Berlinale international jury opens 70th festival amid controversy
Berlin’s unpredictable traffic caused a slight delay to the International Jury press conference, and perhaps it was while waiting at a red light that jury president Jeremy Irons took a few moments to work on his speech. Formal opening remarks aren’t quite the norm at the festival, but Irons took the opportunity of a captive audience to address a few comments he’s made over the years, which became a topic of discussion when he was named as the head of the Berlinale jury for 2020 – a festival which includes gender equality amongst its goals.
Reading from a prepared statement, Irons said he wished to “address various comments that I have reportedly made in the past, and which have resurfaced in certain sections of the press over the first few weeks. I wish I didn’t have to take up time with this, but I don’t want it to continue as a distraction to the Berlinale. My past comments, already refuted, and apologised for, refer to three subjects – three subjects that are very much in our minds these days, and rightly so. Sexual abuse, same-sex marriage, and abortion.
“Let me make my views this morning entirely clear on these particular subjects, once and for all. Firstly, I support wholeheartedly the global movement to address the inequality of women’s rights, and to protect them from abusive, damaging and disrespectful harassment, both at home and in the workplace. Secondly, I applaud the legislation of same-sex marriage, wherever it has been attained, and I hope that such enlightened legislation will continue to spread to more and more societies. And thirdly, I support wholeheartedly the right of women to have an abortion, should they so decide.”
Irons concluded by saying, “I hope that’s put my past comments to bed.” The comments in question were in a 2011 Radio Times interview in which he equated a man putting his hand on a woman’s bottom to being friendly, as well as suggesting that the church should be able to call abortion a sin. When speaking to the Huffington Post in 2013, Irons suggested that with the legalisation of gay marriage, fathers might marry their sons in order to sidestep inheritance taxes.
The Berlinale might be wishing to head off any further potential controversies. This year, instead of handing out the Alfred Bauer Prize for a film that “opens new perspectives on cinematic art,” the jury will instead award a Silver Bear statuette for this category. Bauer, the first director of the Berlin International Film Festival, was recently discovered to have been a high-ranking Nazi who assisted Joseph Goebbels in his propaganda efforts. The Alfred Bauer Prize was immediately suspended when Bauer’s past was made public in the German press on 18th February, a mere two days before the 2020 festival got underway.
Irons leads a jury that includes actress Bérénice Bejo (The Artist) and Academy Award-winning writer-director Kenneth Lonergan (Manchester by the Sea). When asked about his criteria for judging at a festival, Lonergan said his favourites were simply, “which ones I like.”
Though it got off to an uncomfortable start, the final question put to Irons was certainly more gratifying, when a journalist asked him for his autograph. For her mother, naturally.
Photo: © Berlinale
Read more reviews from our Berlin Film Festival 2020 coverage here.
For further information about the event visit the Berlin Film Festival website here.
Watch the press conference highlights here: