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Cologne Conference 2006: Spiegel TV & Film Festival.

As the 16th edition shows, the Cologne Conference held from May 18. – 24, 2006 has become the most important annual German platform for presenting the innovative international fiction and non- fiction television fare as well as influential professional seminars. It could be best compared to a one-week crash course in reflexive high quality television and film. Under the current direction of Martin Richter, there is continued emphasis on film, as exemplified by this year’s comprehensive Michael Haneke retrospective and the Spectrum series Young Cinema arranged in cooperation with the largest German film foundation, the NRW Film Stiftung. The Cologne Conference is a rather independent but crucial part of the state government run larger Medienforum, a concurrent trade congress addressing media and related policy issues in the print, electronic, information and education sectors. Since its establishment in 1990 by Lutz Hachmeister, the former director of Germany’s renowned Grimme Institute, the Cologne Conference has not strayed from its focus on substantive television and media issues. Critical analysis of production and distribution technologies, assessment of programming genres, and informed exchanges with a professional audience is still central. This intellectual focus on essentials clearly sets the Cologne Conference apart from other business oriented trade events.
Though screenings and seminars are open to the general public there is no dilution of quality. Most sessions are packed, the speakers prepared and exchanges stimulating. An intelligent audience comes from media companies based in Cologne (producing most of German television and many of its films) and several film schools located there.
In spite of a week-long comprehensive program crammed with screenings in several venues, lectures, receptions , etc, the Cologne Conference had in 2006 a comparatively narrow funding basis of about $650.000 and depends on a mix of support with about half each coming from the private and the public sector. Yet public sector funds for the Cologne Conference are not predictable and have declined.
Martina Richter who started directing the Cologne Conference in 2004 has a doctorate in journalism and a background in international media consulting

Claus Mueller
Do you observe any thematic trends in documentary film making/.
Martina Richter;
On the international level, In general documentaries have turned much more mainstream, both in regards to content and formal aspects. This year there were only few "grand formats" but rather a lot about history, adventure, wildlife, and lots of re-enactment. Unique topics and stories are rare as are documentaries about human right, social issues etc. In Germany producers of documentaries have realized that - if they choose the right topics - they can sell their programs all over the world. This leads to a development where mainly topics of a broader or pop-cultural interest are chosen. Documentaries about serious conflicts are very seldom.

CM: Thus going beyond the export of German crime-series, Nazi, and soccer television programs?
MR: They are still first, but you can add mini-series such as DRSDEN [firebombing of Dresden] and DIE STURMFLUT [Katrina type flooding of Hamburg]

CM: Are there any taboos, or are the films depicting young immigrants’ rage [PRINCESS, WUT] or jokes about Jewish life styles (ZUCKER) an exception?
MR: It is still difficult to find programs like "PRINCESS", "ZUCKER" or "WUT" in German primetime. German program executives and also the audience are still not used to see TV movies about a serious racial or social conflict directly after "Tagesschau" - with the exception that the serious event is romanticized, e.g. wrapped in a love story.

CM: German television programs do not appear to have as much of a sharp and biting edge as the other European programs you feature.
MR: It is true, German productions in comparison to British, Scandinavian and Dutch program are more reluctant, have less bite and satire. German producers are very dependent on the television broadcasters and fearful of low shares, of getting a small audience. Thus the broadcasters prefer some form of guarantee, for example copies international successful programs be it in terms of format or approach such as event-fiction television. The Cologne Conference is a breadth of fresh air in the programming landscape, as evidenced by the transfer of programs and content, but can not radically transform the climate of timidity.

CM: The Dutch MEDEA series depicts fictionalized contemporary extensive governmental and corporate corruption in Holland …. Could such program be funded and produced in Germany?
MR: This model probably would not have been possible in Germany because [if] the [German] broadcasters commission a program like that, one could get some additional funding by the NRW Filmstiftung etc but hardly two thirds of the budget. Yet political themes are not taboo in Germany. However the budget can be covered by broadcasters and foundations, the producers would adopt are more tamed presentation and narrative, compared to the MEDEA program

CM: What are the current problems you face organizing the Cologne Conference:
MR: Being part of the Medienforum.NRW turned out to be very difficult this year because the new government of NRW wanted to put the organization of this year's medienforum into just one hand - the newly founded LFM Nova [state media office Nova] should have organized everything including an international TV and film congress and a festival. So we really had to persuade the Staatskanzlei (office of the state prime minister) and LFM , that the Cologne Conference is of very much importance to the German and international TV industry and that it can't be given up so easily. That led to the strange situation that we had two festivals - the internationally oriented Cologne Conference showing German premiers in a competition, and the seven films of the other "festival" [organized by the medienforum and some former sponsors of the Cologne Conference], presenting programs that have already been broadcast in German television recently.

CM: What are your principle challenges?
MR: Our big challenge is to get good and for the German market interesting productions, secondly, of course we would like an audience as big as possible to visit the screenings - coming from the industry and from the interested public.
Still, there is no shortage of venues but our principal goals is not so much a quantitative change but more that of organizing high quality events with more internationally renowned film guests and key note speakers.

CM: What about changes you introduced:
MR: This year we introduced for the fist time the new open air festival section "Rockumentary". We also concentrated most of our events in the Mediapark [a central city section] and changed panel discussions into keynote lectures.

CM: There was no reference to the Cologne Conference in Prime Minister Ruettgers' speech at the Medienforum. What does that mean for managing the Cologne Conference and its location?
MR: Since Ruettgers follows the plan that the whole is organized by one institution he didn't mention the Cologne Conference .For Cologne the CC is quite important regarding national and international awareness. Why this isn't seen by the government of NRW I don't know.

CM: This year some former sponsors like WDR and RTL are not listed as supporters. Any thoughts? :
MR: Since the CC has not been supported continuously by the German stations it of course is possible to organize it without them. And we have new big partners like the ZDF, AZ Media, T-Mobile etc.

CM: What are the changes you consider for 2007? What would you do if you had more funding?
MR: For 2007 we think that it will be the best to detach from the medienforum and to link with the other big TV event in NRW - the Deutscher Fernsehpreis. If this proves not to be possible we will consider moving the event to another city.
Evidently Berlin would be considered since Berlin has not yet a conference or larger event specifically focusing on television, its contents, and the New Electronic Media. If we had more funding we would not add anything but increase the quality of the event, e.g. more international guests for the film presentations and lectures.

Thank you

Claus Mueller, New York Correspondent

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