly you may want to join or initiate a small collective of like-minded people. Those who bring different skills in the production  or  can serve as your ‘bouncing partners’, when of same skill. Form your collective as a self-help structure, so that you can learn filmmaking on your own through trial and error. Once you have a first  film that you are proud of, raising funds for your next project will be easier

What do you think of the Mokolo Project? And do you have any other suggestions to help artists and films to be shown?

I have been following since inception, what Mokolo is all about and I think it’s a wonderful initiative. In my view, Mokolo would ideally function like a larger scale and virtual version of what I described above with the ‘collective’ idea – using also the extras the internet can provide. Including the information Mokolo provides as a platform bridging the rather huge divide between media worlds, film communities in African countries and other continents. This I say as a programmer – but also as a filmmaker: without my very own ‘collective’ in Berlin I wouldn’t be able to make it from one film to the next. And this I say as a filmmaker working in the privileged part of the world.

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