Berlinale Film Festival Curators Join Call for Gaza Ceasefire

Today, February 16, the curators of the Berlinale international film festival’s Forum Expanded program joined artists’ expressions of solidarity with Palestine and called for a ceasefire in Gaza in the first such public expression by German festival programmers. The statement by curators Ala Younis, Ulrich Ziemons, Karina Griffith, Maha Maamoun, and Shai Heredia follows two letters released this week by Berlinale filmmakers and cultural workers, as well as by artists who rescinded their participation in the festival as part of the ongoing “Strike Germany” boycott of German cultural institutions.

The statement came during the first short film program, consisting of screenings of Deniz Şimşek’s “detours while speaking of monsters” (2024), Zuza Banasińska’s “Grandmamauntsistercat” (2024), and Sarnt Utamachote’s “I Don’t Want to Be Just a Memory” (2024).

“We, too, want to add our voice and share our concern by expressing that the Forum Expanded curators support the urgent call for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza,” said Ziemons, one of the co-heads of the program’s selection committee, during his introduction. Audience members responded with applause and vocal approval. 

On Wednesday, February 14, participants in the 74th edition of the Berlinale released an open letter demanding the film festival address the rising stifling of pro-Palestine voices in the country’s cultural sector. So far, 118 filmmakers, producers, cinematographers, actors, editors, and other arts workers participating in this year’s festival have signed onto the missive, echoing a statement by Berlinale cultural workers published on Monday calling for “an immediate ceasefire and call for the release of all hostages.”

Filmmaker Suneil Sanzgiri, one of several artists who withdrew from  the festival, told Hyperallergic that he welcomes the selection committee’s statement, despite feeling it is “a bit overdue.”

A still from the short film that Suneil Sanzgiri withdrew, “Two Refusals (Would We Recognize Ourselves Unbroken?)” (2023) (image by and courtesy the artist)

“It is very admirable of them to make the call for a ceasefire publicly on stage during the festival, and I am grateful for their courage. I do believe that our withdrawals have had a significant impact,” Sanzgiri said, pointing to the mass movement of arts and cultural workers who protested the Berlin Senate’s highly-scrutinized “anti-discrimination clause” for arts funding before it was ultimately nixed at the end of last month.

In response to Hyperallergic’s inquiries about the recent statements, Frauke Greiner, a spokesperson for the Berlinale, said that the festival calls on both Israel and Palestine to “make every effort to protect innocent civilians and to work towards ending the violent conflict,” reiterating a statement by festival organizers published on January 19 raising concerns about antisemitism, Islamophobia, and hate speech. The Berlinale did not comment on the Forum Expanded selection committee’s support for a ceasefire.

Sanzgiri noted that the recent statement by the curators of Forum Expanded makes it “obvious” that there is no more room for silence around Israel’s destruction of Gaza, which has so far killed more than 28,473 Palestinians and internally displaced another 1.7 million people.

“No one can pretend to go on with business as usual,” Sanzgiri said. “Every single one of us has an obligation to fight against this genocide using our labor and power as leverage.”

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Film Workers for Palestine demonstrators hosted a vigil today in Berlin honoring the Palestinians killed by Israeli bombardments in Gaza. (photo courtesy Film Workers for Palestine)

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