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Refugee crisis is the highlight of Berlinale this year

  • Gautaman Bhaskaran, Hindustan Times, Chennai
  • Updated: Feb 12, 2016 14:54 IST

Fire By Sea is a film by Eritrean-born Italian documentary maker Gianfranco Rosi. (Berlin Film Festival)

Cinema has always been a great mirror of society, and sometimes movie festivals take it upon themselves to highlight societal concerns. The most pressing issue in today’s Europe is the refugee crisis, and the Berlin Film Festival has consciously decided to talk about this grave problem through its movies.

In fact, when the festival rolled its first edition in 1951, Europe had just got over its debilitating war and the aftermath of this had left a trail of misery and suffering among millions of people, grappling with loss of lives, loss of homes and loss of even their own identities. Berlin itself was a divided city, split into the America-ruled West and the Russia-dominated East. And in its inaugural edition, Berlin showcased cinema that dealt with war, the partition and the ravages from these.

Read: Berlin Film Festival to open with Coens’ Hail Caesar!

This year’s movies at Berlin speak about the migrant crisis. “One of the founding ideas of the festival was to contribute to better understanding between nations and cultures,” Dieter Kosslick, director, Berlinale told media on Thursday, the day the 12-day event began. The festival “has always had a reputation for being more political than maybe other festivals. Many films treated either the consequences of war or the suffering of displaced people”.

More than 400 movies will be screened, 20,000 industry professionals will attend, several hundred thousand tickets will be sold to the public -- including the refugees, many of whom will be given free passes.

There are nearly 80, 000 migrants in Berlin today, and 1.1 million men, women and children from Afghanistan, Syria, Eritrea and elsewhere have sought asylum in Germany.

Watch the trailer of Fire at Sea here:

A statement from the festival said: “Organisers are encouraging those attending the festival to make contact with the migrant community. When the Berlin film festival was launched in 1951, there were millions of German refugees and traumatised displaced persons in Europe. The festival made a point of fostering understanding, tolerance and acceptance... As a public festival and one of the city’s biggest annual events, the Berlinale feels a responsibility to do its part for Berlin’s culture of welcome.”

And the cinema at Berlin will provoke debates on the refugee crisis. Fire at Sea, by Eritrean-born Italian documentary maker Gianfranco Rosi, is about 12-year-old Samuele, who lives on the tiny Italian island of Lampedusa in the Mediterranean Sea, where thousands of African migrants have landed. Samuele and the inhabitants of Lampedusa are “witnesses -- at times unwitting, at times silent, at times aware of one of the greatest human tragedies of our time” and Lampedusa is “the most symbolic border of Europe,” the movie’s publicity materials avers.

Read: Thomas Vinterberg to return to Berlin with The Commune

Meteor Street by France’s Aline Fischer centres on an 18-year-old youth who has run away from the war in Lebanon. He arrives in Germany, a country that may not live up to his expectations. Fischer said in a press note that she began making the picture in 2012, before the migrants crisis erupted.”We knew what was happening in Syria,” she said. “But we weren’t trying to make a movie about the crisis. We were trying to tell a story with universal values.”

Some films from the Arab world, like, for example Houses Without Doors, will talk about the upheaval in the region (Syria, for instance) and how this has led to an exodus to Europe.

As Kosslick added: “Artists and moviemakers are seismographs of their time, some of the films will allow viewers to change our perception of things and reflect and act differently.”

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