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Political Speeches Dominate Berlin Opening Ceremony

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Feisty, topical and nakedly political speeches dominated the opening ceremony on Thursday at the Berlinale.

They followed a red carpet that mixed demonstrations and high style over a more than two-hour stretch.

Festival co-chief Mariëtte Rissenbeek felt it necessary to address head on the festival’s recent controversy over invitations to five far-right (AfD) members of the German parliament. The invitations were subsequently canceled, but the backlash has scarcely subsided.

“The Berlinale has a lot of space for dialog. Between people and for art, but it has no space for hatred. Hatred is not on our guest list. It won’t be invited,” Rissenbeek said.

“Many people in the Berlinale team, many of our friends or acquaintances are affected by the intentions of the right wing AfD their intention to deport people with a migrant background from the country. They want to throw them out. And that is something that we cannot or will not tolerate as a festival is a party that says that’s anti-democratic and discriminatory.

“And they say well, we can do that because we’re democratically elected. But they forget one thing in doing that, if you’re lucky enough and privileged enough to take part in a democratic election, you have to stick to all of the rules of democracy. To respect those rules and protect them,” said Rissenbeek.

Germany’s federal culture minister, Claudia Roth, was just as outspoken, but cast her gaze still wider. She referenced Salman Rushdie and Jean-Luc Godard and used the word “terrorists” to describe Hamas.

“Jean-Luc Godard once said, ‘Sometimes, reality is too complex, but stories give it form.’ We live in a period that threatens with all its crises, conflicts, misery and tragedy to really overwhelm us,” said Roth.

“Rarely have the lies of a warlord been more infamous than those of Vladimir Putin. And there’s rarely been a juster cause that that of the Ukrainians fighting for their country,” she continued.

“[Last year] we expressed solidarity with courageous women and men in Iran as they stood up to a regime that threatens any form of resistance,” said Roth.

“Then came the day that was such a profound turning point for people in Israel for Jewish people worldwide, indeed for all of us. The barbaric attack by Hamas terrorists on people living peacefully. People celebrating peacefully at a festival. That October was a day of murder, of destruction. A day when there were hundreds of rapes and hostage takings. That is a horror that still endures. Bring them home. Now,” she said to loud applause inside the Berlinale Palast.

“When I say that, I actually think too, with deep sadness and great concern for all the civilians in the Gaza Strip. Humanity is inalienable and indivisible. The people in the Gaza Strip urgently need assistance. They need help. They need protection. A political solution is crucial here in order to make it possible to live together peacefully.

“I feel profoundly ashamed when I see the wave of violence against Jewish people in our country that we experience it day in and day out, including in Berlin,” said Roth.

But the ceremony also had its lighter moments. “Oppenheimer” star Cillian Murphy, who is also the centerpiece of the Berlinale’s opening night movie “Small Things Like These,” was asked by the cheeky ceremony host if hewould prefer to win a Golden Bear or an Oscar. He said he’d like both, earning loud laughs from the seated audience.

Matt Damon, who also appears in “Oppenheimer,” has become a regular visitor to the Berlinale. He was in town in 2023 and returns this year as producer of “Small Things Like These.” “Because it’s an incredible festival and an incredible city. It’s one of my favorite places to come,” Damon explained.

Jury president Lupita Nyong’o noted, “I’m also the first black president,” before saying that she refuses to be defined by her race. “Nevertheless, I’m proud to be a symbol of progress.”

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