Berlinale 2024 | Berlin Film Festival jury questions move to uninvite far-right

A simmering controversy marked the onset of the Berlin International Film Festival when two distinguished jury members publicly denounced the festival’s decision to retract invitations to members of a far-right political party. The incident has amplified discussions about cultural spaces and the inclusion of divisive political entities.

The uproar commenced when it came to light that five politicians from the Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, recognized for their hard-right stance, were no longer welcomed at the opening ceremony, an event that traditionally hosts a spectrum of elected officials. The Berlinale organizers made this decision against the backdrop of a national outcry prompted by revelations of the politicians participating in a covert gathering where the deportation of ethnic minorities was allegedly deliberated.

German film director Christian Petzold, acclaimed for his film ‘Afire’ which secured the Grand Jury Prize at last year’s festival, along with Italian actor Jasmine Trinca, known for her upcoming TV series ‘Supersex’ about the life of pornographic actor Rocco Siffredi, voiced their concerns to journalists at a press conference introducing the jury. Petzold argued that forbidding the attendance of the AfD members demonstrated a lack of courage and conviction essential to the spirit of artistic confrontation and dialogue. He passionately contended that by not allowing these individuals to be part of the audience, opportunities for wider discourse and possibly transforming viewpoints could be lost.

Echoing Petzold’s sentiments, Trinca underscored the capacity of cinema to challenge and change perspectives. She posited that exposing the controversial politicians to the Berlinale’s curated films might have offered them a gateway to broader contemplations, reflecting the very essence of life and time as captured through the art of cinema.

The move to disinvite the politicians was condemned by Katrin Brinker, the AfD’s leading figure in Berlin, whose own invitation was among those rescinded. In a public statement, she accused the festival of succumbing to the pressures of cultural activism and argued that the decision effectively marginalized, stigmatized, and deprived the AfD representatives of democratic rights extended to others.

The AfD’s political narrative is one of anti-immigration, ostensibly safeguarding traditional German culture and serving as the voice for a segment of society they claim is overlooked by the ruling political classes.

Amidst these unfolding events, the conference attendees were abruptly reminded of the omnipresence of current global conflicts when an air raid siren sounded from the smartphone of jury member and Ukrainian author Oksana Zabuzhko, signifying the cessation of Russia’s latest missile barrages—an audible beacon of the times we live in.

Jury president Lupita Nyong’o, celebrated for her roles in ‘Black Panther’ and ’12 Years A Slave’, sought to navigate the dialogue back towards the realm of cinema. As an international artist, she expressed relief at being spared from delving into the local political intricacies, remaining focused on her role within the film festival.

Ultimately, Petzold conceded to the overshadowing nature of world affairs on the artistic proceedings. He acknowledged the pervasive nature of such discussions, whether they pertain to crises in Gaza, Ukraine, or the local controversy with the AfD, while emphasizing that the primary purpose of their congregation was to celebrate and contemplate films.

This unfolding scenario at the Berlin International Film Festival underscores the entwined relationship between politics, culture, and art, leaving spectators and participants alike wrestling with questions about the boundaries of inclusion, debate, and the power of cinema as a force for change.

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