A group of Berlin Film Festival workers have released a statement calling for an “immediate ceasefire” in Gaza, the “release of all hostages,” and “stronger institutional leadership,” including from the Berlinale, in response to what they describe as the “current assault on Palestinian life.”
The open letter, published last night on social media and shared with industry as a google doc, comes just two days before the Berlinale gets underway. It is currently signed by 28 contractors, including programmers for Panorama, Generation, EFM, Forum, Berlinale Talents and Berlinale Goes Kiez. In particular, the group takes issue with a previous festival statement on the crisis.
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“As Berlinale contractors, who admire the festival’s vocal, principled track record defending humanitarian values, we feel the need to offer a position that builds on the festival’s statement concerning the current humanitarian crisis in Gaza (19 January 2024),” the statement begins.
“We are painfully aware of the unbearable dynamics of institutional inertia in the cultural sector in Germany, and we recognize the current limits imposed on speech. We want to hold the festival and ourselves to a higher standard. An international platform such as the Berlinale and we, in our roles as programmers, consultants, moderators, facilitators, and space holders, alongside further Berlinale workers, can and should voice dissent at the current assault on Palestinian life.”
The workers call out what they describe as a lack of debating opportunity within this year’s festival programme about the conflict: “We witness no initiatives that invite professionals and/or audiences into a dedicated space of discussion,” the statement says.
The Berlinale is hosting an “intimate,” “TinyHouse” space in Potsdamer Platz during the festival where attendees can “have an open dialogue about the war in Israel and Gaza.”
The letter continues to add that “as the world bears witness to an inconceivable loss of civilian life in Gaza – including those of journalists, artists, and film workers,” the industry needs “stronger institutional stances.”
“We expect the festival to take a stance that is consistent with those taken in response to other events that have struck the international community in recent years,” the statement added.
We’ve reached out to festival leadership for their response to the letter.
The statement opens by referencing part of a recent quote from judges at the International Court Of Justice who said that “some of the acts and omissions alleged by South Africa to have been committed by Israel in Gaza appear to be capable of falling within the provisions of the (Genocide) Convention.”
The use of the word genocide in relation to the conflict has been highly charged and controversial in recent months. The recent crisis stems from Hamas’ deadly attack on Israel on October 7, which left more than 1,200 dead. 136 people taken from Israel remain in captivity in the Gaza Strip. Israel’s response has led to the deaths of more than 28,000 Palestinians, according to the health ministry in Gaza.
The January 19 statement the staffers refer to was signed by Berlinale co-heads Mariëtte Rissenbeek and Carlo Chatrian. The statement said the festival sends its “sympathy” to all the “victims of the humanitarian crises in the Middle East and elsewhere.”
“We believe that through the power of films and open discussions, we can help foster empathy, awareness, understanding – even and especially in painful times like these,” the festival statement added.
You can read the workers’ full statement below, which is the first public intervention from Berlinale staff since last week’s public outcry over far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) politicians being invited to the festival’s opening ceremony. The festival later rescinded the invitations.
The Berlin Film Festival runs Feb 15 – 25.
Berlinale Workers Letter
As Berlinale contractors, who admire the festival’s vocal, principled track record defending humanitarian values, we feel the need to offer a position that builds on the festival’s statement concerning the current humanitarian crisis in Gaza (19 January 2024).
We are painfully aware of the unbearable dynamics of institutional inertia in the cultural sector in Germany, and we recognise the current limits imposed on speech. We want to hold the festival and ourselves to a higher standard. An international platform such as the Berlinale and we, in our roles as programmers, consultants, moderators, facilitators, and space holders, alongside further Berlinale workers, can and should voice dissent at the current assault on Palestinian life.
We join a global solidarity movement to demand an immediate ceasefire and call for the release of all hostages.
Against an ongoing crisis that “appears to be capable of falling within the provisions of the [Genocide] Convention” (quote from the International Court of Justice’s judges), some of us – the undersigned – continue to contribute with our labour at this year’s festival due to our belief in its primary role and significance as an international cultural space, one that has a responsibility to not only raise awareness and foster debate but also amplify the global and pluralistic demands to end oppression, occupation, forced displacement and violence. In short, call for peace and liberation. This responsibility is aligned with the festival’s past commitments and principles, stances which have earned the Berlinale a uniquely respected position within the cultural landscape.
While we acknowledge isolated and minor attempts to create space for exchange, we would expect the programme of this year’s festival to engage more actively and discursively with the urgency and reality of the moment by holding dialogue spaces of its own initiative and design in the big houses we call cinemas. Instead, we witness no initiatives that invite professionals and/or audiences into a dedicated space of discussion structured in a way that allows for a lengthy encounter between everyone.
As the world bears witness to an inconceivable loss of civilian life in Gaza – including those of journalists, artists, and film workers – as well as the destruction of unique cultural heritage, we need stronger institutional stances. We expect the festival to take a stance that is consistent with those taken in response to other events that have struck the international community in recent years.
Many members of the German and the international film community who have continuously believed in and contributed to the Berlinale’s profile of excellence expect it to both firmly support and actively contribute to a more just world. Of course, the Berlinale is not an exception and these expectations extend to the broader worlds of film and culture internationally, whose responses to the ongoing war of aggression have been largely defined by silence and neutrality.
Grounded in an intersectional and anti-discrimination perspective, we stand with everyone taking steps to resist the rise of far-right nationalist movements worldwide and all forms of discrimination including anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. We claim the 74. Berlinale to be a place of key importance to speak truth to power and are hoping to navigate this edition in contributing to an atmosphere of exchange, encounter and generosity.
Signatures in alphabetical order
Ana David; Panorama, Selection Committee
Anneliese Rethfeldt; Spielstättenleiterin Filmtheater am Friedrichshain
Babette Dieu; Project Leader EFM Toolbox Programmes | Market Badge Inclusion Initiative Coordination
Berke Göl; Panorama, Selection committee / moderator
Brigid O‘Shea; EFM/Toolbox/Co-production market
Canan Turan; Generation, Selection Committee Member
Carlos Pereira; Generation, Member of the Selection Committee
Carmen Gray; Generation, Selection Committee
Charlotte Reekers; EFM, Toolbox coordinator
David Assmann; Generation, Selection committee and moderator
Djamila Grandits; Panorama, Pre-Selection & Moderation
Ina Karkani; Generation, Selection Committee & Moderator
Jojo Streb; Generation, Social Media
Kate Fasano; Panorama Guest Liaison
Klara Mohammadi; Panorama, Guest liaison
Leticia da Rosa
Lisabona Rahman; Forum, Selection Team Member and Moderator
Malve Lippmann; Artistic Director Sinema Transtopia – Berlinale Goes Kiez
Nastaran Tajeri-Foumani; Panorama/Teddy/Talents, Moderator
Natascha Noack; Generation, Programmer and moderator
Neo Aleksander Novoseltcev
Reem Saleh; Panorama, Selection Committee/Moderator
Sailesh Naidu; Forum
Sally Shamas; Panorama, Guest management
Seggen Mikael; Generation/EFM, Selection Commitee/Toolbox Programme
Themba Bhebhe; European Film Market, Diversity & Inclusion
Ygor Gama; Generation, Programmer
Zeynep Güzel; Berlinale Talents, Head of Doc Station
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