Source: Ali Ghandtschi/Berlinale

The 2024 Berlin Competition jury

Jury members for the 74th Berlinale answered and avoided numerous political questions in a tense press conference ahead of the opening of the 2024 festival.

In a 40-minute conference, the seven-person jury fielded questions on the invitation then disinvitation of Germany right-wing party Alternative fur Deutschland; the ongoing crisis in Gaza; and the war in Ukraine.

Responding to a question about Gaza, German filmmaker Christian Petzold said, “I don’t want to answer this question here because it’s not really one that belongs in this press conference.

“I’m in favour of peace, in favour of discussing, talking, which I’m sure that we’ll do in this jury.”

Petzold was one of several hundred filmmakers to sign an open letter in December calling for a ceasefire in Gaza.

Jury president Lupita Nyong’o has also signed a similar letter. The question regarding Gaza was also addressed directly to her; she did not offer an answer, having already given her thoughts on the AfD issue and political nature of the Berlinale in general earlier on in the conference.

Spanish filmmaker and festival juror Albert Serra was the subject of several questions about his political views, creating a tense atmosphere at the conference.

Serra previously said he is “fascinated” by former US president Donald Trump and Russian leader Vladimir Putin. “They are characters that transcend the figure of the politician who only seeks consensus,” the director said in an interview with Spanish publication Rac1 in 2022. He sits on the jury with Ukrainian writer Oksana Zabuzhko, who was asked directly how she feels about sitting alongside someone who has expressed such views – a question that solicited a surprised “what?!” from Nyong’o.

Zabuzhko responded that she had been interested to discuss the matter with Serra; and that, at a jury dinner last night (Wednesday 14), she had already sold him an Italian-language copy of her book on the topic of Ukrainian-Russian relations.

Serra said that the interview in question where he expressed his opinions on Putin and Trump was “two hours and five minutes” long, had covered multiple topics, and would need to be heard in full to properly understand his views.

US filmmaker and juror Brady Corbet spoke in defence of Serra, saying, “I can’t imagine that what he was saying was not in humour and without nuance. I’m sure it was much more nuanced than that soundbite presents.”

As the conference continued, several jury members exhibited frustration at the continuing political questions. “We are not Jesus Christ,” said Serra, who quoted former US president Barack Obama saying that “Even the United States cannot solve all the problems of the world.”

AfD controversy

Responding to a question from Screen about whether either the invitation or disinvitation of members of the German right-wing party AfD was appropriate, Petzold said, “I waited for this question for one week and I forgot my answer.

“I think it is not a problem to have five people from the AfD in the audience. We are not cowards; if we can’t stand five people from the AfD in the audience we will lose our fight.”

Italian filmmaker and juror Jasmine Trinca added, “Imagine if you have those five fascists looking at the films shown at the Berlinale – perhaps it might help then broaden their minds a bit.”

Nyong’o was asked if, had the AfD members attended the opening ceremony as originally planned, she would’ve felt comfortable being alongside members of a group that has made plans to deport migrants from Germany.

“You asked the question, I guess I should answer it,” said Nyong’o. “I’m a foreigner here; I don’t know the ins and outs of the political situation here. I’m glad I don’t have to answer that question. I’m glad I don’t have to be in that position.”

The conference was briefly interrupted by an air-raid siren noise from Zabuzhko’s phone, which the juror quickly shut off and apologised for, saying it was a positive sign – a notification of the end of the latest air raids in Ukraine.

The tense conference signals the start of a politics-heavy 11 days at the festival, with protests from the German film industry and Berlin taxi drivers on the opening day.

The jury’s first film will be festival opener Small Things Like These by Tim Mielants this evening; followed by Iranian title My Favourite Cake from Maryam Moghaddam and Behtash Sanaeeha tomorrow (Friday 16).