The Berlin Film Festival will invite refugees in Germany to attend film screenings free of charge as part of its focus on immigration and the broader migrant crisis this year.
As AFP reported Thursday, the 66th iteration of the festival will feature at least a dozen films focusing on Europe’s refugee crisis as nearly 80,000 refugees streamed into the German capital last year.
As part of its “sponsored cinema visit” initiative, the festival has asked Berlin’s nonprofit refugee aid organizations for volunteers who “would like to accompany a refugee to a screening,” according to a festival press release.
“The aim of the project is to help boost existing aquaintanceships and foster cultural exchange,” the festival said on its website.
The Berlinale will also host donation drives for refugee aid programs at its gala events, and urged attendees to donate money to the Berlin Center for Torture Victims, where funds raised will go toward integrating refugees and victims of torture into society by offering placement into film and German-language classes, and by providing interpreters for therapy sessions.
The festival also announced that refugee-staffed food trucks will serve up fresh cuisine at the Berlinale Street Food Market. Sardinian celebrity chef Roberto Petza will serve up Mediterranean food from a truck while working alongside refugees.
More than 400 films from around the world will be shown at the festival this year, including a 12-hour-long film exploring the life of 19th century scientific explorer Adelbert von Chamisso. But more than a dozen films will explore the impact of mass migration, including Italian director Gianfranco Rosi’s Fire at Sea, a documentary about the Mediterranean island Lampedusa, which has served as an entry point for many fleeing refugees.
“Refugees have always played a role at the Berlinale, since 1951,” festival director Dieter Kosslick told AFP. “Back then many Germans were refugees and the festival was founded to foster understanding in German society and among nations.”
In an interview with Reuters, Variety critic Jay Weissberg said that it was not a surprise that the festival would make immigration its central theme with the migrant crisis currently engulfing Europe.
“My problem with it basically … is it just smacks a little bit too much of the Berlinale showing off its political correctness,” Weissberg said. “At the same time, I want to say, ‘Why not?’ Aren’t we acknowledging Syrians in Syria went to film festivals and now that they’re in Germany why aren’t we also trying to normalize their lives — and perhaps this is a way to do it.”
Three-time Oscar-winner Meryl Streep will head the festival’s jury, which will award one film the top Golden Bear prize and seven others the Silver Bear acting and technical achievement prizes.