| Leonardo DiCaprio on the sets of Gangs of New York. (Reuters)
Berlin, Feb. 3 (Reuters): From Chicago to New York in 11 days, through 46 countries, into space and past the stars.
This is the package the Berlin Film Festival, the Berlinale, is offering when it opens to the tune of All that Jazz on Thursday and the film version of Broadway musical Chicago.
Until the gala close with Martin Scorsese’s Gangs of New York, the Berlinale, one of Europe’s top three film festivals, is putting on some 300 films and offering the promise of celebrity appearances from Anouk Aimee to Catherine Zeta-Jones.
It will be a day shorter and almost 100 films slimmer than last year as organisers work with a tighter budget. But festival director Dieter Kosslick insists the show won’t suffer.
The films chosen for the gala opening and close are bigger budget fare than a year ago and organisers are proud they have included Chicago and drama The Hours, the two big winners at this year’s Golden Globe awards, in the programme.
The Hours, directed by Stephen Daldry of Billy Elliot fame, is one of 22 films competing for the coveted “Golden Bear” and brings together Meryl Streep, Julianne Moore and Nicole Kidman who donned a fake nose to portray writer Virginia Woolf.
Kosslick hopes his festival will be star-studded too. “You can’t say they’re coming until they’re on the red carpet. However, I can say it will be a festival packed with stars.”
Chicago offers the prospect of Richard Gere, Rene Zellweger and Zeta-Jones. For the competition, the potential guests include Nicolas Cage in Adaptation, Edward Norton for The 25th Hour and Kevin Spacey and Kate Winslet in joint US-British production The Life of David Gale.
The French film Petites Coupures may bring Daniel Auteuil and Kristin Scott Thomas, while George Clooney could swing by twice, first in Steven Soderbergh’s space drama Solaris and then as director of Confessions of a Dangerous Mind.
Kosslick is also promising greater prominence for shorter films and introduced a special cinema day solely for the public.
Berlin ranks behind Cannes and beside Venice among Europe’s film festivals, but attracts far more regular movie-goers.
Outside the competition, Israeli films feature prominently and there is a section devoted to new Russian work.
There’s older stuff too with a retrospective of Japanese director Yasujiro Ozu, 100 years after his birth, and a homage and lifetime award for French actress Anouk Aimee.
Fans of German director Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau will be able to see his many silent films of the 1920s, including the celebrated horror movie Nosferatu. For those who want their money’s worth, Gangs of New York weighs in at just under three hours, but the real heavyweight is the six-hour journey through the Balkans, Southeast Passage.
The jury, chaired by Canadian director Atom Egoyan, will reach its decision on February 15. Last year, Paul Greengrass’ Bloody Sunday about the killings in Northern Ireland on January 30, 1972, and the animated film Spirited Away by Hayao Miyazaki shared the top prize.
This year’s is the 53rd Berlinale, which has come a long way since the three allied forces in West Germany — the US, Britain and France — launched it in 1951 to revive Berlin’s culture and promote the city as the window of the free world.
Still the idea of a gathering of film styles, views and cultures remains, reinforced this year with a stress on the issue of migration and the festival’s motto “towards tolerance”.
“On the one side, we are showing intelligent entertainment. On the other, it’s a politically engaged programme, including looking at refugees worldwide, people who live in difficult social situations,” said Kosslick in his second year in the job.