Fun, films and food for thought at Berlin Film Festival

Berlinale director Dieter Kosslick speaks to the ‘Post’ about this year’s lineup and its underlying theme of tolerance.

February 11, 2017 21:02
3 minute read.
Dieter Kosslick

‘THE WHOLE program this year can be understood as an answer to the new US-president’s actions... There is diversity and creativity in our films. It will confront narrow-minded people with something they didn’t expect,’ says Berlinale director Dieter Kosslick. . (photo credit: ALI GHANDTSCHI)

The 67th Berlin International Film Festival, known as the Berlinale, takes place from February 9-19 this year. Ahead of the opening, I spoke to the festival’s director, Dieter Kosslick, about some of the main themes in the 400-plus films, among which Israeli films will have a prominent place.

“The whole program this year can be understood as an answer to the new US-president’s actions,” he said. “There is diversity and creativity in our films. It will confront narrow-minded people with something they didn’t expect. Within 10 days, films from 153 countries will demonstrate tolerance and solidarity.”

To underscore this, the festival will again offer a number of initiatives to help refugees enjoy the event. These range from having mentors accompany refugees to festival films, to giving free tickets to students in adult-education classes for people newly arrived in Germany. It will also be possible to contribute to organizations that help refugees throughout the festival.

Many of the films this year reflect this commitment to promoting tolerance, among them the festival’s opening-night attraction, the world premiere of Etienne Comar’s Django. “We’ll open the 67th Berlinale with Django, a story about one of the greatest ‘gypsy swing’-guitarists [Django Reinhardt], and how he had to battle the repression by the Nazis, who persecuted and executed minorities at the time, as a Sinti. At least 500,000 Sinti and Roma were killed in the camps. This film comes at the right time.”

Political upheavals and those caught up in them are themes of many of the movies.

“One film you won’t want to miss is Viceroy’s House by Gurinder Chadha, who made Bend It Like Beckham. It is an epic about India’s transition to independence and the social disarray the British occupants left behind, just 70 years ago. Twelve million Muslims have been deported to what is Pakistan today, millions killed. This film makes you think about current situations and their possible developments. It’s important that people look back on what has happened in the last 100 years to be reminded.”

Another film Kosslick is especially excited about comes from Finland: “The touching film, The Other Side of Hope by Aki Kaurismäki, can be understood as representative of this year’s motto: Hope and confidence in times of uncertainty. We are very happy that we were able to get Kaurismäki for our program – it’s his first time at the Berlinale.”

Most of the films in the main competition will be opening in Israel in the next few months, among them the latest film by Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire), T2 Trainspotting, a sequel to his bold 1996 look at heroin addicts in Scotland.

The Berlinale has always been closely linked to the Jerusalem Film Festival, partly because of Kosslick’s friendship with Jerusalem Cinematheque’s founder, the late Lia van Leer. There will be a number of Israeli films at this year’s Berlinale, where last year Israeli films won both audience awards in the Panorama section, which include feature films, shorts and documentaries. Most prominent of all among the Israel movies will be Avanti Popolo, the classic film from 1986 directed by the late Rafi Bukaee. The movie will be shown in a digitally restored version, which premiered at the Jerusalem Film Festival last summer. Thinking that this story of two Egyptian soldiers, one of them a Shakespearean actor, trapped behind Israeli lines at the end of the Six Day War had the kind of quirky humor and anti-war theme that would be perfect for Berlin, I sent Kosslick a copy of my article on the movie in July.

“The film is a tie between the Berlinale and the Jerusalem Film Festival,” said Kosslick. “Many people, including you, have been writing about Avanti Popolo again since it has been restored. This film is a classic and one of our highlights in the Berlinale Classics.

It contains an eternal truth about life and war. Salim Dau and Suhel Haddad, the two Egyptian soldiers, made a great performance back in 1986. Dau will actually attend the film screening at the Berlinale. It will be like a second world premiere.”

The movie is one of just seven chosen for the Berlinale Classics section.

Although many of the films tackle weighty subjects, Kosslick emphasizes that there will be a lot of fun in the festival. “These films show a lot of spirit and good humor. And even if they deal with serious issues, they also point a way out of the trap.”

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