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Berlin Film Fest marred by protesters

Published on 06/02/2004

6 February 2004

BERLIN – Student protesters marred the opening night of the 54th Berlin Film Festival Thursday, one of the most lacklustre and glamourless galas this fest has seen for years.

Scores of students rushed the security perimeter along the red carpet leading into the theatre at Potsdamer Platz where first-night crowds were waiting to see the opening picture, Minghella’s critically acclaimed American Civil War epic “Cold Mountain”.

The students, protesting against funding cuts for higher education, surged into the foyer before police in riot gear took up formation to usher them outside. No damage or injuries resulted from the very vocal but otherwise peaceful protest.

Celebrity-watchers would not have been blamed for joining the protest – since virtually no celebs showed up.

Fest organisers had hoped “Cold Mountain” stars Nicole Kidman and Jude Law would be on hand for the film’s European premiere. But Kidman bowed out last week and on Thursday, just hours before show time, the announcement came that Law would also be absent.

Instead, and just about the time disappointed fan-seekers were about to turn away, Faye Dunaway arrived and had the spotlights and cameras all to herself as she walked up the red carpet. She flew in to Berlin unannounced, not being on the fest programme herself.

By the time the festival ends 15 February – nearly 400 films later – Jack Nicholson, Juliette Binoche, Nick Nolte and dozens of other celebrities will have walked that same red carpet, though the glitz factor is admittedly dimmer this year.

In a first, the festival opened simultaneously in five other cities across Germany and globally via the Internet. Embarrassingly, the opening ceremony – including the protest – was broadcast live in selected cinemas in Munich, Nuremberg, Cologne, Dettelbach and Hamburg.

Then, as the Berlin audience settled back to watch “Cold Mountain” in Berlin, audiences in the other five cities viewed 35 mm prints of the film made exclusively available for the occasion by Buena Vista.

In addition, the red-carpet ceremonies was accessible on the internet via video streaming at www.berlinale.de.

And in another cyber-first, all the major festival news conferences, where directors and actors discuss their films, will also be accessible on the internet – in either German or English.

This year, the prime focus of the major festival screening sections is on Hispanic and South African features.

A South African film is among 23 movies vying for awards in the festivals official competition line-up. It is John Boorman’s “Country Of My Skull”, starring Samuel L. Jackson and Juliette Binoche in a story about an American journalist’s encounter with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa.

One award is already assured: Argentine director Fernando Solanas will receive an honorary Golden Bear lifetime achievement award in ceremonies on 12 February for his documentary-style films about the military junta in Argentina.

This year’s festival is heavily weighted towards world premieres – unlike many previous festivals which tended to book Hollywood blockbusters which had already played stateside.

Subject: German news