A group of Berlin Film Festival workers and contractors have published an open letter calling out the Berlinale for its official stance on the war in Gaza.
The letter, signed by around 30 workers, including programmers and moderators for the festival’s sidebar sections Panorama, Forum and Generation, as well as the European Film Market, Berlinale Talents and Berlinale Goes Kiez, said they “want to hold the festival and ourselves to a higher standard.” They are calling for the Berlinale to take a clearer stance against the war in Gaza.
“We join a global solidarity movement to demand an immediate ceasefire and call for the release of all hostages,” it reads.
The letter, published online two days before the start of the 74th Berlinale on Thursday, Feb. 15, called on the Berlinale to go further than its official statement, on Jan.19, in which co-directors Mariëtte Rissenbeek and Carlo Chatrian said their sympathy “goes out to all the victims of the humanitarian crises in the Middle East and elsewhere” saying they “take a firm stand against all forms of discrimination and are committed to intercultural understanding.”
“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,” the open letter reads, “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.”
The workers’ letter also calls out what the signatories describe as “current limits imposed on speech” in the cultural sector in Germany and the lack of opportunities to debate and discuss the conflict in the context of the festival.
“While we acknowledge isolated and minor attempts to create space for exchange, we would expect the program 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,” it reads. “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.”
The polarizing debate surrounding the war in Gaza war was already primed to spark protests in Berlin. Ahead of the festival, two directors set to screen films in Berlin’s Forum section bowed out, citing solidarity with Strike Germany, an online petition that calls for a boycott of all state-sponsored cultural institutions in Germany because of Berlin’s supposed pro-Israeli position in the war.
The Hollywood Reporter has reached out to the Berlinale for comment.