Berlinale Director Carlo Chatrian Says Closing Ceremony Discourse Has Been ‘Taken Over’ to ‘Weaponize Antisemitism for Political Means’

Outgoing Berlinale artistic director Carlo Chatrian has spoken out about the political discourse surrounding the festival’s closing ceremony this year.

As the Berlinale handed out prizes on Saturday night, several winning filmmakers took the opportunity in their acceptance speeches to call for a ceasefire in Gaza. The Instagram of the Berlinale’s Panorama section was also hacked to display messages that the festival said were antisemitic.

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This led to backlash from both German politicians and festival organizers, with the Mayor of Berlin, Kai Wegner, writing on X: “What happened yesterday at the Berlinale was an unacceptable relativization. There is no place for antisemitism in Berlin, and that also applies to the arts.” Some who delivered said speeches, including Israeli “No Other Land” filmmaker Yuval Abraham, said that they have been receiving death threats since the ceremony.

In a letter posted to X, formerly known as Twitter, Chatrian wrote that “this year’s festival was a place for dialogue and exchange for 10 days; yet once the films stoped rolling, another form of communication has been taken over by politicians and the media, one which weaponizes and instrumentalizes antisemitism for political means.”

Chatrian continued, “No matter our individual political convictions or beliefs, we should all keep in mind that freedom of speech is an essential part of what defines a democracy. The award ceremony on Saturday, Feb. 24 has been targeted in such a violent way that some people now see their lives threatened. This is unacceptable.”

The letter is signed by Chatrian and head of programming Mark Peranson, who said they “stand in solidarity with all filmmakers, jury members and other festival guests who have received direct or indirect threats, and do not back down from any programming choices made at this year’s Berlinale.”

Chatrian and Peranson called for an “immediate release” of the hostages held by Hamas, but also stated that they “feel for the lives of millions of people in Gaza.”

“To the ones who say that it is either or, we want to remind you that sorrow is universal,” the letter continues. “Mourning the loss of human beings on one side doesn’t mean that we don’t mourn others’ losses too. Stating the opposite is simply dishonest, and shameful and polarizing behavior.”

In a statement made on Monday following the festival’s announcement that it had filed criminal charges against the hackers, Chatrian’s co-chief Mariëtte Rissenbeek took a slightly different stance.

“We understand the outrage that the statements made by some of the award winners were perceived as too one-sided and, in some cases, inappropriate. In the run-up to and during our festival, we made it very clear what the Berlinale’s view of the war in the Middle East is and that we do not share one-sided positions,” she said. “However, the Berlinale sees itself — today, as in the past — as a platform for open dialogue across cultures and countries. We must therefore also tolerate opinions and statements that contradict our own opinions, as long as these statements do not discriminate against people or groups of people in a racist or similarly discriminating way or cross legal limits.”

This year’s Berlinale was a politically charged affair from the jump, with the fest finding itself in hot water before it even began over the invitation of members of the AfD, a far-right German party, to its opening ceremony. The festival then withdrew the invitation, but the implications were still felt in the form of several protests and a particularly tense jury press conference.

This year’s Berlinale marked Chatrian and Rissenbeek’s last edition at the helm, with former BFI London Film Festival director Tricia Tuttle poised to take over in 2025.

Read Chatrian’s full statement below.

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