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George Clooney, Coen Brothers Address Refugee Crisis at Berlin Film Festival

For much of the world, George Clooney has become the face of Hollywood’s humanitarian conscience, so it was no surprise that many of the questions at Thursday’s Berlin Film Festival press conference for Joel and Ethan Coen’s “Hail, Caesar!” went beyond the film to the current refugee crisis gripping Europe.

Clooney said he would meet German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Friday to discuss the refugee crisis, as well as with refugees. More than a million refugees, many of them from war-torn Syria, have arrived in Germany over the past year, and many continue to flee their homeland.

Asked if he would consider making a sequel to “Syriana,” or other films exploring the issue of refugees and war, Clooney said tackling such subjects in film remains challenging, adding that he has long tried to make a film about Sudan and Darfur, but that “finding the proper venue and script” had been difficult.

At one point Clooney was visibly irked by yet another question on the humanitarian crisis when a Germany-based Mexican journalist asked what exactly the actor was doing to assist. “I’d like to know what you are doing to help the situation?” he asked her pointedly. She responded by telling Clooney that she works with an organization in Wolfsburg to help refugees, from organizing movie nights to collecting clothes and toys.

Joel Coen, who with his brother served as president of last year’s Cannes Film Festival jury, noted that while he would like to see a film tackle the current refugee crisis, French director Jacques Audiard’s “Dheepan,” about refugees fleeing post-civil war Sri Lanka, had won the Palme d’Or.

Despite the serious subject matter, the press conference drew plenty of laughs as Clooney, Channing Tatum, Josh Brolin, Tilda Swinton, Alden Ehrenreich and the Coens recounted their experience on the production.

Tatum won much audience praise for his six-minute-long song and dance routine in the pic, and Brolin drew loud laughs with his response to a question about a scene in the film in which he slaps Clooney repeatedly: “I think it’s something everyone has wanted to do for a long time. I did it for all of you.”

The pic drew loud applause in Berlin. Commenting on its loving look at the Hollywood studio system of the 1950s, Joel Coen said: “We didn’t live through the era, so it can’t really be nostalgic, but it is a romanticized version of Hollywood in the 1950s, that movie-making factory.” He pointed out, however, that while there are “elements of affection and admiration, I’m not sure how we would have operated in that environment.”

The film touches on the Red Scare that gripped Hollywood in the 1950s, but when asked how the brothers would compare the McCarthyism of the time to a possible Donald Trump presidential victory, the Coens were slow to answer.

“I can’t really relate McCarthyism in the ’50s with Donald Trump,” said Ethan Coen. “Trump getting elected is getting into the surreal,” added Joel Coen.

“Hail, Caesar!” is the Coens’ second pic to open the Berlinale — “True Grit” kicked off the fest in 2011.

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