Tough topics, Tinseltown mix at Berlin film event

Updated: 2011-02-09 16:44


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Tough topics, Tinseltown mix at Berlin film event

The financial crisis, living in a dictatorship, the Chernobyl nuclear accident and immigration in Germany -- the Berlin film festival promises its trademark mix of entertainment and hard-hitting commentary in 2011.

Festival director Dieter Kosslick, who strives each year for a balance between star power on the red carpet and groundbreaking, independent feature films, appears to be leaning toward the latter this year, experts say.

"Berlin is toning down the Hollywood glitz and upping the indie grit ... with few mainstream titles but many intriguing art house features in the running for this year's Golden Bear," wrote The Hollywood Reporter's Scott Roxborough.

Costing an estimated $38 million to make -- relatively modest by Hollywood standards -- yet starring Jeff Bridges and Matt Damon, the Coen brothers' "True Grit," which opens the festival on Thursday, is a combination of the two.

The Western re-make is already out in U.S. theatres and is among the frontrunners for Oscars glory later in February, but its out-of-competition slot should provide the kind of buzz every major film festival needs to succeed.

The following day, "Margin Call," the debut feature by J.C. Chandor, promises to bring the real-life drama of the 2008 financial crisis to the big screen, with Kevin Spacey and Demi Moore among big names performing in the Wall Street thriller. Also early on in the 10-day festival are two pictures focusing on the sometimes terrifying experiences of people living in dictatorships.

In competition, Paula Markovitch's directorial debut "The Prize" tells the story of seven-year-old Ceci who carries the burden of a "huge secret" in order to protect her family from repression during Argentina's military regime.

And outside the main competition lineup, "The Devil's Double" stars Dominic Cooper as the body double of Uday Hussein, the widely feared son of former Iraqi leader Saddam.


Kosslick said that the 61st Berlin film festival would be smaller but more daring than in 2010, and would also promote the arthouse side of 3D movie-making after the format struck box office gold in recent years.

The annual cinema showcase will host the world premiere of Wim Wender's 3D dance film about legendary choreographer Pina Bausch, and the European premiere of Werner Herzog's "Cave of Forgotten Dreams," about prehistoric paintings in France.

Also in competition is French director Michel Ocelot's "Tales of the Night," a 3D movie in which he also incorporates silhouette animation introduced by Berlin director Lotte Reiniger almost a century ago.

"These three movies show that you can really play around with 3D in arthouse film," Kosslick said.

British actor Ralph Fiennes' directorial debut "Coriolanus" is among the debut films premiering at the Berlinale.

Fiennes, nominated for Oscars for his roles in "The English Patient" and "Schindler's List," will play the title role in the Shakespeare adaptation.

Sticking to the Berlinale's tradition of political debate, the festival will screen several Iranian films this year and pay tribute to Iranian director Jafar Panahi, who was sentenced in December to six years in prison.

Panahi, whose film "Offside" won the festival's Silver Bear award in 2006, had been named as a member of this year's jury but is not expected to attend. An Iranian court banned him from making films or traveling abroad for 20 years.

The festival culminates with the awards ceremony on February 19 when the winner of the Golden Bear for best picture is revealed.

The coveted award usually goes to small-budget, non-Hollywood pictures -- last year Turkish production "Honey" walked away with the top honor, and in 2009 it was won by "The Milk of Sorrow" from Peru.


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