February 9th, the Berlin International Film Festival is here. It's a clear day and the temperature is -3℃. Last night Potsdamer Platz was busy with preparations for the event, but today it is quietly waiting for the festival to begin. This will be the first time I have participated in the Berlin International Film Festival so I want to absorb as much of this scene as possible.
In the summer, the people of Berlin pour outside, but in winter it is so much like a deserted city that you wonder where all the people went. Today feels different. There are so many people mingling around despite the cold. There is a long line at the ticket office, and people are flicking through the Film Festival program. However, I did hear a passing young couple commenting that they had lived in Berlin for ten years but never once attended the festival. My initial reaction was incredulity. But then I think about it again... There are plenty of people in my own country who live near the Kabuki theatre but who have never been to see the Kabuki. There are people who live near the famous fish market of Tsukiji who prefer to eat meat.
In the deep chill of the night, the large press crowds gather at Berlinale Palast. Pictures of the red carpet are being broadcast around the world, but I can watch it from almost the centre of the action. I keep repeating myself, but it truly is freezing. A level colder than during the day. Yet the actresses look composed in their dresses.
© Berlinale 2017
While the Olympics is a celebration of peace with politics pushed to one side for a moment, the Film Festival cannot separate itself from politics. Last year the refugee crisis was a major backdrop to the festival, and the award-winning work was one that depicted refugees.
Since Germany extended a welcome to refugees, the situation has changed dramatically. Germany which entered the crisis with a humanitarian stance now faces a huge dilemma and is in conflict with itself. The Film Festival opened with me wondering whether this new direction would be reflected this year and how it would be represented on film. Only 150 people could enter the venue so I had to watch it on-screen in the cinema.
The ceremony was opened by Anke Engelke a relaxed host who invites the audience to enjoy themselves. Actress Meryl Streep who served as the head judge last year was the first name mentioned by Anke. Her name was mentioned again to recall the still fresh memory of her cutting criticism of the Trump presidency in her Golden Globes acceptance speech. And then Anke asked “Are you here for the festival? Or, is someone keeping you from going back to your home country?” It was an unashamedly political start to the event. The Minister of Culture didn’t mention Trump by name but offered thinly veiled criticism, insisting it should be "Artists First." Pablo Picasso's line "Art is a lie that tells the truth" was cited and in a world where fake news is so powerful, we were told that art can open our eyes. All of those on the platform asserted that they didn't believe in walls, didn't build walls, and were ready to fight.
Picasso also said that "[Art] is an instrument of war for attack and defence against the enemy." This Berlin Film Festival has made its opposition to Trump very clear and a year after their refugee message, it seems that anti-Trump will be the flag they fly this year.
I watched the opening work, Django, by French director Étienne Comar. He portrays a jazz musician who has escaped from occupied Paris in 1943. The opening line of the movie is uttered by Django - "Let's go the cinema and watch a dream." It makes us question if what we're seeing now is real or not...
Personally I enjoy each and every film without giving any consideration to its political viewpoint. Each has its own charm. The film festival runs from the 9th to the 19th. My future reports will be focused on the Japanese works and include interviews with directors.
© Shino Nagata