Monday, 22 Jul 2019 - 19 of Tammuz, 5779

Despite an impressive line-up of Jewish filmmakers and themes, Berlin Film Festival opens with city’s mayor warning about growing separatism, isolationism and Antisemitism

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By Oliver Bradley

Berlin–Filmmakers have converged upon Berlin for the 69th edition of the Berlinale – the world’s largest public film festival. For the next 10 days, Berlin will be the center of the filmmaking world.

Berlin mayor Michael Müller used the festival’s glamorous opening ceremony to highlight the threat posed by separatism, isolationism and Antisemitism in undermining freedoms that Europeans are accustomed to. He focused on the important role that independent artists and filmmakers play in helping to maintain healthy democracies.

“The Berlinale picks up on and confronts us with the themes of our time, sometimes helping us drift off into dreamland and sometimes shaking us awake,” Müller said.

“Forty years ago, for example, I watched with awe the television series Holocaust. 25 years ago, Schindler’s List. Both productions moved me greatly. But they also shook me up in an incredible way. Yet, today, we are again experiencing Antisemitic attacks even in (Berlin) my own city. I think it is important to be aware of this – even on the occasion of a film festival – as nothing should ever be taken for granted, not even the freedoms, tolerance and openness of our society.”

The mayor concluded his remarks by highlighting the universality of the festival and calling on artists, filmmakers, politicians and members of civil society to work together to uphold political and cultural freedom.

An impressive lineup of Jewish filmmakers and relevant themes are contending for the coveted Bears as well as 21 independent awards.

This year, an unprecedented five Israeli directors will be screening their films at the two main festival sections – Competition and Panorama.

Nadav Lapid’s Synonymes is a contender for this year’s Golden Bear – the festival’s top prize. Although not up for an award, Yuval Adler’s The Operative is also being screened in the Competition section.

The Operative, a Franco-German-Israeli co-production, is an espionage thriller based on a novel by former Israeli secret service agent Yitfach Reicher Atir. Synonymes, another Franco-German-Israeli co-production, follows a young man’s attempt to rid himself from his Israeli identity.

Israeli filmmaker Nimrod Eldar’s The Day After I’m Gone, Yaron Shani’s Eynayim Sheli (“Chained”) and Guy Nativ’s Skin will be vying for several awards as well – including the coveted Panorama Audience Award.

Like many films screened at the festival, child-abuse is also a theme which Yaron Shani uses in Chained – a drama about love, control and idealism. In Skin, director Guy Nattiv brings together an outstanding cast to tell, in oppressively authentic images, the true story of Bryon Widner, a white-supremacist who broke out of the scene and whose change of heart found a physical expression: in an extremely painful procedure of having most of his tattoos removed. The Day After I’m Gone is a sentimental, father-daughter coming of age film.

The following productions will also be screened at the festival: Kelly Copper’s and Pavol Liska’s silent film, Die Kinder der Toten, based on motifs from Elfriede Jelinek’s novel of the same name; Ghassan Salhab’s homage to Rosa Luxemburg, Une Rose Ouverte / Warda; What She Said: The Art of Pauline Kael, a documentary about the legendary American film critic; Palestinian-Danish filmmaker Omar Shargawi’s “Western Arabs”, an unsparing examination by the filmmaker of both his fraught relationship with his father and the latter’s influence on his own identity as a man; two episodes of the Israeli hit-series False Flag 2.

The Berlin International Film Festival runs from 7-17 February. The award winners will be announced at the Berlinale’s gala closing ceremony on Saturday February 16.


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