As refugees have been the issue of the year, Berlin's upcoming International Film Festival will also focus on their stories. It's not just a politically correct trend: The event's social commitment has deep roots.
Dieter Kosslick's balancing act
A high-quality film festival requires a strong team of organizers. Dieter Kosslick, who's been directing the Berlinale since 2001, enjoys creating a good atmosphere, all while programming films exploring difficult issues. The 66th Berlinale, held from February 11 - 21, has a strong focus on refugees.
Refugees in search of happiness
"The right to happiness" is the festival's motto this year. Dieter Kosslick's interpretation of this theme includes the "right to work, love and find a place to call home" - referring to the fate of refugees. Among the competing films is "Fire at Sea," a documentary about those stranded on the Italian island of Lampedusa, the landing point for many people trying to reach Europe from Africa.
Another interpretation of this search for happiness is offered by the competition film "Things to Come," by Mia Hansen-Love. A philosophy teacher (French actress Isabelle Huppert, pictured above) suddenly needs to reinvent her life after her husband decides to leave her for another woman.
Star-studded opening film
To keep the public happy, a film festival also needs big stars. Joel and Ethan Coen fulfill this requirement by opening the festival with "Hail, Caesar!," which brings together Scarlett Johansson, George Clooney, as well as Josh Brolin and Tilda Swinton (both pictured above) in a comedy poking fun at Hollywood's golden age.
A moral dilemma
One of the films among the contestants for the Golden Bear was made in Germany. Anne Zohra Berrached's film "24 Weeks" tells the story of a successful entertainer who finds out that she's pregnant with a handicapped child and considers abortion. Julia Jetsch and Bjarne Mädel star in this movie exploring how people deal with blows of fate.
Spike Lee's anti-gun contribution
The acclaimed director's latest work is eagerly awaited at the festival. Spike Lee, who's boycotting the 2016 Oscars because of its lack of nominee diversity, will be showing "Chi-Raq" in Berlin, as an out-of-competition title. It's a satire on the hip hop scene in Chicago and gun violence in America.
Images from Iran
The Berlin film festival has always explored films beyond Europe and Hollywood and has showcased many films from Iran throughout the years. This year's contribution from that country, the film "A Dragon Arrives!" by Mani Haghighi, is set in the 1960s.
President of the jury: Meryl Streep
This actress has already rejoiced fans many times during the Berlinale, for example here on the red carpet in 2012. This year Meryl Streep will be heading the seven-member jury who'll decide on the winners of the Golden and Silver Bears.
Showcasing "Avant-garde, experimental works, essays, long-term observations, political reportage and yet-to-be-discovered cinematic landscapes," the section of the festival called Forum is described as the one offering the "most daring" program. Among the films lined up this year is a documentary from Taiwan and Myanmar called "City of Jade," by director Midi Z.
Along with the official competition and Forum, a section called Panorama offers a wide range of international art-house and independent movies combining thought-provoking stories and entertainment. Among the films shown in this section this year is "I, Olga Hepnarova," based on the true story of an unconventional woman who turned into a mass murderer in Czechoslovakia in the 70s.
Film history lessons
The Berlinale is also famous for its thorough film retrospectives. This year, a selection guided by the theme "Germany 1966 - Redefining Cinema" shows how both East and West Germany's films explored a new age of rebellion. Among the featured films of the retrospective is the acting debut of German actor Bruno Ganz, in "The Easy Way Out" by Haro Senft, who recently passed away, on February 4.
World premiere of a restored classic
Another tradition of the film festival is the re-issue of a silent film classic shown in a digitally restored version, accompanied by a large orchestra in a festive atmosphere. This year, Fritz Lang's "Destiny" from 1921 obtains the honors, with new music specially composed for the film.
Michael Moore invades Europe
The Berlin International Film Festival has always served as a good platform to launch and promote new films. Just before its release in German theaters on February 25, Michael Moore's latest documentary "Where to Invade Next" will also be featured at the Berlinale. The Oscar-winning filmmaker tackles American social problems through an exploration of Europe.
Anne Frank revisited
Another highly anticipated movie is the latest adaptation of Anne Frank's journal. "The Diary of Anne Frank" will celebrate its world premiere at the Berlinale before its release at the beginning of March. The film was directed by Hans Steinbichler and stars Martina Gedeck and Ulrich Noethen. Anne Frank is portrayed by the young actress Lea van Acken.
The Berlinale, a German festival
There's just one Germany-only produced film and a few German co-productions in the competition, but the festival as a whole will once again be strongly promoting the country's cinema. There are 151 films produced or co-produced by Germany in the program, for instance in the section Perspektive Deutsches Kino, where "Agony" (pictured), a feature debut by David Clay Diaz, will also be shown.
This year, Berlin's International Film Festival will focus on the fate of refugees. It's definitely not the first time the event explores current issues. Offering a platform for social and political reflections is a deeply-rooted tradition of the festival: "It basically belongs to the Berlinale's DNA," has often said the director of the event, Dieter Kosslick.
When the Berlinale was created 66 years ago, there were also millions of Germans seeking asylum or traumatized by expulsion throughout Europe. The film festival has since tasked itself with promoting tolerance and understanding between cultures.
In comparison to other major European festivals, the Berlinale has always been a political festival, to a point that it has sometimes been accused of focusing more on the social relevance of films than on their aesthetic qualities. There might be some truth to this. The winners of the Golden and Silver Bears these last years have often been more "politically important" than artistically innovative.
Film meets reality in Berlin
The Berlinale has always boasted diversity in its program. Beyond the competition, its various sections feature each year documentaries, political film essays and socially-committed feature films. Marginalized groups of society get their say at the event, especially through movies revealing their concerns and hardships - and many of them focused on refugees as well.
Since he became the director of the festival in 2001, Dieter Kosslick says the "moment where the utopia of reality and cinema collided the most intensely" occurred on the last day of the festival in 2003. That year, the jury was led by Atom Egoyan, a Canadian director with Armenian roots, and the Golden Bear went to Michael Winterbottom's film "In this World." The movie was about three Afghans fleeing their war-torn country. "At the same time, over 400,000 people were demonstrating against the invasion of Iraq around Potsdamer Platz. That day, the Berlinale was literally 'in this world'," remembers Kosslick.
Several Berlinale winners reflect this dialogue between film and reality, culture and politics. In 2006, the Golden Bear was given to "Grbavica," a Bosnian drama on the traumas of war in Sarajevo. Last year, the award went to "Taxi," which Jafar Panahi filmed secretly despite being banned from working in Iran. "It is not only a courageous work," said Kosslick, "but one that expresses the right to freedom of expression in a magnificent artistic form."
This year's motto, "the right to happiness," which includes all fundamental rights, could have applied to previous programs as well, but this year has been shaped by the arrival of 79,034 refugees in Berlin, which is why the film festival also wanted to participate in the city's welcoming culture.
This political film is part of the competition: "Death in Sarajevo," on the assassination that led to World War I
Different initiatives are planned: Donations will be collected and special access to events will be organized for refugees. A Berlin refugee initiative will also be sharing their international culinary culture.
Along with glamour and stars on the red carpet, refugees will remain a focus of the festival throughout the coming days. Culture and politics will keep meeting in Berlin's films theaters - it's simply in the Berlinale's DNA.
Author: Jochen Kürten / eghttp://dw.com/p/1HsFh