Politics, Diversity and Nazism Dominate the 70th Berlinale

by Paz Mata February 21, 2020
Atmosphere at the 2020 Berlinale

christoph soeder/picture alliance/getty images

The 70th Berlin International Film Festival opened with a minute of silence for the victims of the mass shooting in the German city of Hanau. It was followed by the world premiere of, My Salinger Year by writer/director Philippe Falardeau, starring Golden Globe-winner Sigourney Weaver and Margaret Qualley - most recently seen in Fosse/VerdonSeberg and Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood. The Canadian-Irish co-production, based on the novel by American author Joanna Rakoff, follows aspiring poet Joanna (Margaret Qualley), who works as an assistant to literary agent Margaret (Sigourney Weaver). Joanna’s job is to answer the fan mail of cult author J.D. Salinger, the pride of the agency. Falardeau returns to the festival after winning both the Berlinale Generation Kplus and the Crystal Bear Awards in 2009.

For this anniversary edition, the 11-day (February 20 to March 1) festival has chosen British actor Jeremy Irons to head the International Jury. “With his distinctive style Jeremy Irons has embodied some iconic characters that have accompanied me throughout my journey in cinema, making me aware of the complexity of human beings,” Artistic Director Carlo Chatrian said. “It's a great honor to preside this prestigious Jury. I’m delighted to be here,” added Irons in his introduction of the Jury, which also includes French Argentinian actress Berenice Bejo, playwright and filmmaker Kenneth Lonergan, actor Luca Marinelli, director Kleber Mendoça Filho, and producer Bettina Brokemper. The group will have to deliberate on 18 films from 18 countries with 16 world premieres as well as one documentary to choose the winners of top prizes, the Golden Bear and the Silver Bear.

Abel Ferrara’s Siberia, Sally Potter’s The Roads Not taken, Philip Garrel’s Le Sel des Larmes (The Salt of Tears), Hong Sangsoo’s Domangchin yeoja (The Woman Who Ran) and Mohammad Rasoulof’ Sheytan vojud nadarad (There Is No Evil) among others, are included in the competition slate, which in this edition seems to have a predominantly dark tone, due to the intimate and earth-shattering stories told by the films. “The films we have selected tend to look at the present without illusion, not to cause fear, but because they want to open your eyes,” says Chatrian.

This year the festival will showcase female directors and political films from across the globe. Following a furious debate in Hollywood about the dominance of white and male nominees at recent award shows, the Berlinale’s new directors Carlo Chatrian and Mariette Rissenbeek have claimed the festival will represent the “diversity” of cinema. Last year former festival director, Dieter Kosslick signed a 50/50 pledge to commit the festival to gender parity in future calling for transparency in selection and an even gender ratio in top management. Today, Mariette Rissenbeek pointed out that after a reorganization of the festival structure the majority of section directors are now women. 

Two productions have also been selected for the Berlinale Special Gala, which screens recent works by contemporary filmmakers, providing them with a platform to captivate a wide audience as well as a forum for debate and discussion. The two Special Gala titles are Dan Scanlon’s Pixar/Disney animation Onward, with the voices of Tom Holland, Chris Pratt, Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Octavia Spencer, and Curveball by Johannes Naber.

Although Carlo Chatrian has warned against “stamping” the Berlinale as a political event, politics will be front and center of this 70th edition. The anniversary has already been overshadowed by revelations that Alfred Bauer, the Berlinale’s founding director was a high-ranking Nazi. The prestigious, Alfred Bauer prize, was suspended after an investigation by newspaper Die Zeit highlighted Bauer’s standing in the Nazi party.

Meanwhile, the Panorama Section is emblematic of the urgency of political action and civil disobedience, showcasing stories about migration, the search for and discovery of an inner notion of home and the overexploitation of our planet as well as narratives that pose the question of the borders between one’s origins and the idea of home. That is the case of three semi-autobiographical works by German directors: Faraz Shariat’s Futur Drei (No Hard Feelings), Uisenma Borchu’s Schwarze Milch (Black Milk) and Visar Morina’s Exit (Exile). While Matias Mariani’s debut film, Cidade Pássaro (Shine Your Eyes), follows Nigerian musician Amadi into the high-rise canyons of São Paulo searching for his missing brother, in Bassam Tariq’s Mogul Mowgli, young British rapper Zed (Riz Ahmed) tries to find his place in the world, torn as he is between an international music career and the traditions of his conservative Pakistani parents. In the Homage section, the 2020 Berlinale chose Golden Globe-winner Dame Helen Mirren for its Honorary Golden Bear in recognition of her body of work. The award ceremony at the Berlinale Palast will include a screening of Stephen Frears’s The Queen.

The Retrospective section will be dedicated this year to the American film director, producer and screenwriter King Vidor (1894-1982). The Retrospective program includes 35 films from five decades, among them his breakthrough The Big Parade (1925), considered the first critical film about World War I. Six other classic films in digitally restored versions will show in the Classics section which will celebrate “100 years of Fellini” with Il Bidone (The Swindle) and will show two of the earliest narrative films about the Holocaust, Ostani etap (The Last Stage) and Daleka cesta (Distant Journey). The series will also include festival winner Bushido zankoku monogatari (Cruel Tale of Bushida), by Japanese master Tadashi Imai, the all-star smash hit A Fish Called Wanda, and the newly restored silent film classic Das Wachsfigurenkabinett (Waxworks).

Following its previous success, the European Film Market will once again host the Berlinale Africa Hub, giving African filmmakers a networking forum to discuss changes in the African industry and to highlight the growth of a distinct film industry driven by local innovations and new technologies like 360º VR.

Over the course of several years, the festival has been gradually implementing a number of sustainable projects in a variety of fields reaffirming its commitment to the 2030 Agenda set out by the United Nations. Thus, the festival is increasing its efforts to protect the environment, continuing a process started as far back as 2010. In addition, several events will be held for the general public and industry professionals, focusing on sustainability.

Since its founding in 1951, a crucial part of the Berlinale’s legacy is to promote the plurality of voices and the diversity of society. There will be screenings, panels, conversations, exhibitions and networking events for international filmmakers, festival programmers and industry professionals focusing on indigenous cinematic voices, strategies of decolonization and feminist image in politics. As in previous editions, the Queer Academy will have its annual gathering at the Berlinale with events for filmmakers and industry professionals who support, create, exhibit and distribute LGBTQI* films.