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Dutch director Paul Verhoeven, head of the 2017 Berlin Film Festival jury, promised Thursday that his panel would judge this year’s film selection “without political prejudice.” But it wasn’t long before politics intruded upon the proceedings at a press conference introducing this year’s seven-strong jury, which will choose the Golden and Silver Bear trophy winners at the festival’s 67th edition.
As the jury was peppered with questions referencing the political situation in the United States under President Donald Trump, jury member Maggie Gyllenhaal said she welcomed the opportunity to represent the U.S. overseas at such a prominent event.
“I feel like it’s an amazing time to be an American at an international festival,” she said. “I feel like I want to let the world know that there are many, many people in my country who are ready to resist.”
Verhoeven and Gyllenhaal are joined on the jury by Rogue One star Diego Luna, German actress Julia Jentsch, Chinese director and writer Wang Quan’an, Tunisian producer Dora Bouchoucha and artist Olafur Eliasson from Iceland.
Luna was asked how he feels as a Mexican in Berlin amid Trump’s calls to build a wall between Mexico and the U.S. “I’m here to investigate how to tear down walls,” he replied, drawing a laugh. “Apparently, there are many experts here, and I want to bring that information back to Mexico.”
Addressing the heightened political temperature stateside, Luna added: “The only positive thing I see from all of this is that there has to be a reaction, and I want to be a part of that. There has to be a message of love because that’s the only way to fight hate.”
“I cross the [U.S.-Mexico] border three or four times a month,” he went on. “And I have so many love stories in the states, and I’m not going to let a wall get in the way of those love stories. And there are many like me.”
Verhoeven had opened the press conference by stating his hope that the jury would resist viewing the competing films through any particular political lens.
“I’m going to look at the movies — hopefully — without any political prejudice,” he said. “I hope that the rest of the jury will look at the quality of the movie and not if it brings you a political message in general,” he added.
The director of sharp-edged box-office hits like Basic Instinct, RoboCop and Starship Troopers, Verhoeven, 78, recently has enjoyed a critical resurgence with Elle, his first French-language film. The drama premiered in Cannes last year and has earned its star, Isabelle Huppert, her first best actress Oscar nomination.
Dora Bouchoucha hailed the Berlinale’s deep engagement with global filmmaking but suggested that Verhoeven’s preference of an apolitical approach may be challenging given the current climate.
She said: “The greatness of the Berlinale is based on its commitment to cinema first — and also the state of the world we are living in. We can’t get away from it.”
Last year’s Berlinale jury was led by 20-time Oscar nominee Meryl Streep. The international jury will announce the winners of the official competition on Feb. 18.
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