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Interview with EFM's Beki Probst

Beki Probst is the head of the EFM, European Film Market, for Berlinale since 1988. Before this position, she worked for the Berlinale as the film festival’s delegate for Turkey and Greece for seven years. Beki was born in Istanbul, Turkey where as a student she studied law and journalism and wrote for Turkish newspapers ‘Tercuman’ and ‘Hayat’. It was when she moved in Switzerland in 1960 that her career in cinema began where she managed the Probst-Kinobetriebe.

After 23 years of running the EFM, Beki has seen the industry go through its ups and downs and continues to whether the storm with it. As Beki was packing up on the last day of the 2012 EFM, I sat down with her for a brief conversation where she told me her views about the overall feeling of this year’s market and the film industry’s current trends.

ME: How long have you been the head of the EFM?

BEKI: It’s my 23rd year. A long time!

ME: Wow! Will you have many more years ahead?

BEKI: I don’t plan ahead. I go year by year.

ME: Year by year. That’s great. What was the sentiment this year of how the market went?

BEKI: Well, from what I hear, because of course I can’t say that everything was perfect. I have to stay objective. But when I hear the reaction of the people I think it went well because usually when things don’t go so well, you get it. Also, the trade papers I remember in recent years when there was in the headlines: ‘the market has been slow’, you know. But this year we’ve been very very happy to see that the trade papers were writing about a very busy market. Also, the people that I see the whole day here, they come and they say good things. Of course nothing is perfect, of course people have problems; we’re in a financial crises and all that, but all together the feeling is quite optimistic.

ME: And how do you feel about this year compared to other years?

BEKI: Well, 2010 was quite a year because then the financial crises was in full swing and that you could feel all over the year; not only in Berlin, but Cannes, the American Film Market, all having some reactions to what was going on in the world. In 2011, it started to pick up. And I think in 2012, we are on that trend. It’s difficult to explain. Maybe it’s because people think the movie industry is too big to let it go, so we are all in the same boat and trying to do the best that the machine, because it’s a big machine in a way, that the machine still goes on.

ME: And it’s one of the most important machines. I mean, apart from Cannes, Berlin is the most important world film market. And it’s also beyond just a market but a strategic meeting place for industry players where production meetings are held and movie deals are made.

BEKI: Of course. Everyone comes here so it’s not just when you go to Berlin and you have a film and it’s great, but as I say always that it’s not just about the films that are here in the festival, made and shown, but also it’s about upcoming projects. That’s a very important activity that people have because I see so many people that say, ‘oh my god, I have to read so many scripts during the night and see promos, and all that!’ And so it’s different activities, as you said before. It’s also trying to find co-production deals, trying to find deals with the media program with that fund, and yeah, it’s a big gathering.

ME: And it’s two different machines with the market and the film festival. They’re fused and then they’re almost completely separate as well.

BEKI: Well, the market is a part of the film festival. Of course our activities are different. The festival has the competition, the sections and all that. They have to take care of another aspect. We have to take care of the industry. But of course in one way, they mix because the industry is not isolated in the market. They go and find out what’s going on outside of the market.

ME: And it also helps when the filmmakers come here for the festival to support their film but even they come here to make deals as well.

BEKI: Oh yeah. It’s a big place for film festivals to shop.

ME: What do you think about all the change in media with digital? There are some who fear the current situation and others who are optimistic because there are new ways now.

BEKI: Well, I think we are really in a transition phase. It’s like people are trying different ways, you know. And in the end we will see where it leads. You know, it started with trying to revive the film industry with treaty. Now you have platforms, you have video on demand. Instead of staying here and saying: ‘okay, the movie industry is finished, it’s dead, we can’t do anything anymore’ it’s trying to do the contrary, to revitalize it in finding new ways, new formulas.

ME: So it’s exciting. It’s change! So, was there any news, special events or themes this year that sets the 2012 EFM apart from past years?

BEKI: You know, I’m not speaking about the films that are in competition or in the different sections. Some of those films are also in the market. But of course in general the films reflect the reality of the world, what’s going on in the world and this is always not very funny sometimes what’s going on. And of course films reflect that. That’s why we have that phenomenon happening now, that you have one film, the French film ‘Les Intouchables’, that is doing such great business, because it’s a feel good movie. And in a way people need that kind of film to forget for two hours what’s going on outside.

ME: Yeah, exactly. Well, thank you very much for that Beki. You’ve been very insightful. And congratulations on a very successful market this year. I participated in it as a producer and I can say for sure that for me the EFM is an impossible to miss event each year. So thank you for doing such an outstanding job.

Vanessa McMahon, February 25, 2012.
Pictured The EFM Dieter Kosslick, Beki Probst and Catherine Buresi Photo by Oliver Möst


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