Berlin has disgraced itself as both a festival and a host city. The trouble started months before the festival began, as it was announced last summer that Artistic Director Carlo Chatrian — who helped steer the world’s largest festival through the pandemic, and worked to maintain a measure of glitz and glamor while also displaying a curatorial precision that’s unheard of for an event of this size — would not be invited to return for the 2025 edition as part of a cost-cutting measure instituted by the German government.

That news anticipated a festival that would repeatedly fail to reconcile the realities of art and politics — or to even acknowledge its responsibility to try — at a time when pretending as if those two forces can be siloed away from each other feels delusional on its face (bonus irony: The Berlinale was first proposed by an American officer who felt an international film festival in Germany would be a useful foothold during the Cold War).

All parties of Berlin’s state legislature are invited to be publicly financed in Germany, and yet it wasn’t until more than 200 film professionals signed an open letter protesting the decision to welcome members of the far-right Alternative for Germany party that the festival reversed course against a fascistic presence, stating that “People — including elected representatives — who act contrary to our fundamental values are not welcome at the Berlinale.” The decision was met with a mixed response, as the victory against normalizing such hatred was tempered by those who felt that denying our current reality wouldn’t do anything to change it.

The wisdom of that message was on full display by the time the festival came to an end. After repeated calls for a ceasefire in Gaza were made during the closing ceremony (including an impassioned speech by Israeli director Yuval Abraham, whose award-winning “No Other Land” offers a raw and enraging glimpse at the Apartheid conditions that anticipated the current genocide against the people of Palestine), someone hacked the Instagram account of the Berlinale’s Panorama section and used it to post messages accusing Germany of being complicit in the current war.

The Berlinale deleted the posts and released a statement saying that it was going to “file criminal charges against unknown persons,” but that wasn’t enough for the Governing Mayor of Berlin, who tweeted that the hackers’ posts were anti-Semitic, placed full responsibility for the mass slaughter in Gaza on the shoulders of Hamas, and wrote that he expects “the new management of the Berlinale to ensure that such incidents do not happen again.” Good luck with that.

Today, the festival’s Executive Director Mariëtte Rissenbeek — who was hired with Chatrian, and will be leaving along with him — made things even worse by issuing a bizarre statement that suggested the Berlinale would have been OK with the political speeches at the closing ceremony if more (or any?) of the winners had espoused Zionist points of view: “It would have been appropriate in terms of content if the award winners and guests at the Award Ceremony had also made more differentiated statements on this issue,” she said. The festival’s eagerness not to pick sides makes it perfectly clear that it has done just that.

Sadly overshadowed by the furor: That “Dahomey” director Mati Diop, the first Black filmmaker to ever win the Golden Bear, walked away with the festival’s highest honor, and for a documentary about the relationship between a country and its culture.

In the spirit of “Dahomey,” which MUBI acquired before its big win, the best thing that can be said about this year’s Berlinale is that some of the most notable premieres helped illustrate the moral disconnect between the festival and the films it exists to birth into the world. To that end, perhaps the only way to redeem this year’s edition is to make good on that function and do whatever we can to ensure that the festival’s most urgent films are seen by a global audience.

IndieWire had a limited footprint at Berlin this year and only covered a small handful of the 200-plus features that premiered there, so our memo to distributors only scratches the surface of a lineup that was likely replete with buried treasure, but we still found a number of films that deserve American distribution. In the case of “No Other Land,” they demand it as soon as possible.

David Opie, Rachel Pronger, and Josh Slater-Williams also contributed.

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