German far-right, Gaza war overshadow Berlin Film Festival

By Thomson Reuters Feb 14, 2024 | 9:16 AM

BERLIN (Reuters) – The Berlin Film Festival, barely back on its feet after the COVID pandemic and the resulting dry period in film production, opens on Thursday to fresh rows over the rise of the far-right in Germany and the conflict in Gaza.

On the commercial side, the European Film Market which traditionally runs in parallel with the festival looks set for a vintage year, with buyers bullish now that the Hollywood scriptwriters’ strike is over.

But the Berlinale also coincides with discussions over antisemitism, Germany’s close ties with Israel amid the war in Gaza, and over a surge in support for the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party ahead of this year’s European elections.

“These political discussions are in some ways overshadowing the entertainment, the films and the culture that usually is at the centre of Berlin,” said Scot Roxborough, European correspondent of the Hollywood Reporter and a festival veteran.

Born at the height of the Cold War in a divided city that was on the frozen conflict’s front line, the Berlinale is no stranger to politics, but this year the rows started even before the opening ceremony, when festival leaders rescinded courtesy invitations sent out to AfD politicians.

The invitations, extended to them as elected legislators, triggered a media storm as they landed soon after reports emerged of a meeting at which senior AfD politicians had discussed with other far-right activists deporting ethnic minority German citizens.

The festival organisers then rescinded the invitations, saying they wanted to “take an unequivocal stand in favour of an open democracy.”

Germany’s stance on Gaza – firmly backing Israel’s right to defend itself against Hamas militants while also condemning possible human rights violations by Israel in Gaza – has also prompted controversy, with at least one film withdrawing from the festival in protest over Berlin’s perceived pro-Israel bias.

“(There’ll) probably be a lot of angry people, on both sides, protesting here and probably throughout the city,” said Roxborough.

The 74th festival will also be the last one run under artistic director Carlo Chatrian, who co-headed the festival with Mariette Rissenbeek and leaned more towards lesser-known cinema and away from star-driven and big studio films.

Cillian Murphy will be in town following his Oscar-nominated turn in “Oppenheimer” for the opening film, “Small Things Like These”, while last year’s jury president Kristen Stewart returns with “Love Lies Bleeding” and Adam Sandler presents “Spaceman”.

(Reporting by Hanna Rantala, Writing by Miranda Murray and Thomas Escritt; Editing by Gareth Jones)