Berlinale Unbound, Gala Glitters in the Shadow of Berlin’s Wall


BERLIN — For the past five years the Cinema for Peace celebrity gala has been one of the city’s hottest annual events, a fusion of film, fundraising and philanthropy that lures over 400 notables to honor films and individuals who create “a platform for peace and tolerance.”
The grand tradition continued Monday night (Feb. 11) with the red-carpet welcome of luminaries such as Sir Ben Kingsley, Sir Bob Geldof, Hillary Swank, Joseph Fiennes, Catherine Deneuve, Garry Kasparov and Russian opera star Anna Netrebko. Tuxed and gowned, they all mounted the monumental marble steps of Berlin’s domed Konzerthaus, which was doused in klieg lights and situated – appropriately, considering the night’s theme — in the long-gone shadow of the Berlin Wall.

While Sharon Stone and Richard Gere didn’t attend the event as they had in the past, honorary chair Nicole Kidman did – or at least a videotaped image of her did, projected onto the huge screen above the gilded concert stage.

“Unfortunately I can’t be there in person, as I’m expecting a baby, so I’m here in Sydney resting up,” she noted before giving what amounted to a public service announcement for the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM). Kidman is a a goodwill ambassador for the group and has helped launch its internet-based advocacy campaign called “Say NO to Violence Against Women.”
The actress then introduced her honorary co-chair, Deneuve, who took the stage to remind guests that “one out of every three women worldwide is a victim of violence,” and to open their pocketbooks for the cause.

Former world chess champion and event chair Garry Kasparov spoke out passionately against “the horrific state of affairs” in president Putin’s government, chiding it for being complicit in the assassination of Russian journalist Anna Politikovskaya.
Ever a thorn in the Kremlin’s side, Kasparov has become the Russian leader’s most visible critic as a leader of The Other Russia pro-democracy coalition. His 2008 Russian presidential bid was derailed by of the Kremlin, but in Berlin he continued his long-running fight to highlight the human rights abuses in his native country.

Concert promoter, record producer and charity fundraiser Bob Geldof took special aim at the news and celebrity media for not doing more to raise awareness about their own peers who had become victims of political violence, such as the late Polikovskaya.
“It’s a great shame that the journalists here tonight can spend plenty of time covering celebrities and their (comings and goings), but when a fellow journalist is murdered by the state, where are you?” chided Geldov. He then proposed “taking as many journalists from around the world as possible – they can pay their own way – to travel to the USSR (sic) every year on Putin’s birthday to stand outside the Kremlin and sign a protest that we will not forget Anna Politkovskaya’s death.”

Geldov introduced Oscar-winning Bosnian director and event chair Danis Tanovic (No Man’s Land) who brought Oscar-winner Kingsley onto the stage to receive the Cinema For Peace Honorary Award and a standing ovation. Kingsley referenced his work in Gandhi, The Simon Wiesenthal Story and Schindler’s List in accepting, noting “with enormous pride” the socially-conscious work of his own son, who recently acted in a London play about the Afghanistan war. “At the heart of the heart of everything, storytelling is profoundly healing,” said Kingsley. “Keep telling stories.”

Other awards doled out during the four-hour affair included the Most Valuable Movie of the Year to Marjane Satrapi’s animated feature Persepolis (winning over The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, A Mighty Heart, Charly Wilson’s War and Juno); and the Most Valuable Work of Director, Producer and Screenwriter Award to Juno. Director Jason Reitman and screenwriter Lianne Halfon accepted in person.

Ralf Schmerberg and the global initiative Dropping Knowledge received the Most Valuable Documentary of the Year Award for their film Trouble, and Joseph Fiennes accepted an award for his short film set in Russia called The Spirit. The CFP’s Clean Energy Award went to Alastair Fothergill and Mark Linfield for Earth.

Hillary Swank took the stage to honor 29-year-old Afghani politician and activist Malalai Joya with CFP’s International Human Rights Film Award for her efforts towards women’s rights and democracy in Afghanistan.

In May 2007, Joya was suspended from parliament on the grounds she had “insulted” the government in a TV interview, a suspension which is currently being appealed and which has generated protest form artists and politicians worldwide. She was featured recently in the documentary Enemies of Happiness by Eva Mulvad.

In a tearful speech, Joya condemned the U.S. government for “killing my people with their bombs” and vowed to continue fighting for the education and economic development of women in Afghanistan.

The evening’s second half featured a live auction hosted by a very animated Simon de Pury. Items included a weekend of sailing in a Mallorcan regatta followed by a dinner with the King of Spain (going for 16,000 Euros); a weekend skiing with Olympic gold medalist Marcus Wasmeier; and some artwork of secondary quality going for decidedly primary prices.

Attending journalists were relegated to the upper echelons of the balconies and, unlike the banqueting glitterati below, had to make do with luke-warm entrees served in the side hallways, along with a dire lack of cutlery.


About Author

James Ulmer

James Ulmer A contributing writer for The New York Times, James Ulmer's 20-year journalistic career has included penning two national columns for Premiere magazine, and writing and directing for the BBC in London. He was a senior analyst and executive producer at the internet company Creative Planet, and served for eight years as international editor and columnist for The Hollywood Reporter, where he reported from over 50 festivals and markets worldwide. Ulmer is the author of James Ulmer's Hollywood Hot List -- The Complete Guide to Star Ranking from St. Martin's Press., and founded the Hollywood database company The Ulmer Scale ( He has been interviewed in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times Magazine, The Los Angeles Time and Newsweek, and his commentaries have been featured on "Entertainment Tonight," "CBS This Morning," and the BBC, CBS, CNN, HBO, and E! networks. He has frequently been seen on the Reelz Channel as a commentator and on-camera presenter. A graduate of Harvard College and an Iowa native, Ulmer discovered his passion for Italy as a teenager living in Naples, where he often spent weekends haunting his favorite piazzas.

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