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Film

How the Berlinale is staying political by not talking about Trump

The Berlinale's opening fim, "Django," examines how artists response to totalitarianism. The head of Germany's largest film festival says he doesn't want to talk about Trump - but the film lineup speaks for itself.

Berlinale director Dieter Kosslick has made it clear that he doesn't want to dedicate his film event to the one topic that has already dominated headlines in recent week: US President Donald Trump.  

The Berlinale, which opens Thursday and runs through February 19, has always been seen as a decidedly political festival, so many are expecting Trump to be a hot-button issue over the next 10 days. But Kosslick and his team want to avoid that.   

Berlinale director: 'Our program is enough is a protest'

Trump's name wasn't even mentioned at the festival's opening press conference. "Our program is enough of a protest," Kosslick stated. Indeed, many films on the lineup have to do with politics and human rights, social upheavals and the consequences of globalization. These films don't shy away from making clear statements against exclusion and hatred.

This can already be observed in the opening film. In his debut film, "Django," French director Etienne Comar portrays the years the famous musician Django Reinhardt spent in Nazi-occupied Paris. Django Reinhardt, played by Reda Kateb (pictured above), is a star among the French and his fans love his gypsy swing.

Reda Kateb (left) and Cécile de France in Django (Roger Arpajou )

Reda Kateb (left) and Cécile de France in "Django"

However, the Nazis are persecuting members of his ethnic group, the Sintis, and deporting them to concentration camps. For a while, the musician is protected by his own popularity, but when the Nazis demand that he goes on tour in Germany, Django Reinhardt is forced to make a very difficult decision.

'Django' one of many films about artists

It features an artist that belongs to a minority group and suffers from state-led repression: "Django" deals with a classic conflict that can be interpreted as a reference to contemporary social problems in many parts of the world, including in Trump's America. Social conflicts will be the focus of many films on the agenda and are likely to dominate discussions and press conferences during the festival.

At this year's Berlinale, 18 works will be competing for Golden and Silver Bears. German film is once again strongly represented with Volker Schlöndorff, Thomas Arslan and Andres Veiel, and is also likely to trigger many debates over the next 10 days.

Film still Back for Good by Mia Spengler (Zum Goldenen Lamm )

"Back for Good" is a work by young filmmaker Mia Spengler

"Perspektive Deutsches Kino," a special series devoted to young filmmakers will open with "Back for Good" by Mia Spengler. The work shows yet another aspect of film - private worlds - by following a mother and her two daughters as they face various crises and conflicts.

Circumcision in South Africa, drugs in Canada

Of course, Germany's largest film festival, which bills itself as "the world's biggest viewers' festival," also presents international films both in and out of competition. The section "Panorama," for example, is opened by a film from South Africa. In "The Wound," director John Trengove looks at the circumcision rites of the Xhosa ethnic group, while his protagonists travel through a world characterized by machismo and aggression and by tension between tradition and modernity. The film focuses on discrimination against homosexuals in a society dominated by manhood rituals.

Film still The Wound by John Trengove (Urucu Media )

"The Wound" looks at the circumcision rites of the Xhosa in South Africa

In addition to the competition and "Panorama," the "Forum" is one of the Berlinale's largest sections. This year, its 47th edition will be opened by a Canadian film. "Werewolf" by Canadian filmmaker Ashley McKenzie portrays the struggle of a young couple trying to liberate itself from the calamitous cycle of drugs and crime. "Werewolf" is about young people living in a 21-century excess, caught between pessimism and hope - issues that are likely to come up in other festival contributions as well. 

Robert Pattinson, Penélope Cruz expected

Berlinale visitors can look forward to other sections such as "Generation," "Retrospektive," "Kulinarisches Kino" and "NATIVe." As they do every year, film buyers and distributors will meet at the European Film Market, which has been growing steadily over the years. Future directors can hope for some useful advice from professional directors and artists from other fields, including Bulgarian-American installation star Christo.

As far as the glamour factor goes, the Berlinale can't quite compare with Cannes, but a long list of top stars are expected nevertheless: Penélope Cruz, Catherine Deneuve, Kristin Scott Thomas, Laura Linney, Richard Gere, Ethan Hawke, Robert Pattinson, Geoffrey Rush, and Hugh Jackman - to name a few.

This year, the jury is headed by Dutch director Paul Verhoeven, who is a well-known name in Hollywood ("Robocop," "Total Recall," "Basic Instinct"). He's the one who gets to announce "The Golden Bear goes to…" on Saturday, February 18.

Film still Werewolf by Ashley McKenzie (Steve Wadden )

"Werewolf" portrays a young couple's sruggle with drugs and crime

How artists behave in authoritarian systems

Before the awards are handed out, the audiences of the 67th Berlinale will have the opportunity to watch nearly 400 new films, listen to political statements and join in discussions.

Efforts to close US borders could affect the international film business and cultural life in Germany, commented Germany's Secretary of State for Culture Monika Grütters in an interview with German news agency dpa shortly before the festival.

It's clear that artists will deal not only with the issues facing the US, but also with the rise of nationalism in many countries around the world, added Grütters, mentioning Poland, Hungary and Turkey in particular.

"That's why I'm particularly looking forward to the opening film, 'Django,' which focuses on the behavior of artists in authoritarian systems," she said. Monika Grütters isn't the only one.

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