Zelenskyy, Sean Penn and eco-activists feature at 73rd Berlin International Film Festival opening event
Speech of Volodymyr Zelenskyi (Photo:REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch)
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy was (virtual) guest of honor at the opening of the Berlinale 2023 film festival on Feb. 16, which this year is focused on drumming up support for Ukraine.
At the gala opening of the event, Zelenskyy addressed the film community via video from the big screen.
The 73rd Berlin International Film Festival expressed its support for Ukraine, which has been in a full-scale unprovoked war unleashed by Russia for almost a year now, as well as its support for Iranian revolutionaries who are protesting against the regime of the Ayatollah in Iran.
Supporting Ukraine in its struggle for independence, this year’s Berlinale did not invite pro-Kremlin institutions and representatives of Russia to participate, and there is not a single film in the program that was made with the support of Russia.
In his video address to the world community, Zelenskyy said culture and cinema cannot now be separate from politics, when a country follows a policy of aggression and of total war – which is the policy of today’s Russia. Zelenskyy also drew parallels with the Berlin Wall, saying that Russia wants to separate Ukraine from the rest of the free world with a wall.
The hall of the Berlinale Palast festival greeted Zelenskyy’s speech with “thunderous applause,” according to online publication Deadline. And the mention of the Berlin Wall was strongly resonant among the audience in the hall.
Before Zelenskyy’s address, the famous U.S. actor and director Sean Penn spoke on the stage at the Festival Palace. He has brought his documentary Superpower about the war in Ukraine to the festival, which will be shown in the Berlinale Specials program. On stage, Penn wore a badge — a Berlinale bear painted in the colors of the Ukrainian flag – which the festival has released as a sign of support for Ukraine.
In his foreword to Zelenskyy’s speech, Penn said that his film Superpower “was originally conceived as a whimsical story about a comedian actor who became president,” but “turned into something completely different.” The new stage of filming began on Feb. 24, the day of the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine, as Penn was in Ukraine at that time. Penn assured from the stage that over the past year “nothing has changed from the point of view of the will of the Ukrainian people, it has only strengthened.”
In addition to representatives of culture, the opening ceremony was attended by German politicians, in particular the mayor of Berlin Franziska Giffey and the commissioner for culture Claudia Roth, who expressed Germany’s solidarity with the women of Iran and Afghanistan at the event.
“We stand by you and those men who support you and who support you in your fight for freedom. We support those women who want to reclaim their lives — a free, independent life, not an existence controlled and obeyed by the morality police,” she said.
This year’s Berlinale was not without protests itself. Two eco-activists, a man and a woman, glued themselves to the red carpet of the film festival, calling on the German government and society to take more measures to fight climate change.
The festival itself opened with the premiere of Rebecca Miller’s romantic comedy “She Came to Me,” with Anne Hathaway, Marisa Tomei and Peter Dinklage in the lead roles.
Members of the film crew of the opening film, members of the jury and star guests of the film festival walked the traditional red carpet of the film forum.
Berlinale 2023 will run from Feb. 16-26. Festival award winners will be named at the closing ceremony on Feb. 25.
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