How the Berlinale is staying political by not talking about Trump

The Berlinale's opening fim, "Django," examines how artists response to totalitarianism. The head of Germany's largest film festival says he doesn't want to talk about Trump - but the film lineup speaks for itself.

Berlinale director Dieter Kosslick has made it clear that he doesn't want to dedicate his film event to the one topic that has already dominated headlines in recent week: US President Donald Trump.  

The Berlinale, which opens Thursday and runs through February 19, has always been seen as a decidedly political festival, so many are expecting Trump to be a hot-button issue over the next 10 days. But Kosslick and his team want to avoid that.   

Berlinale director: 'Our program is enough is a protest'

Trump's name wasn't even mentioned at the festival's opening press conference. "Our program is enough of a protest," Kosslick stated. Indeed, many films on the lineup have to do with politics and human rights, social upheavals and the consequences of globalization. These films don't shy away from making clear statements against exclusion and hatred.

This can already be observed in the opening film. In his debut film, "Django," French director Etienne Comar portrays the years the famous musician Django Reinhardt spent in Nazi-occupied Paris. Django Reinhardt, played by Reda Kateb (pictured above), is a star among the French and his fans love his gypsy swing.

Reda Kateb (left) and Cécile de France in "Django"

However, the Nazis are persecuting members of his ethnic group, the Sintis, and deporting them to concentration camps. For a while, the musician is protected by his own popularity, but when the Nazis demand that he goes on tour in Germany, Django Reinhardt is forced to make a very difficult decision.

'Django' one of many films about artists

It features an artist that belongs to a minority group and suffers from state-led repression: "Django" deals with a classic conflict that can be interpreted as a reference to contemporary social problems in many parts of the world, including in Trump's America. Social conflicts will be the focus of many films on the agenda and are likely to dominate discussions and press conferences during the festival.

At this year's Berlinale, 18 works will be competing for Golden and Silver Bears. German film is once again strongly represented with Volker Schlöndorff, Thomas Arslan and Andres Veiel, and is also likely to trigger many debates over the next 10 days.

"Back for Good" is a work by young filmmaker Mia Spengler

"Perspektive Deutsches Kino," a special series devoted to young filmmakers will open with "Back for Good" by Mia Spengler. The work shows yet another aspect of film - private worlds - by following a mother and her two daughters as they face various crises and conflicts.

Circumcision in South Africa, drugs in Canada

Of course, Germany's largest film festival, which bills itself as "the world's biggest viewers' festival," also presents international films both in and out of competition. The section "Panorama," for example, is opened by a film from South Africa. In "The Wound," director John Trengove looks at the circumcision rites of the Xhosa ethnic group, while his protagonists travel through a world characterized by machismo and aggression and by tension between tradition and modernity. The film focuses on discrimination against homosexuals in a society dominated by manhood rituals.

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"The Wound" looks at the circumcision rites of the Xhosa in South Africa

In addition to the competition and "Panorama," the "Forum" is one of the Berlinale's largest sections. This year, its 47th edition will be opened by a Canadian film. "Werewolf" by Canadian filmmaker Ashley McKenzie portrays the struggle of a young couple trying to liberate itself from the calamitous cycle of drugs and crime. "Werewolf" is about young people living in a 21-century excess, caught between pessimism and hope - issues that are likely to come up in other festival contributions as well. 

Robert Pattinson, Penélope Cruz expected

Berlinale visitors can look forward to othersections such as "Generation," "Retrospektive," "Kulinarisches Kino" and "NATIVe." As they do every year, film buyers and distributors will meet at the European Film Market, which has been growing steadily over the years. Future directors can hope for some useful advice from professional directors and artists from other fields, including Bulgarian-American installation star Christo.

As far as the glamour factor goes, the Berlinale can't quite compare with Cannes, but a long list of top stars are expected nevertheless: Penélope Cruz, Catherine Deneuve, Kristin Scott Thomas, Laura Linney, Richard Gere, Ethan Hawke, Robert Pattinson, Geoffrey Rush, and Hugh Jackman - to name a few.

This year, the jury is headed by Dutch director Paul Verhoeven, who is a well-known name in Hollywood ("Robocop," "Total Recall," "Basic Instinct"). He's the one who gets to announce "The Golden Bear goes to…" on Saturday, February 18.

"Werewolf" portrays a young couple's sruggle with drugs and crime

How artists behave in authoritarian systems

Before the awards are handed out, the audiences of the 67th Berlinale will have the opportunity to watch nearly 400 new films, listen to political statements and join in discussions.

Efforts to close US borders could affect the international film business and cultural life in Germany, commented Germany's Secretary of State for Culture Monika Grütters in an interview with German news agency dpa shortly before the festival.

It's clear that artists will deal not only with the issues facing the US, but also with the rise of nationalism in many countries around the world, added Grütters, mentioning Poland, Hungary and Turkey in particular.

"That's why I'm particularly looking forward to the opening film, 'Django,' which focuses on the behavior of artists in authoritarian systems," she said. Monika Grütters isn't the only one.

The 67th Berlinale in pictures

A musical opening: 'Django'

The 67th Berlin International Film Festival (February 9-19, 2017) opens with a musical biopic. The debut film of French director Etienne Comar tells the story of the legendary jazz and swing musician, Django Reinhardt.

The 67th Berlinale in pictures

Strong German showing

There are 18 films competing this year for the festival's top awards. Three German works are on the list, including Volker Schlöndorff's "Return to Montauk," starring Nina Hoss (pictured). There are also six German co-productions in the run.

The 67th Berlinale in pictures

'Beuys,' a documentary

Another German highlight is "Beuys," a documentary about famous German artist Joseph Beuys. Director Andres Veiel is known for his films dealing with political and social issues. His latest documentary is vying for the Golden Bear, going up against feature films.

The 67th Berlinale in pictures

An Austrian dark comedy

The directorial debut of the actor Josef Hader, the dark comedy "Wild Mouse," is bound to become an audience's favorite among the competing films. Hader's performance in the lead role in "Stefan Zweig: Farewell to Europe" (2016) was critically acclaimed.

The 67th Berlinale in pictures

'Trainspotting' is back

This British dark comedy is also one of the headliners of the festival. "T2 Trainspotting" is the sequel to the cult drug trip directed by Danny Boyle in 1996 and stars the original cast, 20 years later. "T2" will screen out of competition.

The 67th Berlinale in pictures

All forms allowed

Feature films are set against documentaries and animated films in the Berlinale competition. The Chinese animated feature "Have a Nice Day," by Liu Jian, tells a gangster story.

The 67th Berlinale in pictures

The 47th International Forum

The festival's section called Forum includes 43 films this year, including documentaries and several feature films, such as "Barrage." This French production deals with the relationship between three generations of women in a family.

The 67th Berlinale in pictures

Queer cinema in Panorama

The program of the section Panorama is once again colorful and diverse: It would be impossible to find just one overarching theme to define it, though Panorama traditionally features many films about homosexuality. Jochen Hick's documentary "My Wonderful West Berlin," about the campaigns of the gay community in the 1980s, is one of them this year.

The 67th Berlinale in pictures

100th anniversary of Russia's October Revolution

Beyond the traditional sections of the program, the Berlinale Special series highlights recent works by contemporary filmmakers. Among them is the film "The Young Karl Marx," depicting Marx (August Diehl, right) and Friedrich Engels (Stefan Konarske). The film was directed by Haitian-born filmmaker Raoul Peck.

The 67th Berlinale in pictures

The Oleg Sentsov case

In 2015, the Ukrainian filmmaker and activist Oleg Sentsov went on trial in Russia, accused of "plotting terrorist acts." Human rights observers described it as a politically motivated case. Despite strong international solidarity with Sentsov, he was sentenced to 20 years in a Siberian prison. The documentary "The Trial: The State of Russia vs Oleg Sentsov" is being shown during the Berlinale.

The 67th Berlinale in pictures

Young talents from Germany

Through 14 shorter and longer films, the upcoming generation of German filmmakers is featured in the series Perspektive Deutsches Kino (Perspective on German cinema). One of the most original titles is certainly "Self-Criticism of a Bourgeois Dog," by Julian Radlmaier.

The 67th Berlinale in pictures

Films for a younger audience

The Generation series aims to attract younger movie-goers to the festival. The German-Italian co-production "Mountain Miracle - An Unexpected Friendship" tells the story of a 15-year-old girl called Amelie, who suffers from life-threatening asthma, but decides to run away from her doctors and concerned friends and family.

The 67th Berlinale in pictures

Putting food on the table

The section Culinary Cinema presents films dealing with nutrition, ecology, agriculture and haute cuisine. The documentary "At the Fork" explores how farm animals are raised for our consumption. Going beyond the usual clichés on the topic, the film introduces viewers to real people: America's farmers, grappling with the moral issues of their work.

The 67th Berlinale in pictures

Honorary Golden Bear

Films are not only made by actors, directors, producers and cinematographers. This is what this year's Honorary Golden Bear aims to underline by paying tribute to the work of the Italian costume designer Milena Canonero. The winner of four Oscars has often worked with Stanley Kubrick, but she also designed the costumes on Sofia Coppola's "Marie Antoinette."

The 67th Berlinale in pictures

Visions of the future

This year's Retrospective section looks back at the past to show cinema's vision of the future. Among the most original works to be featured is "Warning from Space" (1956) by Japanese director Kōji Shima.

The 67th Berlinale in pictures

Films from the North

Festival-goers won't need to wear their warmest clothes to face the frost, thanks to the Berlinale section NATIVe. It focuses this year on indigenous cinema from the Arctic. The film "Angry Inuk" by Alethea Arnaquq-Baril provides insight into the consequences of the seal hunting debate for the Inuits of the North of Canada.

The 67th Berlinale in pictures

Creepy classics

Those fearing a zombie apocalypse might prefer to avoid George A. Romero's "Night of the Living Dead." A restored version of the cult film from 1968 is to be screened in the section Berlinale Classics, along with other masterpieces of film history.

The 67th Berlinale in pictures

Berlinale Talents

Throughout the week's series of workshops held at the Berlin theater Hau Hebbel am Ufer, some 250 young talents from 71 countries will be networking with professionals in the film industry. This year's focus, "Courage: Against All Odds," will lead them to discuss fearlessness in an increasingly challenging film industry.