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Culture

Curtain Raised on 55th Berlinale

The Berlin film festival kicked off on Thursday with a historical drama on the clash between 19th-century white colonialist European values and black Africa, but the film failed to warm the audience's heart.

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All lenses are focused on Berlin

Fans were craning their necks looking for stars as most of the cast of the Franco-British "Man to Man" -- among them Kristin Scott Thomas and Joseph Fiennes -- strolled up the red carpet for the premiere.

Berlinale Film Man To Man

Still from the opening film "Man To Man" by director Regis Wargnier

The film, directed by Oscar-winning French director Regis Wargnier, tells the tale of a group of Scottish anthropologists who truss up two pygmies in nets and haul them to Europe in 1870 to carry out brutal research into whether they are the "missing link" between ape and man.

Fílm enthusiasts at the gala opening ceremony in the heart of Berlin broke loud applause as other celebrities including Jerry Lewis, Natasha Richardson and Tilda Swinton were introduced.

Festival head Dieter Kosslick stood alongside German Culture Minister Christina Weiss as she declared the 55th Berlinale, globally the most important festival just after Cannes, open.

Kosslick - Berlinale

Berlinale Director Dieter Kosslick

Kosslick was visibly shaken as he announced to the hundreds of invited guests that French producer Humbert Balsan, who had worked with Egyptian director Yusuf Shahin and England's James Ivory, had died just hours before.

"If you didn't know him, you missed something, you missed someone," he said tearfully of the 50-year-old producer, who committed suicide earlier in the day.

European skew

Kosslick, who has headed up the 11-day festival since 2002, has made European cinema the main focus of this year's Berlinale, where 14 of the 22 films competing for the top Golden and Silver Bear awards are from Europe.

Berlinale Filmfestspiele Jury

Berlinale film festival jury headed by Roland Emmerich

The seven-person jury is headed by "Independence Day" director Roland Emmerich, and includes Chinese actress Bai Ling, Ukrainian writer and cinematographer Andrei Kurkov and, in a paean to the fashion industry, Italian designer Nino Cerruti. They will announce the winners of the coveted awards on Feb. 19.

At the opening ceremony, Berlin Mayor Klaus Wowereit made an impassioned plea for more public money for cinema, with culture programs in economically-stagnant Germany often the first on the chopping block.

The "people's" festival

Seventeen of the films in competition will screen for the first time in the German capital, and six of those are from first-time feature directors. Organizers are emphasizing the openness of the festival, where tickets cost an average of €7 ($9) and can often be obtained up until half an hour before the curtain goes up.

Filmszene One Day In Europe

Still from competing film "One Day In Europe" by director Hannes Stöhr

Jostling for the Golden Bear for best film are family drama "Kong que" ("Peacock") by China's Gu Chang Wei ("Farewell My Concubine"), a Japanese sword-fighting love story "Kakushi Ken - Oni no Tsume" ("The Hidden Blade"), and a German-Spanish crime caper on soccer obsession called "One Day in Europe."

Four French films are also in the running and France lent a hand to three other productions. Germany, which walked away with the Golden Bear last year for the gripping cross-cultural relationship drama "Gegen die Wand" ("Head-on"), is represented with three films and one co-production, and the United States has three films in the running.

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