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18 int’l movies vie for Golden Bear – Clooney, Streep open refugee-focused Berlin fest

BERLIN, Feb 11, (AFP): The 66th Berlinale, Europe’s first major film festival of the year, starts Thursday with 23 international productions screening in the main showcase.

Eighteen pictures will vie for the Golden Bear top prize at the event which runs from February 11 to 21, with a jury led by three-time Oscar winner Meryl Streep selecting the best film. Nineteen of the main features are world premieres and two are directors’ feature debuts.

The Berlinale Special sidebar section features other notable films that are given gala screenings.

Here is the complete list including the English title, director, well-known stars and countries where the films were produced:

“24 Wochen” (24 Weeks), Anne Zohra Berrached, Germany

“Alone in Berlin”, Vincent Perez starring Emma Thompson and Brendan Gleeson, Germany/France/Britain

“Boris sans Beatrice” (Boris without Beatrice), Denis Cote, Canada

“Cartas da guerra” (Letters from War), Ivo M. Ferreira, Portugal

“Chang Jiang Tu” (Crosscurrent), Yang Chao, China

“Chi-Raq”, Spike Lee starring Jennifer Hudson and Angela Bassett, US (out of competition)

“Des nouvelles de la planete Mars” (News from Planet Mars), Dominik Moll, France/Belgium (out of competition)

“Ejhdeha Vared Mishavad!” (A Dragon Arrives!), Mani Haghighi, Iran

“Fuocoammare” (Fire at Sea), Gianfranco Rosi, Italy/France (documentary)

“Genius”, Michael Grandage starring Colin Firth, Jude Law, Nicole Kidman, Laura Linney and Guy Pearce, Britain/US (debut film)

“Hail, Caesar!” Joel and Ethan Coen starring Josh Brolin, George Clooney, Ralph Fiennes, Jonah Hill, Scarlett Johansson, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton and Channing Tatum, US/Britain (out of competition)

“Hele Sa Hiwagang Hapis” (A Lullaby to the Sorrowful Mystery), Lav Diaz, Philippines/Singapore

“Inhebbek Hedi” (Hedi), Mohamed Ben Attia, Tunisia/Belgium/France (debut film)

“Kollektivet” (The Commune), Thomas Vinterberg, Denmark/Sweden/Netherlands

“L’avenir” (Things to Come), Mia Hansen-Love starring Isabelle Huppert, France/Germany

“Mahana” (The Patriarch), Lee Tamahori, New Zealand (out of competition)

“Midnight Special”, Jeff Nichols starring Michael Shannon, Joel Edgerton, Kirsten Dunst and Adam Driver, US

“Quand on a 17 ans” (Being 17), Andre Techine starring Sandrine Kiberlain, France

“Saint Amour”, Benoit Delepine and Gustave Kervern starring Gerard Depardieu, France/Belgium (out of competition)

“Smrt u Sarajevu” (Death in Sarajevo), Danis Tanovic, France/Bosnia

“Soy Nero”, Rafi Pitts, Germany/France/Mexico

“Zero Days”, Alex Gibney, US (documentary)

“Zjednoczone Stany Milosci” (United States of Love), Tomasz Wasilewski, Poland/Sweden

Berlinale Special Highlights

“A Quiet Passion”, Terence Davies starring Cynthia Nixon as reclusive poet Emily Dickinson, Britain/Belgium

“Creepy”, Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Japan

“Den allvarsamma leken” (A Serious Game), Pernilla August, Sweden/Denmark/Norway

“Miles Ahead”, Don Cheadle starring Cheadle as Miles Davis and co-starring Ewan McGregor, US

“National Bird”, Sonia Kennebeck, US

“The Music of Strangers: Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble”, Morgan Neville, US (documentary)

“The Seasons in Quincy: Four Portraits of John Berger”, Colin MacCabe, Christopher Roth, Bartek Dziadosz and Tilda Swinton, Britain (documentary)

“Where To Invade Next”, Michael Moore, US (documentary)

Hollywood will be out in force to kick off the Berlin Film Festival Thursday, with Meryl Streep joining George Clooney and the Coen brothers for the event where Europe’s refugee crisis will also play a starring role.

The 11-day Berlinale, one of the top three cinema showcases in Europe along with Cannes and Venice, will start with a gala screening of “Hail, Caesar!”, Joel and Ethan Coens’ tribute to Tinseltown’s 1950s golden age.

Clooney, who plays a dimwit actor in what the brothers have called the third in their “Numbskull Trilogy” with the heartthrob, is expected on the red carpet with his wife Amal and co-stars Channing Tatum and Tilda Swinton.

“Hail, Caesar!” which opened in the United States last week to rave reviews but modest box office returns, is screening out of competition at the festival.

Streep is serving as this year’s jury president, judging 18 contenders from around the world.

The three-time Oscar winner and her team including British actor Clive Owen will on Feb 20 hand out the Golden Bear top prize, which last year went to Iranian dissident filmmaker Jafar Panahi for “Taxi”, which he made in secret.

Among the world premieres generating buzz ahead of the start was a new adaptation of the international bestseller “Alone in Berlin”, Hans Fallada’s 1947 novel based on a true story.

Resistance

The Nazi-era thriller sees Emma Thompson and Brendan Gleeson play a German couple who risk their lives to mount a resistance campaign against Hitler after losing their only son in the war.

As Europe endures the largest refugee influx since World War II, with 1.1 million asylum seekers arriving in Germany last year, the theme of migration will be front and centre at the event.

Italian documentary director Gianfranco Rosi, who picked up top honours in Venice three years ago, will enter the competition with “Fire at Sea” about Lampedusa, a Mediterranean island on the front line of the crisis.

It will join another dozen films in the festival’s sprawling sidebar sections looking at the impact of mass displacement in a globalised world.

“Refugees have always played a role at the Berlinale, since 1951,” when the event was launched in the Cold War outpost of West Berlin just six years after World War II, festival director Dieter Kosslick told AFP.

“Back then many Germans were refugees and the festival was founded to foster understanding in German society and among nations.”

In addition, hundreds of movie tickets have been set aside for asylum seekers at the festival, which will also launch donation drives at gala events to benefit refugee charities.

Big crowds are also expected for “Genius”, the feature debut by British theatre director Michael Grandage starring Colin Firth as literary editor Max Perkins, who published some of the 20th century’s greatest American writers.

Jude Law plays Thomas Wolfe, Nicole Kidman his lover and muse Aline Bernstein, with Dominic West portraying Ernest Hemingway and Guy Pearce as F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Biopics will enjoy top billing, with Germany’s first feature production on teenage diarist Anne Frank, who died at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, due to premiere.

US actor Don Cheadle will be in town to show his directorial debut, “Miles Ahead”, in which he plays the jazz great Miles Davis.

And “Sex and the City” star Cynthia Nixon will unveil her portrayal of iconic American poet Emily Dickinson.

Kosslick, 67, said a further trend was marathon movies, testing the boundaries of storytelling in a world in which viewers had lengthened their attention spans by binge-watching ambitious new television series.

“There are feature films that really take their time to tell a complete story,” he said.

One extreme outlier is a more than eight-hour-long Filipino historical opus, “A Lullaby to the Sorrowful Mystery” by Lav Diaz, which will be shown with just one hour-long break.

However “Lullaby” isn’t even the longest feature that will test the stamina of cinema-goers.

“Chamisso’s Shadow”, based on the life of German 19th century scientific explorer Adelbert von Chamisso, weighing in at more than 12 hours, will be screened in a single sitting, with two intermissions.

Here’s a list of Berlinale highlights already generating buzz:

Clooney in a miniskirt: Germany harbours a special love for Hollywood charmer George Clooney, a frequent and honoured guest at the Berlinale.

The festival will open with a gala screening of his new movie, Joel and Ethan Coen’s “Hail, Caesar!”, and Clooney is expected on the red carpet with his wife Amal along with co-stars Channing Tatum, Tilda Swinton and this year’s jury president Meryl Streep.

In what the Coens have called the third in a “Numbskull Trilogy” with Clooney, the actor plays a dimwitted 1950s movie star appearing in a swords-and-sandals epic.

The German papers say hearts are already aflutter at the prospect of Gorgeous George in a Roman soldier’s metal miniskirt.

Master class with Meryl: Streep will be doing her first stint at film festival jury duty.

But on February 14, Valentine’s Day no less, she will take a break from sizing up the 18 contenders for the Golden Bear top prize to give a master class to a few hundred lucky young actors.

The festival’s Talent Campus says the three-time Oscar winner, master of accents and feminist icon will impart “her experience from decades at the top of the acting profession”.

Cinema as endurance sport: The German language, of course, has a word to describe the patience and perseverance required to sit through something extremely long: Sitzfleisch.

A Filipino contender by director Lav Diaz weighs in at more than eight hours long, with an hour’s break scheduled around the halfway mark.

It is the longest entry ever to vie for the Golden Bear in the festival’s 66-year history.

“A Lullaby to the Sorrowful Mystery” is described as a tableau of the tumultuous political history of the Philippines and will occupy the Berlinale Palast main venue for an entire day.

Streep may be pronouncing Sitzfleisch with an impeccable German accent before the screening is out.

Fallada returns: Many call Hans Fallada’s 1947 novel “Alone in Berlin” the greatest work of fiction ever set in the German capital.

The Nazi-era thriller, based on a true story, depicts German parents whose only son falls in battle, prompting them to mount a daring resistance campaign against Hitler.

The first English-language film adaptation of the international bestseller stars two-time Oscar winner Emma Thompson and Irish actor Brendan Gleeson as the pair who risk everything to take a principled stand.

One-two punch: Two of the most outspoken voices in US filmmaking, Spike Lee and Michael Moore, will give back-to-back press conferences on February 16 after the European premieres of their latest films.

Lee will sit down with reporters to discuss “Chi-Raq”, a music-infused satire of gun violence in Chicago.

But no prizes for guessing that the conversation will also hit the Oscars race controversy, gun violence and the US presidential race.

And while Moore will be plugging his documentary “Where to Invade Next”, expect him to hold forth on the Syrian refugees he has taken in to his Michigan home and the Flint water contamination scandal, to name just two issues.

Personal stories: Biopics are all the rage this year so expect long queues for these high-profile releases:

Don Cheadle, perhaps best known as Robert Downey Jr’s sidekick in the “Iron Man” films, will appear in his own passion project about jazz icon Miles Davis, “Miles Ahead”, for which he raised a large chunk of the financing on crowdfunding website Indiegogo.

In “A Quiet Passion”, “Sex and the City” star Cynthia Nixon takes an unlikely turn as mysterious 19th century American poet Emily Dickinson.

Meanwhile Germany’s first feature on the Jewish teenage diarist Anne Frank, who died at Bergen-Belsen, will have its world premiere.

And Oscar winner Colin Firth leads an all-star cast in “Genius” portraying American literary editor Max Perkins who polished the manuscripts of Thomas Wolfe (played by Jude Law), Ernest Hemingway (Dominic West) and F. Scott Fitzgerald (Guy Pearce).

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