Stars on a short orange carpet,and Jafar Panahi everywhere

It's a cold Berlin evening,with the threat of rain hanging in the air.

Written by Shalini Langer | Published: February 12, 2011 11:46:40 pm

It’s a cold Berlin evening,with the threat of rain hanging in the air. However,over at the red carpet,no cloud can dim either the shine of the stars or the enthusiasm of the crowds. (By the way,the carpet isn’t really red but a bright shade of orangish red,and it really isn’t long. A hop and a skip and you could be inside the warm lobby of the Berlinale Palast. An average star,sought by autograph-seekers and photographers,takes 20 minutes.)

The 61st edition of the Berlinale opened Friday night with the Coen Brothers’ True Grit. Jeff Bridges and Josh Brolin are there,along with the young star of the film,Hailee Steinfeld,and the director-screenwriter brothers themselves.

As they get off their “BMW shuttle services”,the clamour starts. It require commendable talent to survive the boisterous calls to “look here”,“stand in the middle”,“smile” and “sign autographs”,give a few impromptu quotes,sound intelligent and interested about the film,walk a few metres,and then do it all over again,helpfully nudged in the back by gum-chewing,untiring PR agents.

The young Hailee (who plays a 14-year-old girl out to avenge the murder of her father) handles it with aplomb,retaining both her balance on high heels and wide smile into the Palast. Joel and Ethan are not as enthusiastic,squirming when told to sign their huge pictures inside the Palast and trying to get by half-mocking the photographers’ demands for another shot.

The Palast is a glass-front structure,like most “modern” buildings in the area where the Berlin Wall once stood. There are a few vestiges of the Wall left still,carefully painted over to mix with the background. In keeping with the Berlinale spirit,the square is decorated with lights.

Many still talk about the time Shah Rukh Khan was here,and drew a bigger,screaming crowd than many Hollywood stars. Aamir Khan,part of the Berliane 2011 jury and here with wife Kiran Rao,goes virtually unrecognised in his beard and earrings. Martin Jacobs,associated with the Goethe Institute,says “a certain kind of Bollywood cinema” has found an audience here. He adds that “this is here to stay”.

The star of evening,however,is Jafar Panahi,a member of the jury who couldn’t be here because the Iranian government has sentenced him to six years in prison and banned him from making films for 20. The president of the jury,ex-model,actress and director Isabella Rossellini,reads out a moving letter that Panahi managed to send across —“the last time perhaps we will hear from him in a long time”,says Berlinale festival director Dieter Kosslick.

In the letter,Panahi says that he can’t make films for 20 years,as that is the reality,but in his imagination,nobody could stop him from making the films he wanted to,and he hoped to see the same in the works of others. He also hoped that in 20 years,“inquisition and intimidation will be replaced by freedom and free thinking”.

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