German Politicians Call for Consequences after Berlinale Awards Show

The heated debate over the awards ceremony of this year’s Berlin Film Festival shows no signs of cooling down.

On Tuesday, German Justice Minister Marco Buschmann called out the Berlinale for allowing what he called “antisemitic” statements to go unchallenged at the awards gala in Berlin Saturday night. Speaking to newspapers of Germany’s Funke media group, Buschmann said the film festival “suffered serious damage” as a result and suggested there could be criminal consequences for some of the statements and slogans.

The awards ceremony for the 74th Berlinale turned sharply political as one award winner after another used their festival platform to call out the Israeli government for its actions in the war in Gaza.

Ben Russell, co-director of Ben Russell Direct Action, winner of the best film in Berlin’s Encounters sidebar, used the word “genocide” to describe Israeli military action in the region. Palestinian filmmaker Basel Adra, whose No Other Land won the best documentary prize as well as the Panorama Audience Award, said “it is very difficult for me to celebrate when tens of thousands of my people in Gaza are being slaughtered by Israel right now.” His Israeli No Other Land co-director Yuval Abraham spoke of “apartheid” in his home country.

French artist Véréna Paravel, a member of the Berlinale documentary jury, sewed a “Cease Fire Now” sign on the back of her dress, demonstrating her political loyalty as she handed over the Berlinale doc award for No Other Land.

Véréna Paravel wore a ‘Cease Fire Now’ sign as she handed over the Berlinale documentary award to Basel Adra and Yuval Abraham for “No Other Land”.

Andreas Rentz/Getty Images

“I stand with Palestine,” said French-Senegelse director Mati Diop on accepting the Golden Bear in Berlin for her doc Dahomey.

On the night, and in the room at the Berlinale Palast, the statements were greeted with loud applause and cheers. But the broader German media, and German politicians, have been almost unanimous in their condemnation.

Berlin mayor Kai Wegner called the gala “intolerable” saying “antisemitism has no place in Berlin, and that also applies to the art scene.” He said the Berlinale management must ensure “such incidents” do not happen again.

Bettina Stark-Watzinger, the German minister for education and science, posted on X that the pro-Palestinian statements represented a “perpetrator-victim reversal on an open stage.”

Bavaria’s State Chancellor Florian Herrmann has called on German culture minister Claudia Roth to resign, pointing to video footage showing her applauding Adra and Abraham’s acceptance speech. In a statement, the culture ministry has tried to clarify Roth’s response, saying it was only intended for (Jewish-Israeli) director Abraham when he spoke out for a political solution and peaceful coexistence in the region.

Roth has said there will be an investigation of the events on Saturday night to see if the Berlinale “has lived up to its claim to be a place for diversity, different perspectives and dialogue or not.” Roth said the Berlinale must remain a place “that is free from hatred, agitation, antisemitism, racism, anti-Muslim sentiment and any form of misanthropy.”

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has also weighed in, condemning the Israel-critical statements as “one-sided positioning” that “cannot be allowed to stand,” according to a government spokesperson. Scholz said any debate on the war in Gaza should keep in mind the Oct. 7 attacks on Israel by Hamas that triggered the current conflict.

Ben Russell (l) and Servan Decle (r) wear Palestinian scarves on stage at the closing gala in the Berlinale Palast while together with Jay Jordan (2nd from left) and Guillaume Cailleau after winning the Encounters Award for Best Film for the film “Direct Action”

Monika Skolimowska/picture alliance via Getty Images

Monika Grütters, Roth’s predecessor as German Culture Minister, told German magazine Stern that the events on Saturday night showed the people in charge, “those responsible for culture, the [festival] directors, the institutions, and especially cultural policy, have failed.”

But she warned against a debate about the cancellation of funds for the festival or other “controversial” art projects, saying such a debate would “ultimately endanger the freedom of art. This is throwing the baby out with the bathwater…A democracy thrives on contradiction.” Still, Grütters called for “guardrails against anti-Israel incitement and antisemitism” without specifically defining them. The German Cultural Ministry and the Berlin Senate are the main financial backers of the Berlinale.

Already, however, the backlash has had consequences. No Other Land co-director Yuval Abraham posted on social media that he has received death threats after “German politicians and the Israeli media” branded his statements at the gala “antisemitic.” Abraham noted that many of his family were killed in the Holocaust and found it “particularly outraging that German politicians in 2024 have the audacity to weaponize this term against me in a way that endangered my family.” Abraham said he was forced to cancel his flight back to Israel out of fear for his safety.

The Berlinale has distanced itself from the comments made by festival winners, saying the statements made on the festival stage Saturday night were “sometimes one-sided and activist” and were an “expression of individual personal opinions” that “in no way reflect the festival’s position.” In a statement before the awards, Berlinale executive director Mariëtte Rissenbeek condemned the Hamas attacks on Oct. 7 and called for a return of all hostages. She also called on Israel to do whatever it could to prevent civilian casualties in the region. The Berlinale, however, also pointed out that the statements made on stage at Saturday’s gala were protected under German freedom of speech laws.

In an interview with German radio, Meron Mendel, the director of the Anne Frank educational institution, said he heard some “anti-Israel and one-sided statements” at the Berlinale gala but no “antisemitic rhetoric.” Mendel called out politicians who have attacked the festival, accusing them of “making a political profit out of the issue with a kind of symbolic politics” without suggesting anything to actually help in the fight against antisemitism.

The Instagram channel for the Berlinale’s Panorama sidebar was hacked on Saturday, and statements, including “Free Palestine – From the River to the Sea” and “Genocide is Genocide” were briefly posted over the festival’s official channels. The festival said they are bringing criminal charges against “peoples unknown” in response to the attack. The legal formulation designates a criminal charge brought without a specific suspect, where only the crime —in this case, the hacking —is known.

Speaking to the media Justice Minister Buschmann has suggested the “River to the Sea” statement could be judged as a call for violence against Israel and thus categorized as hate speech. That interpretation has yet to be tested in the German courts.

The 2024 edition of the Berlin Film Festival has been overshadowed by furious political debate around the war in Gaza, despite efforts by organizers to limit discussions to balance the festival’s official policy of “democracy and openness” and explicit opposition to “discrimination and all forms of hatred” with Germany’s official state support, including military support of Israel during the Gaza conflict. In an open letter ahead of the festival, several Berlinale workers called out management for its lack of “institutional leadership” on the issue, demanding the festival take a stronger stance by calling for an “immediate ceasefire and the release of all hostages” in Gaza.

#German #Politicians #Call #Consequences #Berlinale #Awards #Show

Leave a Reply