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It’s early February in Berlin, which means it’s time for the Hollywood-style razzle dazzle of famous film stars and directors to descend on the city. Earlier this morning, the eyes and ears of the world’s entertainment sector focused on the conference room of the Hyatt Hotel at Potsdammer Platz, as the jury for the 66th Berlinale International Film Festival was introduced to the press for the first time, followed by the eagerly awaited European premiere of Ethan and Joel Coen’s ode to the Golden Age of Filmaking, “Hail, Caesar”.

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There was naturally a lot of excitement over the presence of this year’s jury president, a certain Meryl Streep. You may have heard of her before. You know, that actor unrivaled in her field with just the NINETEEN Academy Award nominations and three wins to her name? Also present were British actor Clive Owen,  Italian actor Alba Rohrwacher, Germany’s Lars Eidinger, Polish filmmaker Malgorzata Szumowska, French photographer Brigitte Lacombe, and rounded out by English film critic Nick James.

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“It’s so good to be with people who love and care about films”

Speaking on the arduous process of selecting a winner for the prestigious Golden Bear award from so many excellent films, Streep had this to say:

“It’s difficult, the process of deciding. We each bring our own biases, our own agendas. You can’t help it, even unconsciously. You bring your own experience. For me, a compassionate heart is important as an actress, and it makes me want to watch each person’s work carefully, because it’s unique to them. But making a judgement is necessary. To be in this festival is important. It’s going to be a difficult, but a necessary lift for the winner.”

As ever, it was acknowledged that the Berlinale is a rather political film festival compared to others, and, accordingly, the jury fielded questions as to why there were no people of colour on the jury, the role of women, and thoughts on the current refugee crisis in Europe. Streep, clearly a little jet-lagged, somewhat side-stepped the question regarding the panel’s monochromatic ethnicity, saying:

“There is a core of humanity that travels right through everyone, and we are all from Africa anyway. We have a critic, an actor, a cinematographer. People will all be looking at different things. But we are human beings and film is an emotional experience. We make decisions with the head but we are first attacked in the heart.”

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Once the jury had been introduced, it was on to the main event of the day – the premiere of Hail, Caesar, featuring an all-star cast with Josh Brolin in the lead role as movie studio “fixer” and general hardman Eddie Mannix, George Clooney as actor Baird Whitlock (above), and a dazzling supporting cast of Tilda Swinton, Scarlett Johansson, Channing Tatum, Jonah Hill, Ralph Fiennes, Frances McDormand and newcomer Alden Ehrenreich.

Hail, Casar!

The film, set in the 1950s in what is now considered the Golden Age of Cinema, centres around Brolin’s character Mannix (above) whose chief job, as head of physical production, is to keep an eye on Capitol Pictures’ most valuable assets – its actors and directors (who invariably get themselves into trouble). Clooney’s character, who plays the lead in the ‘film-within-a-film’, the titular Hail, Caesar, is kidnapped and ransomed early in the story, and Brolin’s main struggle is to stop word from getting out, and to get him back safely to complete filming.

Hail, Casar!

Anyone familiar with the Coen brothers’ (above) extensive filmography, will no doubt be thrilled with this tongue-in-cheek romp, as many of their signature elements are present, most notably some puntastic wordplay within the characters’ lines.  We are also treated to an outstanding 6-minute song-and-dance routine from Channing Tatum (pictured below. Seriously, is there anything this guy can’t do?) and wonderfully choreographed film set scenes.

Hail, Caesar!

As ever with such an all-star cast, many of the actors are used all too sparingly, such as the ever-excellent Fiennes and sparkling Johansson (both below). What we did get at the press conference was a typically jovial George Clooney, who explained his relationship with the film-making siblings.

The Coens said I was going to play a knucklehead again, but I didn’t know my character was going to be this stupid! But I genuinely enjoy how much fun they make of me in their movies”.

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As press conferences at Berlinale tend towards the political, there were more difficult questions for Clooney regarding his earlier film ‘Syriana’, when he was asked if, given the current climate of war, he would be interested in making a sequel. At this point, he expressed the sentiment that the film community tends to react rather than lead the way in this regard, but that he was planning on sitting down with Chancellor Angela Merkel tomorrow to discuss such matters.

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Many journalists were clearly unsatisfied with Clooney’s previous answers, and more questions regarding the current refugee crisis followed. At one stage Clooney, visibly irked at fielding another question on the topic, repeated that he actively works on many humanitarian projects and was scheduled to meet tomorrow with our dear Angela, turned on a journalist and asked her, appearing rather disgruntled, “Well what do YOU do for refugees?” before Joel Coen supported him by saying that it was “silly” that just because you are a public figure that you should be expected to lead the charge in these matters. Or something to that effect, anyway. I’ll let you decide for yourself what to make of that.

I unfortunately had to watch these events unfold on a TV screen just outside, as the usual stampede from cinema to the conference room was extra brutal and I didn’t place in the highly-competitive race to get a seat. Things are just getting started here, but there is already a lot of electricity in the air. Come back early next week for the midway report on all the goings-on at this year’s Berlinale, as there are some truly exciting films in the competition to learn about, the full list of which appears below.

24 Wochen (24 Weeks)
Germany
By Anne Zohra Berrached (Two Mothers)
With Julia Jentsch, Bjarne Mädel, Johanna Gastdorf, Emilia Pieske
World premiere

Chang Jiang Tu (Crosscurrent)
People’s Republic of China
By Yang Chao (Passages)
With Qin Hao, Xin Zhi Lei
World premiere

Chi-Raq
USA
By Spike Lee (Malcom X, Do the Right Thing)
With Nick Cannon, Wesley Snipes, Teyonah Parris, Jennifer Hudson, Angela Bassett, John Cusack, Samuel L. Jackson
International premiere – Out of competition

Des nouvelles de la planète Mars (News from planet Mars)
France / Belgium
By Dominik Moll (Lemming, Harry, He’s Here to Help)
With François Damiens, Vincent Macaigne, Veerle Baetens, Jeanne Guittet, Tom Rivoire
World premiere – Out of competition

Inhebbek Hedi (Hedi)
Tunisia / Belgium / France
By Mohamed Ben Attia
With Majd Mastoura, Rym Ben Messaoud, Sabah Bouzouita, Hakim Boumessoudi, Omnia Ben Ghali
World premiere – First feature

Mahana (The Patriarch)
New Zealand
By Lee Tamahori (The Devil’s Double, Die Another Day, Once Were Warriors)
With Temuera Morrison, Akuhata Keefe, Nancy Brunning, Jim Moriarty, Regan Taylor, Maria Walker
World premiere – Out of competition

Saint Amour
France / Belgium
By Benoît Delépine, Gustave Kervern (Mammuth, Le grand soir)
With Gérard Depardieu, Benoît Poelvoorde, Vincent Lacoste, Céline Sallette
World premiere – Out of competition

Soy Nero
Germany / France / Mexico
By Rafi Pitts (The Hunter, It’s Winter)
With Johnny Ortiz, Rory Cochrane, Aml Ameen, Darell Britt-Gibson, Michael Harney
World premiere

Alone in Berlin by Vincent Perez (Germany / France / United Kingdom)

Boris sans Béatrice (Boris without Béatrice) by Denis Côté (Canada)

Cartas da guerra (Letters from War) by Ivo M. Ferreira (Portugal)

Ejhdeha Vared Mishavad! (A Dragon Arrives!) by Mani Haghighi (Iran)

Fuocoammare (Fire at Sea) by Gianfranco Rosi (Italy / France) – documentary

Genius by Michael Grandage (United Kingdom / USA) – First feature

Hail, Caesar! by Joel and Ethan Coen (USA / United Kingdom) – Out of competition

Hele Sa Hiwagang Hapis (A Lullaby to the Sorrowful Mystery) by Lav Diaz (Philippines / Singapore)

Kollektivet (The Commune) by Thomas Vinterberg (Denmark / Sweden / Netherlands)

L’avenir (Things to Come) by Mia Hansen-Løve (France / Germany)

Midnight Special by Jeff Nichols (USA)

Quand on a 17 ans (Being 17) by André Téchiné (France)

Smrt u Sarajevu / Mort à Sarajevo (Death in Sarajevo) by Danis Tanović (France / Bosnia and Herzegovina)

Zero Days by Alex Gibney (USA) – documentary

Zjednoczone Stany Miłosci (United States of Love) by Tomasz Wasilewski (Poland / Sweden)

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About Author

Brendan enjoys writing about cultural events, electronic music parties, and interviewing the artists who perform at them, as well as film and travel. Something of a rarity in Berlin, Brendan is also a DJ. His first Berlin Loves You moment was walking over the Oberbaumbrücke and sensing the history of the city on a visit in 2005. Having just completed a masters in Inter-cultural Conflict Management at a university in east Berlin, his goal is to help people understand each other better. [email protected]

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