BERLIN, Feb 20 — Europe’s first major film festival of 2020 opens today, with the likes of Sigourney Weaver, Helen Mirren and even Hillary Clinton descending on the German capital for the 70th edition of the Berlinale.

Under new direction for the first time in nearly two decades, this year’s festival will tackle the issue of diversity in film while also confronting its own murky history.

The 11-day Berlinale kicks off late today with My Salinger Year by Canadian director Philippe Falardeau.

The film about the New York literary scene of the 1990s, features Alien star Weaver alongside Margaret Qualley (Once Upon a Time in Hollywood).

Some 340 films from all four corners of the globe will be showcased, with 18 competing for the prestigious “Golden Bear” prize.

The winner will be announced on February 29 by an international jury headed by British Oscar winner Jeremy Irons.

Carlo Chatrian and Marlene Rissenbeek are taking over the reins of the Berlinale from Dieter Kosslick who stepped down after 18 years at the helm in 2019.

The new duo’s aim was to “give room to diversity”, Chatrian said, as debate continues to rage over female and ethnic minority representation in Hollywood.

Nevertheless, only six of the 18 films in competition are directed by women, one fewer than the previous year.

“Six films is not 50/50, but it’s a good path to reach it,” Chatrian said at a press conference in January.

Last year, Kosslick had signed a “50/50” pledge to commit the festival to gender parity in future, calling for transparency in selection and an even gender ratio in top management.

Mirren honoured

While Chatrian has warned against “stamping” the Berlinale as a political event, politics will be front and centre in the 70th edition, with films such as French comedy Delete history about life in the age of tech giants and social media, and Todos os mortos, a Brazilian film about slavery.

Other featured directors include US indie cinema star Kelly Reichardt (First Cow) and Iranian director Mohammad Rasoulof (There is no evil), who is unable to leave his home country.

A number of global stars are set to tread the red carpet, such as Javier Bardem, Elle Fanning and Salma Hayek who all appear in The Roads Not Taken by British director Sally Potter.

Elsewhere, Cate Blanchett will present Australian series Stateless, while Johnny Depp stars in Minamata, a biopic about Time magazine photographer William Eugene Smith.

British Oscar winner Helen Mirren will also receive a lifetime achievement award, with several of her career highlights screened as part of the “Hommage” section. 

Nazi revelations

In addition to the glamour, politics will also loom large over this year’s Berlinale.

Former US presidential candidate Hillary Clinton is expected to appear for the screening of a five-part documentary about her life, and the festival is also reeling from revelations that its founding director, Alfred Bauer, 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. — AFP