A group of Berlin Film Festival workers 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 “current attack on Palestinian life”.
The open letter, published last night on social media and shared with the industry as a Google doc, comes just two days before the start of the Berlinale. It is currently signed by 28 contractors, including programmers from Panorama, Generation, EFM, Forum, Berlinale Talents and Berlinale Goes Kiez. In particular, the group disagrees with a previous statement from the festival about the crisis.
“As contractors to the Berlinale, who admire the festival’s vocal and principled track record in upholding humanitarian values, we felt the need to offer a position that is based on O festival declaration regarding 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 recognize the current limits imposed on discourse. We want to hold the festival and ourselves to a higher standard. An international platform like the Berlinale and we, in our roles as programmers, consultants, moderators, facilitators and space holders, together with other Berlinale workers, can and must express dissent regarding the current attack on Palestinian life.”
The workers denounce what they describe as a lack of opportunities for debate in this year's festival program about the conflict: “We have not witnessed any initiative that invites professionals and/or the public to a dedicated space for discussion,” says the statement.
The letter goes on to add that “as the world witnesses an inconceivable loss of civilian lives in Gaza – including that of journalists, artists and film workers”, the industry needs “stronger institutional positions”.
“We hope that the festival will adopt a stance consistent with those taken in response to other events that have hit the international community in recent years,” the statement added.
We contacted the festival leadership to find out the response to the letter.
The statement begins with reference to part of a recent quote from judges of the International Court of Justice who stated 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 Convention (of the Genocide).
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 people dead. Israel's response led to the deaths of more than 28,000 Palestinians, according to the Gaza Ministry of Health.
The January 19 statement the officials refer to was signed by Berlinale co-directors Mariëtte Rissenbeek and Carlo Chatrian. The statement states that the festival sends its “solidarity” to all “victims of humanitarian crises in the Middle East and elsewhere”.
“We believe that through the power of films and open discussions, we can help promote 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 the Berlinale team since last week's public protest against far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) politicians being invited to the opening ceremony of the Berlinale. festival. The festival later rescinded the invitations.
The Berlin Film Festival takes place from February 15th to 25th.
Berlinale workers Letter
As Berlinale contractors, who admire the festival's vocal and principled track record in upholding humanitarian values, we feel the need to offer a position that is based on the festival's statement on the current humanitarian crisis in Gaza (January 19, 2024).
We are painfully aware of the unbearable dynamics of institutional inertia in the cultural sector in Germany and recognize the current limits imposed on discourse. We want to hold the festival and ourselves to a higher standard. An international platform like the Berlinale and we, in our roles as programmers, consultants, moderators, facilitators and space holders, together with other Berlinale workers, can and should express dissent regarding the current attack 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 “seems capable of falling within the provisions of the [Genocide] Convention” (quote from the judges of the International Court of Justice), some of us – the undersigned – continue to contribute our work to this year's festival because of our belief in its primary role and significance as an international cultural space, which has a responsibility not only to raise awareness and promote debate , but also amplify global and pluralistic demands to end oppression, occupation, forced displacement and violence. In short, cry out for peace and liberation. This responsibility is in line with the festival's previous commitments and principles, stances that have given the Berlinale a uniquely respected position in the cultural landscape.
While we recognize isolated and smaller attempts to create space for exchange, we hope that this year's festival program engages more actively and discursively with the urgency and reality of the moment, maintaining spaces for dialogue of its own initiative and design in the great houses . We call them cinemas. Instead, we do not witness initiatives that invite professionals and/or the public to a dedicated discussion space structured in a way that allows a prolonged meeting between everyone.
As the world witnesses an inconceivable loss of civilian life in Gaza – including that of journalists, artists and film workers – as well as the destruction of a unique cultural heritage, we need stronger institutional positions. We hope the festival takes a stance consistent with those taken in response to other events that have hit the international community in recent years.
Many members of the German and international film community who have continually believed in and contributed to the Berlinale's profile of excellence hope that it will firmly support and actively contribute to a fairer world. Of course, the Berlinale is no exception and these expectations extend to the wider worlds of film and culture internationally, whose responses to the ongoing war of aggression have largely been defined by silence and neutrality.
Grounded in an intersectional and anti-discrimination perspective, we support all who take action to resist the rise of far-right nationalist movements around the world and all forms of discrimination, including anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. We claim that the 74. Berlinale is a place of fundamental importance for speaking truth to power and we hope to navigate this edition contributing to an atmosphere of exchange, encounter and generosity.
Subscriptions in alphabetical order
Ana David; Panorama, Selection Committee
Anneliese Rethfeldt; Cinema manager in Friedrichshain
Babette Dieu; Project Leader EFM Toolbox Programs | Coordination of the Market Badge Inclusion Initiative
Berke Gol; Panorama, Selection Committee/Moderator
Brigid O'Shea; EFM Market/Toolbox/Coproduction
Canan Turan; Geração, Member of the Selection Committee
Carlos Pereira; Geração, 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 and Moderation
Ina Karkani; Generation, Selection Committee and Moderator
Jojo Streb; Generation, Social Networks
Kate Fasano; Contact with Panorama guests
Clara Mohammadi; Panorama, contact with guests
Leticia da Rosa
Lisabona Rahman; Forum, selection team member and moderator
Mauve Lippmann; Artistic Director Sinema Transtopia – Berlinale Goes Kiez
Nastaran Tajeri-Foumani; Panorama/Teddy/Talents, Moderator
Natasha Noack; Generation, programmer and moderator
Novoseltcev's Neo Alexandre
Reem Saleh; Panorama, Selection Committee/Moderator
Sailesh Naidu; Forum
Sally Shamas; Panorama, Guest management
Seggen Mikael; Geração/EFM, Selection Committee/Toolbox Program
Themba Bhebhe; European Film Market, Diversity and Inclusion
Ygor Gama; Generation, Programmer
Zeynep Güzel; Berlinale Talents, head of Doc Station