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Berlin Film Festival Withdraws Far-Right Opening Ceremony Invitations Following Outcry

The Berlin Film Festival has rescinded opening ceremony invitations to Germany’s far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party following widespread outcry from the German industry.

Festival sources tell us the decision was finalized today by Berlinale co-heads Carlo Chatrian and Mariette Rissenbeek. Emails have just gone out to staff.

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The decision was made following discussions with German Culture Minister Claudia Roth, who sources told us was against the move. We hear the decision was largely influenced by the growing number of industry professionals who had said they would not attend the opening with AfD representatives present.

The festival was set to publish an official letter later this afternoon but moved up its announcement by a couple of hours after hearing that we were about to break the news.

“Over the past few days, there has been an intense discussion in the cultural sector, in the press and on social media as well as within the Berlinale team about the invitations of AfD politicians, a right-wing extremist party, to the Opening of the Berlinale. Today, the directors of the Berlinale have decided to disinvite the five previously invited AfD politicians,” the festival said in a statement. Read it in full below.

The industry outcry over the AfD’s presence at the Berlinale opening ceremony has been extensive. As the above statement notes, anger was also growing among the Berlinale staff. Just today, an alliance of film trade organizations, including the German Film Academy and unions representing producers and writers, published a new open letter in protest against the invitation.

“Our concern is the reputation of our industry and our country,” the letter said of the invites. “We stand for a diverse society and artistic freedom. The officials of this party are therefore not welcome at our events.”

The group called for all bureaucratic processes that led to the AfD being invited to the Berlinale opening ceremony to be “reviewed and changed.”

“We have a duty to make it clear that ethnic-nationalist ideology is incompatible with our free-democratic basic order,” the letter reads.

News of the AfD’s invitation was first reported on by us following a separate open letter signed by more than 200 industry professionals, including actors, directors, producers, writers, programmers, educators, journalists, and students, in which they expressed “outrage” over the invitations. That original open letter has since been taken down over fear of reprisal against its organizers, we’re told by sources.

The Wave and Das Boot series director Dennis Gansel became the most prominent voice in the German industry to call out the festival’s invitation. Organizers claimed that it was festival protocol to invite democratically elected members of parliament to the opening ceremony.

We revealed that protests were due to take place at the opening ceremony, while one Berlinale Talent member cancelled his presence at the festival and multiple German celebrities took to social media to express anger at the invitations.

The far-right AfD is currently polling second in Germany and there are fears from many in the industry that the party could sweep local and European elections this summer.

The party’s ideology has been classified as anti-Islam, anti-immigration, German nationalist, Eurosceptic and denying of human-caused climate change. Gläser, one of the AfD politicians invited to the Berlinale opening, previously compared Winston Churchill to Adolf Hitler, describing the former as a “warlord” and a “war-criminal”.

Over the last few weeks, hundreds of thousands of Germans have hit the streets in protest against the party, calling for it to be banned after it was uncovered by investigative outlet Correctiv that senior AfD members had discussed a plot to deport asylum-seekers and German citizens of foreign origin en masse if they came to power.

Festival Statement:

Over the past few days, there has been an intense discussion in the cultural sector, in the press and on social media as well as within the Berlinale team about the invitations of AfD politicians, a right-wing extremist party, to the Opening of the Berlinale. Today, the directors of the Berlinale have decided to disinvite the five previously invited AfD politicians.

The current discourse has once again made it very clear how much the commitment to a free, tolerant society and standing against right-wing extremism are part of the Berlinale’s DNA. For decades, the Berlinale has been committed to democratic values and against all forms of right-wing extremism. The film programme and the Berlinale as a cultural institution stand for this. The festival has repeatedly pointed out that it observes with concern how anti-Semitism, anti-Muslim resentment, hate speech and other anti-democratic and discriminatory attitudes are on the rise in Germany.

Especially in light of the revelations that have been made in recent weeks about explicitly anti-democratic positions and individual politicians of the AfD, it is important for us – as the Berlinale and as a team – to take an unequivocal stand in favour of an open democracy. We have therefore today written to all previously invited AfD politicians and informed them that they are not welcome at the Berlinale,” says the Berlinale’s director duo, Mariëtte Rissenbeek and Carlo Chatrian.

The AfD and many of its members and representatives hold views that are deeply contrary to the fundamental values of democracy. Demands for a homogeneous society, immigration restrictions and mass deportations, homophobic, queer-hostile and racist remarks, as well as severe historical revisionism and outright right-wing extremism – can be found at the AfD.

In times when right-wing extremists are moving into parliaments, the Berlinale wants to take a clear position by taking a clear stance with today’s disinvitation of the AfD. The discussion on how to deal with AfD politicians also affects many other organisations and festivals. This debate must be conducted across society as a whole and together with all democratic parties.

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