The Berlinale Gala Debate: An Evening and Outrage That Don’t Align

by | Feb 26, 2024 | Explore Local | 0 comments

Debate about Berlinale Gala: The Evening and the Controversy Don’t Quite Match

A comment by Hannah Pilarczyk:

The one-sided pro-Palestinian statements at the Berlinale awards ceremony were difficult to bear. But the outrage over it is now equally one-sided. Because it wasn’t just hate speech that could be heard on this stage.

Das schiefste Bild dieses Abends gab der Rücken der Berlinale-Jurorin Véréna Paravel ab. “Ceasefire now”, Waffenstillstand jetzt, stand auf dem Stofffetzen, den sie sich an ihr Oberteil geheftet hatte. Das Minitransparent hing dort, an Paravels Rücken, reichlich seltsam – als hätte die Schweizer Filmkünstlerin gemeint, sie müsste ihr Statement an irgendwelchen Zensoren vorbei auf die Bühne des Berlinale-Palastes schmuggeln.

The crookedest image of this evening was the back of Berlinale juror Véréna Paravel. “Ceasefire now” was written on the piece of fabric that she had pinned to her top. The mini-transparent hung there on Paravel’s back, quite strangely – as if the Swiss film artist thought she had to smuggle her statement past some censors onto the stage of the Berlinale Palast.

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There was no censorship at the Berlinale awards ceremony on Saturday evening. On the contrary. A loud majority of the winners called for a ceasefire in Gaza and expressed solidarity with Palestine. The Israeli-Palestinian directing duo Yuval Abraham and Basel Adra, who won the award for best documentary film, did it. The British-French directing duo Guillaume Cailleau and Ben Russell, who won the prize for the best film in the Encounters series, did it. And the French-Senegalese director Mati Diop, who won the Golden Bear for the best film in competition, did it. Each received loud applause for their statements.

The supporters of the misguided “Strike Germany” initiative would do well to watch this awards ceremony. Their distorted picture of a Germany in which pro-Palestinian voices are silenced by force and therefore must be boycotted can no longer be maintained. Apparently, every person was able to express their opinion on the stage.

At the same time, they should refrain from reading comments about this evening and following the debates on social media – because what has been happening there since the gala is far too close to the distorted image again. The applause would have been inhumane, but Cailleau and Russell would have had their prize revoked, and imported anti-Semitism from Islamists would have been on display, according to comments on the internet. Federal Minister of State for Culture, Claudia Roth, later interpreted this as “profound hatred of Israel” in the statements of the juries and award winners. However, the evening and the outrage about it do not quite match.

One-Sided Commitments and the Need for Critique

In their one-sidedness, the expressions of solidarity for the Palestinian cause were hard to bear. They should be criticized emphatically. The more frequent the demand for a ceasefire and the expression of solidarity with Palestine, the louder the silence about other acts of violence and their victims became. This was especially true for the Israeli victims of the Hamas massacres on October 7th and for the many Israeli hostages still held by the terrorist organization. Only Berlinale CEO Mariette Rissenbeek mentioned them in her speech. But it also applied to the victims of the Russian war of aggression in Ukraine. The fact that such an imbalance could arise at a tolerant, inclusive film festival like the Berlinale is alarming.

The Importance of Empathy, Prudence, and Differentiation

But those who demand empathy, prudence, and differentiation from the speakers should also practice it themselves. To brand all the statements of the evening as hate speech is not a correction of one-sidedness, but its exact mirror image. If director Russell casually speaks of an Israeli genocide against the Palestinians while draped in a kufiya, that deserves sharp contradiction. From the audience and also from the moderation. But when Israeli director Abraham explains that different rights apply to him and his Palestinian directing colleague Adra, even though they live only a few minutes apart, and therefore he finds the term “apartheid” fitting (he explained this in more detail in this SPIEGEL interview), then one should not immediately dismiss the voice of a participant.

Bären winner Diop did not, as the “Süddeutsche Zeitung” wrote, shout her message of solidarity for Palestine into the hall. And it was not the German cultural scene that applauded so loudly for criticism of Israel on Saturday, as claimed by Israeli ambassador Ron Prosor. The audience was very international due to the presence of many film crews – which in turn contributed to a different, in parts bewildering and worthy of criticism reaction. The view of the war in Gaza is sometimes seen quite differently abroad than in Germany, as this award ceremony painfully made clear. For a long time, this conflict was kept at bay by suspending awards like the LiBeraturpreis for Palestinian author Adania Shibli as a precaution. In terms of its political orientation, however, the Berlinale Gala was not predictable – but perhaps to be expected. An assertive moderation, which had previously coordinated closely with the festival management, could have intervened and made the one-sidedness the subject of discussion.

Nevertheless, an awards ceremony with spontaneous acceptance speeches carries a risk that should still be granted to culture. Because if it is dictated beyond the framework set by German laws how artists should express themselves in their speeches, then soon there will actually be censors at the stage entrances wanting to take a look at the banner pinned to one’s back. So, if there is to be an examination of the awards ceremony, as announced by Claudia Roth, it should focus on how a dialogue can be created on stage that allows for dissent. How more voices can be included – not fewer.

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