George Clooney, ‘Hail, Caesar!’ Kick Off Berlin Film Festival

Joel and Ethan Coen’s “Hail, Caesar!” opened the Berlin Film Festival on Thursday, with Josh Brolin, George Clooney, Alden Ehrenreich, Tilda Swinton and Channing Tatum on the red carpet.

Jury president Meryl Streep, wearing an elegant black and silver snakeskin-print gown, appeared unfazed by the online controversy surrounding her “We are all Africans” statement earlier in the day at the jury press conference.

Streep received loud applause from the crowds, signed autographs and lingered 10 minutes or more with other members of the jury, including actors Lars Eidinger and Clive Owen, actress Alba Rohrwacher and director Malgorzata Szumowska. They were then greeted by festival boss Dieter Kosslick under a huge red bear silhouette at the entrance to the Berlinale Palast.

Opening night guests included “Hail, Caesar!” producers and Working Title chiefs Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner; filmmakers Daniel Burman, Anton Corbijn, Doris Doerrie, Volker Schloendorff, Tom Tykwer and Wim Wenders; and Chinese artist Ai Weiwei.

Despite the Berlin winter chill, crowds stood 10 deep to catch glimpses of the stars arriving by limousine and trotting the 30 meters of red carpet into the Palast.

The audience in the theater was as effusive as the fans standing outside and gave Streep a standing ovation. The actress responded with equal warmth. “It’s an enormous privilege to be here in a city and a part of the world that loves movies and thinks movies are important, and loves challenging, difficult, provocative movies, so I feel very lucky to be here,” she said.

The tone of the opening ceremony was set by the host, German actress and comedienne Anke Engelke. She asked: “What does it mean to make films, to watch films? It means to open up our minds, learn, educate, look for the truth, be wide open, which I think is very important at a time when people are seriously thinking about closing borders.” Her remark was met by prolonged applause.

The German minister of culture and media Monika Gruetters and mayor of Berlin Michael Mueller echoed her comment about openness and a welcoming attitude to outsiders, emphasizing the need for empathy with refugees at a time when some in Germany have been calling for tighter restrictions on immigration. Gruetters said: “There is a lot more that unites people around the world than separates us.” She added: “Culture can open up our world. Thanks for being so cosmopolitan and so open to the world.”

Mueller said: “We have often received help and solidarity ourselves, and now it is time for us to return that help and solidarity.” He added: “We must stand up to those who want to ostracize people and show solidarity to people who need our help.”

In his welcoming speech, Kosslick said he was particularly happy that NBCUniversal vice chairman Ron Meyer had come to Berlin for the premiere. The studio executive had told Kosslick he had never been to Berlin as his parents had been forced to flee the city in the 1930s to escape the Nazis.

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