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Culture

Berlin Film Festival Starts Rolling Out Prizes

American anti-globalization pranksters The Yes Men won the audience prize for one of the Berlin Film Festival's main sections as part of the buildup to the presentation of the top honors at a Hollywood-style gala.

The Golden Bear prize

Bear necessity: Everybody wants one

The Yes Men's latest film "The Yes Men Fix the World" once again seeks to expose and poke fun at the corporate world. The movie screened in the Berlinales's Panorama section, which showcases independent and art-house cinema.

"The Yes Men Fix the World," which was directed by Mike Bonanno, Andy Bichlbaum and Kurt Engfehr followed The Yes Men's 2003 movie in which they impersonated employees of the World Trade Organization.

Kerry Fox, Anamaria Marinca in a scene from The Storm

"The Storm" won a special prize awarded by the Amnesty International

Movie-goers attending the Berlin Film Festival were asked to cast their votes for the films screened in the Panorama section, which screened a total of 48 movies films. About 21,000 votes were cast.

Also on Saturday as part of the Berlinale, Israeli-born director Oren Moverman won the peace prize for "The Messenger," a movie about two traumatized US soldiers back from Iraq and on a new assignment to tell families their loved ones have been killed in combat.

Valued at 5,000 euros ($6,432), the first peace prize was awarded in 1986.

At the same time, German director Hans-Christian Schmid won the Amnesty International Film prize for his thriller Sturm (Storm), which is based around the war crimes tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.

Starring Ben Foster and Woody Harrelson, "The Messenger" along with Sturm are favorites in the battle for the Berlinale's coveted Golden Bear, which is to be awarded on Saturday.

Films in the age of war and terror

Brenda Blethyn in a scene from London River

Brenda Blethyn stars in Rachid Bouchareb's "London River"

A total of 18 films competed for the Berlinale's top honors with the field wide open in the race for the festival's main prizes.

Among the leading contenders are Paris-born Rachid Bouchareb's "London River" and Israeli-born Oren Moverman's post-Iraq-war film "The Messenger." Both helped to raise hopes about the Berlinale's main competition after a slow and uninspiring start to what is one of world's top three festivals.

With the Berlinale never prepared to shy away from hard-edged political stories, "London River" is a compelling story of a Muslim father and a Christian mother searching for their children in the aftermath of London's July 7 terrorist attacks. It stars Brenda Blethyn and Sotigui Kouyate.

Iranian director Asghar Farhadi's "About Elly," has also emerged as a possible favorite for the Golden Bear. Farhadi's film explores the fine line between truth and lies in middle-class Iranian society after a young woman suddenly vanishes.

Outcome impossible to predict

The Berlinale Jury: Henning Mankell, Christoph Schlingensief, Alice Waters, Gaston Kabore, Tilda Swinton, Isabel Coixet and Wayne Wang

The jury is out on who'll win the top prizes this year

But film festival juries are notoriously difficult to predict. The Berlinale's seven-member international jury, headed up by Academy Award-winning British actress Tilda Swinton, also has to hand out festival prizes for best director, as well as awards for best actor and actress.

Indeed, top Chinese actress Zhang Ziyi could also be recognized by the jury for her role as the lover of famed 20th-century Peking opera star Mei Lan-fang, in Beijing director Chen Kaige's lavishly filmed "Forever Enthralled."

Other possible contenders include German director Maren Ade's "Alle Anderen" (Everyone Else) about a young couple that find their relationship is put to the test and British-born Peter Strickland's "Katalin Varga."

Set in Transylvania, Strickland's first feature film tells the story of a woman who embarks on a journey of revenge as she travels through the Carpathian Mountains in search of her son's real father. Once again, a major focus of the Berlinale was stories about women.

Another film that could stand a chance of going home with a prize is British-born Richard Loncraine's 1950's comedy "My One and Only," which was a last-minute entry in the Berlinale's main competition.

It stars Hollywood actress Renee Zellweger as a mother who takes her two teenage sons on a road trip across America in search of a husband.

Stars out in force

Director Tom Tykwer with Clive Owen

Clive Owen stars in Tom Tykwer's "The International"

Certainly the main focus of the world's leading film festivals is about star power and this year's Berlinale has again managed to attract some of the biggest names in the business, including Clive Owen, Kate Winslet, Michelle Pfeiffer, Demi Moore, Steve Martin, Keanu Reeves and Gael Garcia Bernal.

But overhanging this year's Berlinale was the deepening sense of gloom in the global movie business as it braces itself for what is expected to be a tough 12 months of cost-cutting, layoffs and projects being put on hold.

Many of those attending the European Film Market (EFM) -- the business side of the Berlinale -- appear somewhat relieved that the numbers of deals arranged over the last ten days meant that the EFM was not quite as bad as many had expected.

Unusually for the world's top film festivals, the Berlinale opens up its screenings to the general public. There appears to be no shortage of enthusiasm for the festival among ordinary moviegoers.

By its midway point, the Berlinale had sold a record 270,000 tickets. Last year ticket sales totaled 240,000. After Saturday's awards, Berlinale movie screenings will continue for a final day on Sunday as the festival draws to a close.

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