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Everything you need to know about the 2024 Berlinale

February 15, 2024

The Berlin International Film Festival opened with a film starring Cillian Murphy, amid a competition featuring more diversity — and a jury led by Oscar-winning actress Lupita Nyong'o. Who are the other stars in town?

People gather around the entrance of the Berlinale Palast during the Berlin International Film Festival.
The Berlinale Palast, the festival's main venue, will be greeting stars and film fans from all over the world from February 15-25Image: Erik Weiss/Berlinale 2022

The red carpet is once again rolled out to greet stars and filmmakers from all over the world, while hundreds of films will be screened over 10 days at the Berlin International Film Festival. Alongside Cannes and Venice, it is one of the world's major film festivals.

Taking place from February 15-25, the 74th Berlinale kicked off on Thursday with the world premiere of "Small Things Like These," an Irish-Belgian production directed by Tim Mielants and starring Cillian Murphy, Eileen Walsh, Michelle Fairley and Emily Watson.

The drama, which is part of the official competition, deals with Ireland's "Magdalen laundries," Catholic Church-run asylums where "young fallen women" were brutally forced to work in slave-like conditions. The gruesome institutions ran from the 1820s to 1996.

More diversity in the competition

Twenty films are competing this year for the Golden and Silver Bears, the festival's top awards.

The international jury, in charge of selecting the winning works, is led by Mexican-Kenyan Academy Award-winning actress Lupita Nyong'o. She will be accompanied by six co-jurors: actor and director Brady Corbet (USA), director Ann Hui (Hong Kong, China), director Christian Petzold (Germany), director Albert Serra (Spain), actor and director Jasmine Trinca (Italy) and writer Oksana Zabuzhko (Ukraine).

Lupita Nyongo wearing a headdress made with shells.
Nyong'o, jury president at the 2024 Berlinale, has starred in the 'Black Panther' Marvel films and won an Oscar for her feature film debut, '12 Years a Slave'Image: Marina Takimoto/ZUMA Wire/IMAGO

Since many of the works are co-productions, 30 countries are represented in the competition.

Most notably, after being completely absent in 2023, the African continent is represented with three films.

Mauritanian-born Malian director Abderrahmane Sissako, whose 2014 film "Timbuktu" was nominated for an Oscar, presents "Black Tea." His new work follows a young Ivorian woman who falls in love with an older Chinese man after immigrating to Asia.

An interracial couple inspect tea plant leaves amid a terraced field.
'Black Tea' by Abderrahmane Sissako stars Han Chang and Nina MeloImage: Olivier Marceny/Cinéfrance Studios/Archipel 35/Dune Vision

Tunisian-born filmmaker Meryam Joobeur enters the race with her feature debut, "Who Do I Belong To." It portrays a mother dealing with the return of her ISIS fighter son.

French-Senegalese filmmaker Mati Diop enters the race with one of the two documentaries in the competition line-up, "Dahomey," about the restitution of 26 of the royal treasures of the Kingdom of Dahomey to Benin. Diop already made Cannes history with the celebrated premiere of her 2019 feature film, "Atlantics," becoming the first Black woman to be featured in competition at the festival.

From Nepal to Iran, to Pablo Escobar's hippo

Other international highlights include the first Nepalese entry in the history of the Berlinale's competition, "Shambhala," by Min Bahadur Bham.

A three-time Silver Bear winner, South Korean filmmaker Hong Sang-soo is once again in the run with "A Traveler's Needs," starring Isabelle Huppert. The French acting icon, who was awarded the festival's lifetime achievement award in 2022 but could not attend the ceremony in person, will be honored at the festival this year.

Iranian directing duo Maryam Moghadam and Behtash Sanaeeha's latest work, "My Favorite Cake," is also in the selection, but their country's authorities are preventing them from attending the world premiere of their film. The filmmakers "have been banned from travelling, have had their passports confiscated, and face a court trial in relation to their work as artists and filmmakers," said the Berlin festival organizers in a statement, in which they also called on Iran to end the restrictive measures.

Described by Chatrian as the most "unclassifiable" film in the selection, Nelson Carlo de los Santos Arias' "Pepe" is narrated by the ghost of a hippo who was taken from Africa to Columbia to be kept in drug lord Pablo Escobar's zoo.

Gael Garcia Bernal walking through a glass tunnel in a still from the film 'Another End.'
Mexican star Gael Garcia Bernal plays in an Italian competition film, 'Another End,' a sci-fi drama by Piero MessinaImage: Indigo Film

Europeans also prominent in run for the Bears

Germany, France and Italy are also well represented in the competition.

The line-up includes the latest film by multi-award-winning German director Andreas Dresen, "From Hilde, with Love," which is based on a real story of anti-Nazi resistants in the Rote Kapelle (the Red Orchestra) group.

French filmmaking veterans Bruno Dumont and Olivier Assayas are also vying for a Golden or Silver Bear, along with Cannes' Camera d'Or winner, Claire Burger.

Supporting dialogue amid Israel-Hamas war

Berlin is also renowned for being the most political of the three major European film festivals.

Executive director Mariette Rissenbeek and artistic director Carlo Chatrian, who are stepping down after this year's event as their contract ends, introduced their last program by expressing sympathy for "all the victims of the humanitarian crises in the Middle East and elsewhere."

Mariette Rissenbeek and Carlo Chatrian posing at the press conference for the 2024 Berlinale.
Right after the festival, Mariette Rissenbeek and Carlo Chatrian will be replaced by the new director, Tricia TuttleImage: Jens Kalaene/dpa/picture alliance

They added that they were "concerned to see that antisemitism, anti-Muslim resentment and hate speech are spreading in Germany and around the world" and emphasized that the festival aims to enable "open dialogue" surrounding the Israel-Hamas. 

One of the platforms allowing such exchanges to take place is called the Tiny House Project, a meeting space set up from February 17-19 at Potsdamer Platz, the Berlinale's main location. The project is conceived with Palestinian German Jouanna Hassoun and Israeli German Shai Hoffmann, who have been working together for several years to educate people about the Middle East conflict.

A panel discussion on "Filmmaking in Times of Conflict" will also be held during the festival.

Featured in the Berlinale Special section, "Shikun" by Israeli director Amos Gitai is described as an "attempt to create a platform for a dialogue in the Middle East." In the Panorama section, two works of activism also deal with the Middle East: the documentaries "No Other Land," made by a Palestinian-Israeli collective and "Diaries from Lebanon" by Myriam El Hajj.

Meanwhile, one filmmaker has officially withdrawn his work from the festival's Forum Expanded section, protesting Germany's support for Israel amid the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza. The Ghanaian director Ayo Tsalithaba said in a statement posted on social media that he was joining the "Strike Germany" call to boycott German cultural institutions.

Following intense criticism of the Berlinale team's to include far-right party Alternative für Deutschland politicians among their invited guests to the opening gala, the festival's directors finally decided to disinvite the five previously invited AfD elected officials.

The stars on the red carpet

Of course, a film festival is also a celebration of glamour and stars, and Berlin also has plenty to offer this year.

Filmmaking legend Martin Scorsese will be receiving the Honorary Golden Bear on February 20.

Filmmaker Martin Scorsese smiles with press photographers behind him.
Martin Scorsese will also be giving a talk during the festival at a panel hosted by acclaimed British director Joanna HoggImage: Getty Images/AFP/F. Dufour

The Netflix production "Spaceman" is celebrating its world premiere at the Berlinale, and its stars, Adam Sandler and Carey Mulligan, will also be attending the event.

Fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe will find Sebastian Stan in competition title "A Different Man," Aaron Schimberg's A24 production that premiered at Sundance.

In the Berlinale Special section, such as Riley Keough and Jesse Eisenberg in "Sasquatch Sunset," a dialogue-free Bigfoot drama.

Other famous US actors that are expected on Berlin's red carpet include Kristen Stewart in "Love Lies Bleeding," Lena Dunham in "Treasure" and Amanda Seyfried in "Seven Veils."

The closing gala, where the winners of the Golden and Silver Bears will be announced, is held on February 24.

Edited by: Sarah Hucal

Portrait of a young woman with red hair and glasses
Elizabeth Grenier Editor and reporter for DW Culture