One of Europe's biggest cinema events alongside Cannes and Venice, the Berlinale will this year showcase female directors and political films from across the globe while also confronting hard truths about its own murky history.
Following furious debate in Hollywood about the dominance of white and male nominees at recent award shows, the Berlinale's new directors have claimed the 11-day festival will represent the “diversity” of cinema.
“My goal is to ensure a platform for the films. We want to give room to diversity,” said co-director Carlo Chatrian.
“I don't say that we are presenting perfect films… but films that represent cinema in its diversity.”
New chiefs Chatrian and Mariette Rissenbeek take charge of the festival for the first time this year, after former boss Dieter Kosslick ended an 18-year spell at the helm in 2019.
Last year, Kosslick signed a “50/50” pledge to commit the festival to gender parity in future, calling for transparency in selection and an even gender ratio in top management.
At a recent press conference, Rissenbeek pointed out that the majority of section directors were now women after a reorganisation of the festival structure.
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Berlinale bosses Carlo Chatrian and Mariette Rissenbeek. Photo: DPA
Yet only six of the 18 films in the running for this year's “Golden Bear” are directed by women, one fewer than in 2019.
They include British director Sally Potter's “The Roads Not Taken”, starring Javier Bardem and Salma Hayek, and “First Cow” by US indie director Kelly Reichardt.
A number of high-profile female figures are also set to grace the red carpet this year.
British Oscar winner Helen Mirren will receive a lifetime achievement award, while former US presidential candidate Hillary Clinton is set to appear for a five-part documentary on her life.
Chatrian has warned against “stamping” the Berlinale as a political event, yet politics will be front and centre in the 70th edition.
The anniversary has already been overshadowed by revelations that Alfred Bauer, the Berlinale's founding director, was a high-ranking Nazi.
The prestigious Alfred Bauer prize, previously won by the likes of Baz Luhrmann, was suspended after an investigation by newspaper Die Zeit highlighted Bauer's standing in the Nazi party.
Alfred Bauer and actress Shirley Maclaine at Berlin's Tempelhof Airport in 1971. Photo: DPA
On Tuesday, festival organisers announced they had commissioned the Munich-based Institute for Contemporary History (IfZ) to investigate Bauer's role in the Hitler regime.
The festival programme also includes a wealth of politically charged films.
Controversial Russian artistic project DAU will make its first appearance in Berlin since its 2018 plan to reconstruct the Berlin Wall in the heart of the German capital was thwarted by city authorities.
Two DAU films will be shown at the Berlinale with one, DAU Natasha, among those in competition.
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Also in the running for the Golden Bear are “There Is No Evil” by Mohammad Rasoulof, an Iranian director currently unable to leave his home country, and Rithy Panh's “Irradiated”, a work on remembrance of the Cambodian genocide.
Brazilian director Caetano Gotardo's film about slavery “All the Dead Ones” is also up for the main prize, amid anger in Brazil over President Jair Bolsonaro's slashing of state support for the film industry.
Festival director Chatrian denied that the selection of Brazilian films was a rebuke to Bolsonaro, but said that “many filmmakers in Brazil are afraid of the cuts”.
This year's competition will be judged an international jury which is headed by British Oscar winner Jeremy Irons and also includes French-Argentine star Berenice Bejo.
The winner will be announced at an awards ceremony on Saturday, February 29th.