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In Berlin, Film VIPs Decried War

Special to The Times

A parade of Hollywood actors and directors opposed to a war with Iraq brought their message into the heart of “old Europe” this month, using the pulpit of Berlin’s just-concluded film festival to express anger at what they say is their own government’s inexorable march to war.

“It’s nice being in Europe this week,” actor Edward Norton told a crowd of journalists and film industry professionals at the presentation of “25th Hour,” a film by Spike Lee. “Almost everyone in Germany and France is in sync with their governments -- I almost forgot what it’s like to be proud of my government.”

Norton’s voice joined the swell of criticism from visiting Americans that characterized the 10-day festival, which ended Sunday. And it found a welcome ear among the festival crowds, who greeted each expression of antiwar feeling from the visiting Americans with knowing nods and loud cheers.

“I am not anti-American, but I am anti the views of the present administration,” Dustin Hoffman said to rapturous applause at the festival’s black-tie gala. “Since 9/11, there has been an unfortunate manipulation of the media, which is mainly corporate in my country, and by the administration to use the grief of that day to manipulate political views.”

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Director and Vietnam War veteran Oliver Stone also accused the U.S. media of fostering a sense that conflict with Iraq is inescapable.

“The media has loaded the question as to when we got to the inevitable war, not as to why,” he said at a news conference to discuss “Comandante,” his documentary on Fidel Castro.

“I have no idea why we’re fighting Iraq,” Stone said.

From actor George Clooney to Lee and fellow director Martin Scorsese, the chorus of made-in-America criticism of the Bush administration went down like fine champagne in Berlin.

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“Hoffman put a warm feeling in the stomach of many Germans,” said Harald Martenstein, cultural editor for Der Tagesspiegel newspaper. “It gave the impression to Germans that by being against this war, you are in harmony with people in the United States who matter -- actors, directors and so on -- and it gave the antiwar movement here quite a big kick.”

The festival, also known as the Berlinale, has often been politically charged since it was founded in 1951, the brainchild of a U.S. military film officer in the forces then occupying Germany. During the Vietnam War, the 1970 festival dissolved in chaos after Washington officially protested the screening of German director Michael Verhoeven’s movie “OK.” The film included the gang rape of a Vietnamese woman by four U.S. soldiers.

There was an echo of Vietnam-era instincts at the 2003 festival. Hoffman recalled that “in my country during the ‘60s, we dislodged a sitting president” over an unpopular war.

And with the world on the precipice of another controversial conflict, the Berlinale’s organizers said they anticipated -- and welcomed -- the intrusion of politics.

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“I cannot say I was unhappy that people from New York and Los Angeles had a feeling that this was a good moment to speak” about the possible war, the festival’s director, Dieter Kosslick, told The Times. “I selected movies which showed and reflected the current situation in the world, movies that show you what happens after a war.”

The festival’s Golden Bear award for best film went to British director Michael Winterbottom’s saga “In This World,” which follows two Afghan refugees on a perilous journey to find a new life in the West.

But Kosslick was adamant that there was no anti-American tinge to the festival.

“I remember the demonstrations of 1968, and that was anti-American,” the 54-year-old Kosslick said, referring to the legendary radical street protests against the United States that swept up many of those who are now part of this country’s political and cultural establishment. “The spirit at this festival was definitely not anti-American.”

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As evidence, Kosslick noted that this year’s Berlinale had the most American films ever in competition -- including Spike Jonze’s “Adaptation” and Steven Soderbergh’s “Solaris,” which stars Clooney.

“In the 10 days of the festival, I did not have one conversation that was anti-American,” Kosslick said. “Not one.”

In fact, the presence of so many high-profile American artists speaking out against Washington reassured those Germans who insist that their feelings are anti-Bush, not anti-American. They say their opposition to striking Iraq is rooted in the German experience of war, of knowing that unleashing a maelstrom can lead to terrible losses.

“There must be people who remember World War II and the Holocaust who can help us get out of this rut,” Scorsese, who didn’t attend the festival’s screening of “Gangs of New York,” said in an interview published last week in the German newspaper Die Zeit.

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Even other Europeans are apparently impressed by the German mood. At the Berlinale’s children’s film gala, European directors rose one after another to thank their host country for its antiwar spirit.

“Imagine,” cultural critic Martenstein said, “the French and other Europeans thanking the Germans for their antiwar politics.

“We haven’t heard that for at least 100 years.”


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