Reviewing No Other Land out of Berlinale, Rory O’Connor described the “disorienting and dispiriting landscape” into which it was premiering. Quite an understatement to say the city of Berlin and its major-market festival fumbled through any response to the ongoing genocide in Gaza, against which many filmmakers who’ve attended the festival in years past have spoken out. As Rory summarizes:

“The film premiered this week at the Berlinale, a festival mired in recent controversies in a country that is failing to acknowledge the limits of its own guilt. In the month leading up to the festival, several filmmakers pulled their work from the selection to protest the lack of Palestinian solidarity. Workers of the festival then released an open letter calling for the festival’s organizers to demand a ceasefire. In the weeks leading up, the city’s cultural minister, Joe Chialo, had to backtrack on a proposed ‘anti-discrimination’ clause that was set to be added to applications for artists seeking funding––which many saw as a way to silence anyone who might criticize Israel through their work. The festival then made headlines by inviting members of the far-right AFD party to the festival’s opening ceremony––a decision they reversed within days before receiving yet more criticism by the German filmmaker and jury member Cristian Petzold for not following through with it.”

No Other Land, which Rory praised as “a story about power [that] needs to be told,” went on to win Berlinale’s Documentary Award on Saturday. At the attendant ceremony co-director Yuval Abraham noted that he and fellow author Basel Adra––the former Israeli, the latter Palestinian––experience great divides:

“We are standing in front of you now. Me and Basel are the same age. I am Israeli, Basel is Palestinian, and in two days we will go back to a land where we are not equal. I am living under a civilian law and Basel is under military law. We live 30 minutes from one another, but I have voting rights; Basel does not have voting rights. I am free to move where I want in this land; Basel is, like millions of Palestinians, locked in the West Bank. This situation of apartheid between us, this inequality, it has to end.”

A fair and equivocal statement! Except that an Israeli news network aired the clip and, per Abraham, deemed it anti-Semitic, a label that’s engendered death threats towards the filmmaker. This, Ben Russell wearing a traditional Palestinian keffiyeh, and Eliza Hittman calling for an end to the current war was deemed by Berlin mayor Kai Wegner “an intolerable relativization,” acts of anti-semitism, and incentive for the festival’s next tier of management “to ensure that such incidents do not happen again.” How to enforce this without engaging in outright censorship, to say nothing of threats and intimidation, is anyone’s guess.

These, a hack of the Instagram page belonging to Berlinale’s Panorama section––one condemning the festival’s reaction to Gaza and demanding a ceasefire––and documentary jury member Abbas Fahdel’s insight into Berlinale’s workings (e.g. neither censoring solidarity with Palestine nor interfering with No Other Land‘s win) baldly display a festival in crisis. The situation, I’m sorry to say, is unlikely to resolve itself before the next notable film gatherings––the Academy Awards on March 10 and Cannes Film Festival, running between May 14 and May 25––and one shudders to think what a confluence of statements and counterpoints might engender; it’s only in our power as an outlet to express support with these artists and abhor the thuggish practices of those who would stifle them.

No more articles