At the start of the Berlinale, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyj made an emotional appeal to filmmakers and artists to support his country after the Russian attack.

“Can art stay out of politics?” Zelenskyy asked on Thursday evening via video link at the opening gala. The question is now extremely important again. Both the festival organizers and Minister of State for Culture Claudia Roth assured Ukraine of solidarity. The audience gave Selenskyj a standing ovation.

In his video speech, the former actor emphasized that cinema and film can overcome barriers, both real and ideological. He recalled Wim Wenders’ film “Der Himmel über Berlin”, which anticipated the end of the division of Germany. Today it is Russia that is building a new wall in Ukraine. “It’s a wall between freedom and slavery,” said Zelenskyy.

Selenskyj accused the Russian attackers of mass crimes, murder, terror and a “policy of total war”. Art cannot remain indifferent, because in silence the “voice of evil only becomes louder and more convincing”.

Attack while filming in Ukraine

The US actor and director Sean Penn, who is showing his film “Superpower” at the Berlinale, also spoke before Selenskyj’s video switch at the opening gala. Penn began filming alongside fellow actor Aaron Kaufman in Ukraine in early 2021. During filming on February 24, 2022, Russian President Vladimir Putin launched the invasion of Ukraine. The film then turned out very differently than planned, said Penn.

Minister of State for Culture Roth also recalled the importance of culture in times of war and crisis. “Anyone who makes films and who shows films in dark times resists bondage,” said the Green politician. The Berlinale celebrated the power of film in dark and bright times: “The culture of democracy, the culture of diversity and understanding.”

The Berlinale, which is one of the most important international film festivals along with Cannes and Venice, ends on February 26th. 19 films are in the running for the Golden Bear. The comedy “She Came to Me” by director Rebecca Miller was chosen as the opening film. Jury President Kristen Stewart will decide together with other filmmakers at the end. The Berlinale wants to show a total of around 280 films in around a week and a half.

White banner for the people of Iran

During the Berlinale, the situation of the people in Iran should also be remembered. Several women, including the actress Jasmin Tabatabai, held up a white banner on the red carpet with the slogan “Woman Life Freedom” written on it. Actress Golshifteh Farahani also drew attention to the situation in her country on stage: “This regime will fall.”

A number of film stars came to Berlin, such as actress Anne Hathaway, actor Peter Dinklage and this year’s jury president Kristen Stewart. Actors Elyas M’Barek, Matthias Schweighöfer and Lars Eidinger, actresses Heike Makatsch and Iris Berben, Interior Minister Nancy Faeser and Economics Minister Robert Habeck also walked the carpet.

Before the opening gala, activists from the climate group Last Generation also protested: They glued themselves in front of the building. A young man and a young woman sat on the edge of the red carpet. There were no major disturbances, but there were a few shouts of protest. According to a statement from the group, the two activists had overcome a barrier. The group calls for a radical change in climate and keeps sticking to the streets to disrupt traffic. At the beginning of the protest, the guests were already in the hall, the red carpet was largely empty.