Blogging from the Berlinale Talent Campus: Day one

The first in a week-long series, Toronto-based filmmaker Jason Lapeyre shares his experiences from the European film festival.

Jason Lapeyre is a Toronto-based director, blogging from the Berlinale Talent Campus during the Berlin International Film Festival.

Here, he shares his first lesson from the six-day creative academy and networking platform: #1 – Haters Gonna Hate

BERLIN — The best Christmas present I got this year was an email telling me I’d been accepted into the 2012 Berlinale Talent Campus.  A week of professional development, networking and seminars with 350 filmmakers from 99 different countries, taking place in the middle of the Berlin International Film Festival and the European Film Market (EFM).  They even covered accommodations and part of the flight!

Now, being a Canadian feature film director, it meant that I would have to cancel my plans to play Skyrim and write Telefilm proposals for a whole week in February, but I can recognize an opportunity when I see one.  I booked the flight and printed up some American Psycho-worthy business cards, on a mission to leverage the heartache and stress of being a filmmaker into some free German beer.

The first surprise of the event was the degree of support myself and the other Canadian filmmakers (seven writer-directors, a producer-director and a director-editor) got from Telefilm and the Canadian government.  We were all invited to an orientation at the Canadian Embassy in Berlin the day before the event, where we could introduce ourselves to each other and show a clip from one of our films.

It was a great way to get to know one another and have some relationships in place before we even started the Campus.  We also heard from more established Canadian filmmakers who had done the program in the past and had films at the festival this year, like Jamie Kastner, who shared his advice on how to work the festival and namely the EFM (of particular interest as I just finished a feature doc about an inpatient psychiatric unit and I’m looking for distribution).

Brigitte Hubmann from Telefilm told us about the organization’s new mandate to show Canadians the success of Canadian films abroad, and how promoting the international festival love for filmmakers like Guy Maddin is part of that.

Day one was relatively light, program-wise: An intro event, followed by “global speed matching,” and then an official Opening Ceremony.

At the intro, we got a rundown from the Talent Campus organizers on the phenomenal lineup of events over the next week, all under the umbrella of this year’s theme, “Changing Perspectives.”  The programming attempts to reflect this theme by looking at the ongoing takeover of digital technology in filmmaking and how the Internet continues to make a charnel house out of traditional distribution models.

We’re going to hear about the current state of documentary from Werner Herzog, Sophie Fiennes, and Victor Kossakovsky; independent feature financing from Christine Vachon and Ted Hope (hoping that Ted doesn’t just reprise what he said at TIFF six months ago); editing from Molly Malene Stensgaard (Lars von Trier’s editor); improvisational directing from Mike Leigh (Vera Drake, Secrets & Lies) and the evolution from film to digital from Mark Cousins and Keanu Reeves, who’s presenting his new documentary Side By Side, which features discussions between Reeves and James Cameron, Steven Soderbergh and others on the end of a medium.  Who hasn’t fantasized about eavesdropping on a conversation between Keanu and James Cameron?!  Oh…okay.  Just me then.

“Global speed-matching” was a headtrip – three minutes apiece with 20 different Talent Campus participants.  I met a DP from France, a sound designer from Germany, a distributor from Costa Rica, a director from Finland, an actor from New Zealand and a producer from Spain, among others.  Unreal.  I had to be careful to put the business cards everyone was giving me somewhere else, or I was going to start handing out their cards as my own.  Intense as it is, the net effect is great, because you now have 20 unfinished conversations that you can start up as soon as you see that person again – enforced networking for the otherwise shy.

The day closed out with the Opening Ceremonies, featuring an appearance by Berlinale festival director Dieter Kosslick to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Talent Campus.  Kosslick spoke very eloquently about the responsibilities of the next generation of filmmakers (us, I guess) to work hard to promote tolerance and celebrate diversity at a time when Europe is falling apart and history is threatening to repeat itself.  No pressure! I definitely needed a drink after that, and the festival obliged with a reception featuring wine, beer and anniversary cake for all.  Day one and I’ve already gotten my free beer – not bad at all.

It was here that fellow Talent Campus participant Randall Okita and I figured out lesson number one of the event:  The secret to meeting people is to just be yourself and not come on too hard with some douchey, preconceived idea of what a “networking filmmaker” should be.  If some people don’t respond to you, that’s fine; you don’t want professional relationships with people who don’t appreciate you for who you are, anyway.  You can’t please everyone, or to put it another way:  haters are always gonna hate.