Text: NADJA SAYEJ
On a recent chilly night in Berlin, the 66th Berlinale Film Festival kicked off on a gargantuan red carpet that was rolled out for stars like George Clooney, Kirsten Dunst and Jude Law, but also, for refugees.
With the global impact of over 60 million refugees worldwide, over a million refugees in Germany and 80,000 in Berlin, the Berlinale’s director Dieter Kosslick said: “We didn’t want to do a refugee festival, even if we are in the middle of the mess, but we did want to have a festival where the refugee crisis is a big part. The right of happiness is a bigger question for the whole world.”
Refugees were in the spotlight at the Berlinale, as Italian director Gianfranco Rosi won the Golden Bear for his documentary, Fire at Sea, which captures the migrant crisis in Europe from a humanitarian standpoint through the eyes of locals living on the Sicilian island of Lampedusa.
Local refugees in Berlin were given special passes to visit the film festival behind-the-scenes, while 953 refugees watched films in a sponsored cinema visit. The film fest also donated "25,000 to local refugee non-profits.
The Berlinale also collaborated with a local refugee initiative “Cook the Bigger Picture,” where Sardinian chef Roberto Petza offered a Mediterranean food truck in collaboration with Berlin refugees. Paired with the food trucks, the “Culinary Cinema” program features 11 food-themed films were themed around “Make Food Not War,” including My Perfect Storm, a film following the life of world-renowned chef Rene Redzepi.
Arab films made their way to the spotlight, as Inhebbek Hedi, the first Arab film to screen in competition at the Berlinale in 20 years, won the prize for best debut feature. The Silver Bear for best actor went to its star Majd Mastoura. The Saudi Arabian romcom between a blogger and a bureaucrat called Barakah Yoqabil Barakah, starring Hisham Fageeh and Fatima Al Banawi, took home the Ecumenical Jury.
This year’s line-up included world premieres of arty films, like Mapplethorpe: Look at the Pictures, which delves into the personal life of New York artist Robert Mapplethorpe, who was a collaborator of Patti Smith, and a film about the great British art critic John Berger, who wrote the widely-read art book Ways of Seeing.
The red carpet was packed with stars. For the world premiere of the Coen Brothers’ Hail, Caesar!, Clooney perused the red carpet and was seemingly bombarded by fans with camera phones alongside Tilda Swinton, Channing Tatum and Josh Brolin.
Jude Law was signing autographs for denizens of freaked out female fans at the premiere of Michael Grandage’s Genius alongside Colin Firth and Laura Linney. The director Spike Lee was in attendance for his premiere of Chi-Raq, an anti-gang violence film, while British actress Emma Thompson, who has criticized the British government for its lack of response during the refugee crisis, was at the premiere of Alone in Berlin, which she stars in alongside Daniel Brühl. Thompson believes her country still has room to help – at the end of 2014, the UK had 0.24% of their population as refugees, 117,161 people.
The Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, who recently spent significant time on the island of Lesvos, was in attendance at the film festival, not only in person, but also with a piece of public art. Weiwei recently took 14,000 lifejackets that were worn by refugees making the rocky boat ride across the Mediterranean to Berlin, flanking the pillars of the famed, aristocratic Konzerthaus at Gendarmenmarkt – so even if you can’t catch the films, you still get the point, rather quickly.