Bonn : Berlinale makes a case for peace. The Film Fest saw Kristen Stewart, Anne Hathaway, and others talk about art in times of war.

The Berlinale film festival kicked off with a video address by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky before a screening of the romantic comedy SheCametoMe.

The Berlin International Film Festival showed its support for Ukraine on Thursday, with a live video address by Volodymyr Zelenskyy at the opening gala event. The Ukrainian president was given a standing ovation as he appeared on the screen.

''Cinema is able to overcome borders and walls, whether real or ideological,'' said Zelenskyy, referring to the Berlin Wall that used to stand at the very location of the Berlinale on Potsdamer Platz.

''It seems to me very symbolic,'' he said, as that wall was not only a physical division, but one that marked an ideological divide, he explained, ''Today Russia wants to build the same wall ....... between civilization and tyranny.''

The festival falls around the one-year anniversary of Russia's full-scale war of aggression. Facing a policy of total war, '' Culture cannot be neutral,'' Zelenskyy said.'' Cinema cannot cannot change the world, but it can influence and inspire people who can change the world.''

The Ukrainian leader also referred to the history of the Berlinale, itself founded in 1951 as a ''showcase of the free world.'' Ukraine similarly acts as ''the fortress of the free world,'' which is why it ''cannot fall, will stand and will win,'' he concluded.

Sean Penn on Ukrainians 'Superpower'

US actor-director Sean Penn was also on stage at the gala to introduce Zelenskyy's speech. ''Nothing has changed concerning the will of the Ukrainians,'' said Penn, who recently returned from Ukraine. ''If anything it has just gotten stronger.''

Penn is to present Superpower, a highly anticipated documentary that he co-directed with Aaron Kaufmann. The filmmakers were already in Ukraine when Russia invaded the country one year ago.

The film follows the Ukrainian president, a former comedian, as he is suddenly called upon to become a wartime leader.

''Zelenskyy was two completely different creatures from one day to the next,'' Penn told entertainment industry magazine Variety ahead of the festival, referring to how the invasion transformed the Ukrainian leader. ''He was a spirit in waiting.'' Superpower celebrates its world premier on Friday.

The Berlinale condemns Russia's war of aggression,'' said the festival's managing director, Mariette Rissenbeek.

The festival stands with ''the suffering population, the millions who left Ukraine and the artists who have remained defending the country and continue filming the war,'' added artistic director Carlo Chatrian at the gala.

''If I could award a prize today, it would be to all the people of Ukraine, who are resisting the Russian onslaught,'' said the German government's Commissioner for Culture and the Media, Claudia Roth, in her speech.

'Emotionally whiplashed time'

The festival's international jury was also introduced on opening night. US actor Kristen Stewart, who heads this year's jury, said at a press conference ahead of the gala opening on Thursday that she believes the role of artists is :

''To take a disgusting and ugly thing and sort of transmute it and put it through your body and pump out something more beautiful and more helpful '' - a task that becomes particularly meaningful in today's emotionally whip lashed time.''

Solidarity with Iran's protesters

Alongside Cannes and Venice, the Berlinale is one of Europe's most important film festivals, with a reputation for being the most political of the big three. This year, Iran is also a focus of the Berlinale. Different events and screenings have been organized in support of the protesters fighting for their democratic rights.

''Our hearts go out to women of Iran,'' who are risking their lives in the ''Woman Life Freedom'' protests culture minister Roth said in her speech.

Iranian juror Golshifteh Farahani also addressed the demonstrations in her home country during a press conference on Thursday.

''In a country like Iran, which is a dictatorship, art is not only an intellectual or philosophical thing, it's essential, it's like oxygen,'' she said.

Romantic Comedy Opens Festival

In contrast to the heavyweight political themes dominating the Berlinale, the festival opened with the crowd-pleasing romantic comedy She Came To Me starring Peter Dinklage, Marisa Tomei and Anne Hathaway.

Dinklage { Game of Thrones } plays the role of an opera composer who faces creative block until he meets a seductive tugboat captain who becomes the muse.

At a press conference ahead of the ceremony, the film's director Rebecca Miller said she saw it as ''a great honour'' to be associated with Zelenskyy,'' because he's obviously a hero at the point.''

''I want to express my gratitude to the film festival for including a hero of our times and for giving us all the opportunity to amplify the message of Ukraine, which is the almost universal desire for peace,''  actor Anne Hathaway added.

Miller also said that she hopes her film can serve as an ''ambassador of goodwill across many nations,'' and expressed the hope that ''one of the ways we can perhaps have a more peaceful world is by having our art talk to each other across the nations.''

The film is the first of nearly 300 new works from around the world to screen during the event, which runs from February 16-26.

The World Students Society thanks The Express Tribune.


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