Berlinale kicks off: Clooney, refugees take centrestage

Clooney has been fielding all kinds of questions — the admiring fan kinds where the questioner gushes before actually asking something, and the slightly spikier ones.

Written by Shubhra Gupta | Berlin | Updated: February 12, 2016 12:03 pm
U.S. actor George Clooney signs autographs as he arrives for a photo call for the film 'Hail Caesar' in Berlin, Germany Thursday Feb. 11, 2016. The Berlin Film Festival 'Berlinale' runs until Feb. 21, 2016. (Bernd von Jutrczenka/ dpa via AP) US actor George Clooney signs autographs as he arrives for a photo call for the film ‘Hail Caesar’ in Berlin, Germany Thursday Feb. 11, 2016. The Berlin Film Festival ‘Berlinale’ runs until Feb. 21, 2016. (Source: AP)

“As a public figure and an important actor, what are you planning to do for the refugees?”

About 16 years ago, Ethan and Joel Coen made a film called O Brother Where Art Thou, in which George Clooney plays one of the many “knuckle-headed” ( his words) roles he’s done for the director-duo.

On the opening day of the 66th Berlinale, one of the biggest film festivals in the world, you could be forgiven if you thought all of the fans lining up outside the Grand Hyatt (where the press conferences are held) are asking “O George Where Art Thou”.

Watch Video: Clooney, Tatum and Swinton on red carpet for Berlin film fest

Right through the press conference of the opening film Hail Caeser!, directed by the Coens, with Tilda Swinton, Josh Brolin and others, Clooney has been fielding all kinds of questions — the admiring fan kinds where the questioner gushes before actually asking something, and the slightly spikier ones — with the kind of self-aware charm that he exhibits in his film.

But he is also one of those stars who is openly deeply political, never shying away from speaking his mind about issues most of his fraternity keep away from. So yes, there are some questions about the film addressed to the director duo, and the other actors, but it is clear that Clooney is the main man.

As expected, the press conference turns into a minefield: when geo-politics becomes the focus, the answers can lead anywhere. And here comes the refugee question, and suddenly the laughter is gone.

His rebuttal — not response — is sharp. He says he is meeting (Angela) Merkel the next day and that the issue will come up for discussion. And the he asks a question of his own: what have you done about it?

You can see that there is an aggressive edge to that retort. And it is more evident because in the rest of the interaction, Clooney has been silk-smooth, asking a woman journalist if she’s flirting with him. All designed to make us laugh, which we dutifully do.

But this question is different: Clooney must have expected it, and yet the sharpness with which he answers shows up a hitherto vulnerable side.

A little before the refugee question, someone asks Clooney if he would like to make Syriana 2 (the 2005 movie Syriana was produced by Clooney and focussed on the politics of oil). The star smartly side-stepped that one, by saying that as actors “we react more than other people”, and that he would love to tell the stories of Darfur and Sudan, but “these are stories best told in the news media”.

But, he assures the questioner, “What you’ve said hasn’t fallen on deaf ears”.