UPDATE, with reaction to Meryl Streep comments below: Meryl Streep was trending this morning on Twitter in Germany with the Oscar-winner here at the Berlin Film Festival in her first appearance as president of the main competition jury. At the fest’s first press conference today, Streep said she was “extremely honored and proud” to have been invited, but admitted, “I don’t know how to do this.” However, the actress who won an Oscar for playing The Iron Lady and was nominated as The Devil Wears Prada‘s Miranda Priestly, tipped her hand when she said she had “forbidden” her jury members to read the booklet about the films and filmmakers that greeted them in their hotel rooms. “It’s such an unusual thing in the world now to come to something fresh and see it without prejudging, to have the tabula rasa. I’ts almost impossible with all the chatter in our heads.” And, she noted, “It’s nice to be boss.”
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Streep is joined on the jury by Clive Owen, Alba Rohrwacher, Lars Eidinger, Brigitte Lacombe, Malgorzata Szumowska and critic Nick James. Contrary to some reports, Streep was not asked directly about diveristy or the make-up of the jury. A journalist asked Eidinger, “Did you notice there are no black people on the jury?” The actor answered, “I haven’t thought about it yet. I don’t think that necessarily is a criteria nor do I think there’s a conscious decision not to have anyone black on the jury.”
The fact that there are four women on the panel, however, was not lost on Streep. Asked what issues she is especially commited to, she responded: “I’m very commited to equality and inclusion of people of all genders, races, ethnicities, religions. There should be inclusion and this jury is evidence that at least women are included and in fact dominate this jury and that’s an unusual situation in bodies of people who make decisions. So I think that the Berlinale is ahead of the game.”
Talking of how they intend to judge films, Owen said it was “odd being on a jury because at some point we have to make decisions and it’s a very difficult thing. Films are not hierarchical that way. Every film selected is already to be celebrated.” However, he added, “We have opportunities to change the lives of some of these filmmakers and we take that very serisously.”
Streep, who admitted to being jet-lagged and having a head of “Swiss cheese,” allowed that everyone brings their own agenda. “You can’t help it. Even unconsciously, you bring who you are. For me a compassionate heart is important as an actress and it makes me want to watch carefully each person’s work because it’s unique to them and yet making a judgement one over another is something that is necessary in this world to promote the work.”
And maybe get some of it to the U.S. where Streep noted foreign films are under-represented. “What I look forward to is that the selection of films is so varied… and comes from a culture that maybe I’m not familiar with… A lot of these films don’t reach the United States so this is an amazing opportunity to talk about films that no one knows about and maybe get them into the United States.”
An Egyptian reporter then asked Streep how familiar she is with cinema from the Arab world. The Academy member noted she had just seen Foreign Language Oscar nominee Theeb, which she “loved,” but added, “I don’t know very much about the Middle East and yet I’ve played a lot of different people from a lot of different cultures and the thing that I notice is that there is a core of humanity that travels right through every culture and after all, we’re all from Africa originally. You know, we’re all Berliners, we’re all Africans really.” That last comment has caused a social media storm, and more Twitter trending, although it didn’t seem to land quite so hard in the room.
The proceedings get underway in earnest tonight with the opening screening of Hail, Caesar! out of competition.
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