Diversity, politics and revelations from the Nazi era will dominate the agenda when the Berlin film festival launches its 70th edition in the heart of the German capital this Thursday.
This edition opens with a large selection of films, with movies from Brazil and Argentina competing alongside the latest films from veterans like Abel Ferrara and anticipated features like The Roads Not Taken, which stars Javier Bardem and Elle Fanning.
’odos os mortos, by Brazilian film-makers Marco Dutra and Caetano Gotardo on slavery, and El fugugo, a film by Argentine director Natalia Meta, defined as a "psycho-sexual thriller," are in the running for the Golden Bear prize.
A total of 18 films are competing for the top prize of the festival, which is seen as a bastion of social cinema. American independent film star Kelly Reichardt will compete with First Cow, and Iranian Mohamad Rasoulof, whose government prevents him from leaving the country, will do so too with There is no evil’. Darkness and hopelessness predominate in this competition.
"Perhaps because the films we select tend to look at the present without hope; not to arouse fear, but because they want to open our eyes," explained Carlo Chatrian, the festival's new director with Mariette Rissenbeek.
This year's competition will be judged an international jury headed by British Oscar-winning actor Jeremy Irons, which also includes French-Argentine star Berenice Bejo.
The winner will be announced at an awards ceremony on Saturday, February 29.
Actress Helen Mirren will receive the Bear of Honour and two other famous females will also draw attention: Cate Blanchett, for her mini-series Stateless on migration, and Hillary Clinton, who is expected at the festival to present the five-part documentary Hillary’, about her life.
Chatrian and Rissenbeek, who took over from Dieter Kosslick after 18 years leading the festival, promised to reflect diversity not only in the selection of their films but also among their directors.
Of the 18 films in competition, six are directed or co-directed by women, down from last year's record (45 percent) but higher than at Cannes and especially Venice, whose 2019 edition only selected two women directors out of 21.
It includes Colombian director Camilo Restrepo's debut film, Los Conductos, and Argentine director Matías Piñeiro's new film, Isabella, about the female characters in Shakespeare's work.
In addition to Natalia Meta, Argentine Agustina Comedi is also hoping to win the Golden Bear for Best Short Film with Playback.
Brazil has a strong presence in with four films, including the documentary Nardjes, by director Karim Aïnouz, who won a prize last year in Cannes for his melodrama La vida invisible, about Eurydice Gusmao.
Also highlighted is O reflexo do lago, a film about Amazonian villages living next to the world's largest hydroelectric installations.
The Berlinale will also present El tango del viudo y su espejo deformante ("The tango of the widower and his deforming mirror"), a film that Chilean filmmaker Raúl Ruiz, left unfinished due to lack of funds and early death. His former partner Valeria Sarmiento found the film's reels in 2017 and, together with a team of directors, decided to complete it, a task that took them almost three years.
Chatrian warned against "stamping" the Berlinale as a political event, yet politics will be front and centre in the 70th edition.
The anniversary has already been overshadowed by revelations that Alfred Bauer, the Berlinale's founding director, was a high-ranking Nazi.
The prestigious Alfred Bauer prize, previously won by the likes of Baz Luhrmann, was suspended after an investigation by newspaper Die Zeit highlighted Bauer's standing in the Nazi party.
On Tuesday, festival organisers announced they had commissioned the Munich-based Institute for Contemporary History (IfZ) to investigate Bauer's role in the Hitler regime.