Berlin Film Festival Opens With ‘Django’ & Plenty Of Political Statements


UPDATE with details of the opening-night ceremony: The Berlin Film Festival kicked off tonight with the world premiere screening of Django, French director Etienne Comar’s movie about guitarist and composer Django Reinhardt and his flight from Nazi-occupied Paris in 1943. It is a movie that is fitting for Berlin, a traditionally political-tinged festival.

Host Anke Engelke and festival director Dieter Kosslick
Host Anke Engelke and festival director Dieter Kosslick REX/Shutterstock

That was evident in the red carpet arrivals leading up to the screening at the Berlinale Palast in Potsdamer Platz. Among her remarks, German actress Anke Engelke, who served as host of the gala, said of German Oscar nominee Toni Erdmann that the film is about a father with a strange hairdo who has a strange relationship with his daughter — then asked the crowd if it sounded like anyone they knew, to great reaction and applause. Most speakers alluded to the current U.S. political situation without calling President Donald Trump out by name, saying arts are an answer in opposition to what’s going on in the world.

Also making a statement on the red carpet: Claudia Roth, deputy president of the German Parliament, who wore an outfit with a top spelling out the word “Unpresidented” — a reference to Trump.

Earlier in the day, the seven members of Paul Verhoeven’s Berlin competition jury held court, fielding questions from the press and making statements that often also reflected the current political climate.

Diego Luna was asked how he felt being a Mexican in Berlin in light of Trump’s pledge to erect a wall on the border with Luna’s native country. “I’m here to investigate how to tear down walls,” Luna said. “Apparently there are a lot of experts here and I want to bring that information back to Mexico.” Chimed in co-juror Maggie Gyllenhaal, “And America.”

Luna, a regular in Berlin whose 2010 and 2014 directing efforts, Revolucion and Cesar Chavez, premiered here, added, “The only positive thing is that there has to be a reaction and I want to be part of that. I want to send a message that love is the only way to fight hate. I cross that border three or four times a month. I have so many love stories in the States and I’m not going to let any wall get in between me and my love stories.”

Film Festival 2017, Berlin, Germany - 08 Feb 2017

Gyllenhaal picked up the baton saying she feels it’s “an amazing time to be an American at an international film festival. I feel like I want everyone to know that there are many many people in my country who are ready to resist. I feel honored to be here and to be able to say that.”

That sentiment was met with a round of applause from the very international press corps.

Verhoeven, who said politics would stay out of the jury room, also suggested at one point that he and Gyllenhaal do a film together. “You’ve been very audacious in the past!” said the Dutch helmer of last year’s psychological thriller Elle.

Also on the jury are Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson, Tunisian producer Dora Bouchoucha Fourati, German acterss Julia Jentsch and Chinese filmmakers Wang Quan-an.

The festival is now underway through February 19, with the European Film Market opening its doors tomorrow.

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