Berlin Film Fest 2023:  Zelenskyy, Kristen Stewart and Anne Hathaway

Berlin Film Fest 2023:  Ukraine’s Zelenskyy, Kristen Stewart and Anne Hathaway

Berlin film festioval opening ceremony
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The 73rd Berlin International Film Festival kicked off with a celebration of cinema, while acknowledging politics.

The German festival has mixed politics with art, and in 2023 there is Russia’s continuous war on Ukraine, and the citizens of Iran imprisoned and executed by extremist government over human rights.

Berlin jury president Kristen Stewart spoke of the inherent political nature of film, addressing the crowd at the Berlinale Palast theater at Thursday’s opening ceremony.

“This regime lies … executes. The prisons of Iran are full of innocent people,” she said. “We need you to stand on the right side of history with the Iranian people. This regime will fall.”

Sean Penn, whose new documentary “Superpower” will premiere at Berlin’s first in-person event since 2020. The widely publicized docu looks at the resilience of the Ukrainian people. President Volodymyr Zelenskyy appeared via satellite to introduce Penn with rousing opening remarks.


“A logical question comes up: On which side should culture and art be?” asked Zelenskyy. “Can art be outside of politics? Should cinema be outside of politics? It’s an eternal question but today it is extremely [pertinent].”

While thanking the Berlinale for “choosing” to ban creatives with ties to Russia, Zelenskyy concluded that “culture and cinema can be outside of politics, but not when it’s policy of aggression, mass crimes, murder and terrorism. When it’s a policy of total war,” he said.

Calling on his skills as a former actor and those of a smart script writer, the Ukrainian president earned his standing ovation.

He referenced the history of once-divided Berlin, cited from Wim Wenders’ 1987 film Wings of Desire, and called the festival “the showcase of the free world.”

Rebecca Miller: She Came to Me

Vet indie director Rebecca Miller premiered her the marital dramedy She Came to Me.

In Miller’s film, Peter Dinklage stars as shy and blocked composer whose marriage to germaphobic therapist Anne Hathaway goes into crisis after chance meeting with tugboat captain Marisa Tomei.

The project is seeking US distribution out of the European Film Market.

There were protestors outside the festival. Berlin taxi drivers upset by the festival’s partnership with Uber — a new sponsor for the 2023 fest — distributed leaflets encouraging the fest to add more taxi ranks and work with the local taxi trade unions.

Cinema workers from Yorck Kino, a player in the arthouse sector, held banners demanding end to temporary contracts for the bulk of the chain’s workforce.

But at the Berlinale Palast, the disco ball spun above guests and delegates, a different scene from the quiet 2022 edition of the fest, where most Germans stayed home due to strict COVID restrictions.

Leaders of the local film industry included Maren Ade, Detlev Buck, Christian Petzold, Volker Schloendorff, Matthias Schweighöfer, Katja von Garnier, Veronica Ferres, Tom Tykwer and Heike Makatsch.

Juror Farahani, who closed out the remarks, likened the spirit of filmmaking to revolution: “The wall of dictatorship is a thick wall…the revolution in South Africa took 800 days, ours has been just five months. This wall is one of oppression, attacking human rights. We need all of you. We need Germany, France, Europe. We need you to stand on the right side and to acknowledge it. Call it a revolution,”