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Berlin film fest opens with spotlight on Iran and Ukraine

BERLIN (AFP): The Berlinale, Europe’s first major film festival of the year, opens Thursday with a comedy starring Anne Hathaway, Marisa Tomei and Peter Dinklage ahead of a packed programme spotlighting Iran and Ukraine.

The 73rd annual festival, which traditionally has the strongest political focus of the three big European cinema showcases, will mark the Russian invasion’s first anniversary as well as anti-regime protests in Iran with new feature films and documentaries.

A series of special events is planned including panel discussions and red-carpet protests in “solidarity” with the people of Iran and Ukraine.

The festival’s artistic director Carlo Chatrian said the Berlinale would be a celebration of the “catalysing and revolutionary notion of cinema which unites even when it divides”.

Hollywood actor Sean Penn, who was in Kyiv at the start of the Russian onslaught, will present “Superpower”, tracking Volodymyr Zelensky’s transformation from comedian to president to war hero, based on a series of conversations.

“Zelensky was two completely different creatures from one day to the next,” the two-time Oscar winner told film industry magazine Variety this week. “He was a spirit in waiting.”

The Ukrainian leader is expected to address the festival by video link.

Animation back in force

The Berlinale has barred filmmakers, companies and reporters with direct ties to the Russian or Iranian governments from taking part in the event, including its sprawling European Film Market, a key movie rights exchange for the industry.

“She Came to Me” by US director Rebecca Miller, about a New York composer portrayed by Peter Dinklage fighting writer’s block, will be the first of nearly 300 new movies from around the world to screen during the 11-day event.

French-Iranian actor Golshifteh Farahani (“Paterson”) will serve on the jury for the Golden and Silver Bear top prizes headed by Hollywood star Kristen Stewart, at 32 the youngest president in the festival’s history.

Nineteen films will vie for the main awards, including British-US co-production “Manodrome” featuring Jesse Eisenberg and Adrien Brody in a thriller about an Uber driver who is expecting his first child and lured into a cult.

Two Asian animated pictures will also join the running, “Art College 1994” by China’s Liu Jian and Makoto Shinkai’s “Suzume”, the first Japanese anime to compete at the Berlinale since Hayao Miyazaki’s “Spirited Away” clinched the Golden Bear in 2002.

Gold for Spielberg

Three-time Academy Award winner Steven Spielberg is due in the German capital to collect an honorary Golden Bear for his life’s work, spotlighted in a retrospective.

British actor Helen Mirren will premiere the keenly awaited “Golda” in which she stars as Israel’s only female prime minister, Golda Meir.

And Vicky Krieps, the acclaimed Luxembourg-born actor from “Phantom Thread” and “Corsage”, will unveil her turn as renowned Austrian writer Ingeborg Bachmann in a biopic by veteran German director Margarethe von Trotta.

One-third of the films in competition are by women, who make up 40 percent of all directors represented at the festival.

“Love to Love You”, a documentary about disco queen Donna Summer, who defined an era on the dance floor and helped inspire Beyonce’s latest album “Renaissance”, will have its world premiere.

The film was co-directed by Summer’s daughter, Brooklyn Sudano, and features never-before-seen home videos.

The Berlinale ranks with Cannes and Venice among Europe’s top film festivals. It will award the Golden and Silver Bear trophies at a gala ceremony on February 25 before wrapping up the next day with screenings of popular movies from this year’s selection.