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Culture

Hollywood Stars Campaign for Peace

As an increasing number of showbiz celebrities across the world call for peace in light of the Iraq conflict, Hollywood stars in Berlin are using the ongoing International Film Festival as a platform for the cause.

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Give peace a chance: U.S. actor Dustin Hoffmann at the Berlinale

As millions of Americans and Europeans protest against U.S. preparations for a war in Iraq, more and more movie stars and musicians are closing ranks with anti-war demonstrators. This week, U.S. actor Dustin Hoffmann surprisingly took the floor in Berlin, calling for peace at Berlin's UNICEF gala "Cinema for Peace" -- a motto that in the current world situation, could not be more appropriate.

Addressing more than 500 prominent guests at the Berlin Concert Hall, Hoffman spoke out against Washington's policy on Iraq and warned that a conflict in the region could turn into another Vietnam. Hoffmann said he was not anti-American but was against the policies of the current U.S. government. He compared the current conflict with the buildup in the 1960s which led to the Vietnam war -- a war, he said which "began with a lie." The actor warned that those times could repeat themselves and ended his address by reading a poem by American author Carl Sandburg.

"He said exactly what we were all thinking," German actress Hannelore Elsner said after the speech, while German action film star Ralf Moeller admitted Hoffman's speech had brought tears to his eyes. Outside, numerous other international stars gathered for the lighting of the eternal flame for world peace at Berlin's historic "Gendarmenmarkt". The group included former James Bond actor Roger Moore, Faye Dunaway, Christopher Lee and George Clooney, who compared George W. Bush's policy to Mafia methods shown in the television series "The Sopranos".

Only a week earlier, at the same place, musician Elton John had spoken out against war at the Golden Camera awards in Berlin, expressing praise for Germany's stance in the Iraq conflict with a "Well done, Germany!"

"I'm very proud that Germany has said no to war," he said.

Riding the peace train

Many stars have jumped on to the peace bandwagon ever since the U.S. put military pressure on Iraq, expressing their protest in all kinds of ways: In a television interview in the U.S., Viggo Mortenson ("Lord of the Rings") wore a T-shirt saying "No More Blood for Oil", while singer Sheryl Crow stepped to the stage at a recent concert with a shirt emblazoned with the words, "War is not the Answer".

Actors and actresses Susan Sarandon, Martin Sheen and Jessica Lange have all led peace marches in Washington and other cities in the U.S., while actor Sean Penn even visited Iraq to talk to officials shortly before Christmas.

In addition, Matt Damon, Helen Hunt and Kim Basinger have all sent protest letters with hundreds of prominent signatures affixed to them directly to the White House.

Raising Awareness

"As a father, actor, filmmaker and a patriot, my visit to Iraq is for me a natural extension of my obligation to find my own voice on matters of conscience," Penn said upon his arrival in Baghdad.

Penn stands in the tradition of other actors, such as Jane Fonda, who travelled to and reported from Vietnam in the 60s.

But can celebrity activism actually lead to political change? According to Bill Berkowitz, longtime observer of the conservative movement and leftist columnist "when celebrities speak out, the public listens."