Crédit Georgia Mouton-Lorenzo.

Berlinale 2017: an ode to courage and solidarity

TRANSLATED BY LUCY HARRIES AND THOMAS SHACKLOCK

No sequins, no glamour, but always resolutely political, the 67th annual Berlin festival took place in February. Numerous screenings and debates celebrated tolerance and resistance in the face of increasing xenophobia in Europe and the policies of Donald Trump. Here is a short overview of those ten emotional days.

The only big film festival open to the general public, the Berlinale brings more than 300,000 viewers together every year. For several years, it has been scheduling and recognising current and topical films. They condemn, explicitly or implicitly, political and societal issues. The event also offers a wonderful platform for political debate.

A rebellious jury, politically engaged films

The festival in Berlin has once again placed great emphasis on politically engaged films within the programme. It has allowed the world of cinema to express its concern in the face of the current political situation. This year’s jury hasn’t failed to express their political engagement.

“I want people around the world to know that there are many, many people in my country that are ready to resist”. This is what the American actress Maggie Gyllenhall had to say on the subject of Donald Trump in a press conference. This political awareness was expressed right from the opening ceremony. The director of the festival, Dieter Kosslick, stated that “a spectre is haunting Europe”. According to him, this signifies the “collapse of the big utopias and the demystification of the globalised world”. The statement clearly echoes Karl Marx. The philosopher’s life is, incidentally, documented in ‘The Young Karl Marx’ by Raoul Peck, one of the films in contention.

Optimism in the face of general pessimism

Dieter Kosslick stated that the scheduled films have been brought about by “the themes of courage and optimism” and “are humourous”. He reminds us that cinema can serve as a way of shedding light on the world’s current state. When he and his team started “working on a schedule, they didn’t yet know what would happen in the world, but it’s as if the directors were able to anticipate it.”

This optimism is reflected in the film ‘The Other Side of Hope’ by Aki Kaurismaki, the sensation of the festival. He chose to broach the difficult integration of migrants by using humour. The director expressed his “intention to change the viewer’s point of view and prejudices about refugees.” He reminded us that the founding principles of the European Union were fragile, especially in a context where the ideals of solidarity do not seem in place.

We should also remember the documentary ‘I’m Not Your Negro’. It depicts the incomplete account of James Baldwin, a historical figure from the civil rights movement in the United States. The film revisits the racial divisions and discriminations that have provoked anger in the country since the slave trade.

A new annual platform to celebrate tolerance

With more than 700 films represented by 70 countries, the festival aims to make different voices heard. It has, for example, placed great importance on African cinema this year. ‘Félécité’, directed by Alain Gomis, has captured our attention. This Franco-Senegalese film paints a powerful portrait of women, and is a true call for courage and freedom.

Already last year, the highest honour was been attributed to the documentary ‘Fuoccoammare’ (Fire At Sea) by the Italian director Gianfranco Rosi. He painted a picture of the migrant situation, disembarking on the verge of death on the beaches in Lampedusa. The director had openly criticised the European policy that aimed to stop the arrival of migrants on their land.

Intolerance doesn’t make people laugh in Berlin. The city carries the heavy trauma of the wall that divided it for almost three decades. Monika Grutters, the government delegate for culture and media, stated that “after the fall of the Berlin wall, we promised that walls would no longer separate us. We have never thought about it more than today.”

The Berlinale is over for the year. We are waiting impatiently for next year’s festival, which we hope will be just as politically engaged, but in a calmer world. We’re optimistic!

Cover Photo: Poster from the Berlinale 2017. Photo Credit – Georgia Mouton-Lorenzo

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