Berlin Opening Ceremony Holds Moment of Silence for German Shooting Victims

Andreas Rentz,Getty Images
From left: Samuel Finzi, Mariette Rissenbeek and Carlo Chatrian

A mass shooting in the western German city of Hanau on the eve of the festival cast a pall over anniversary celebrations.

Berlin was planning to have a party, but tragedy changed the script.

On the eve of the 70th Berlin International Film Festival, a fatal mass shooting occurred Wednesday in the western Germany city of Hanau. A far-right extremist, deliberately targeting people from minorities backgrounds, killed 10 people before taking his own life. It was the deadliest attack in what has become an upsurge in right-wing violence in the country. 

Mariette Rissenbeek, the festival's new executive director of the Berlinale, began Thursday's opening-night gala ceremony with a call for a moment of silence in honor of the victims.

"The Berlinale stands for tolerance, respect and hospitality. The festival opposes violence and racism," she said.

German Cultural Minister Monika Grütters and Berlin's Mayor Michael Müller, who took the stage after Rissenbeek, drew a direct link between the attack in Hanau and the increasing popularity of far-right political groups, particularly the populist party Alternative for Germany (AfD).

"Some say the AfD wants a different kind of country," said Müller. "Well, that's a country I don't want to live in. We have to stand up and resist."

The audience of film industry professionals — including Margaret Qualley and Sigourney Weaver, the stars of this year's opening-night film My Salinger Year from Canadian director Philippe Falardeau — rose to give Grütters a standing ovation when she said that "never again" should the people of Germany cooperate "with this sort of Nazi force."

Her comment was a direct reference to recent elections in the eastern German state of Thuringia, where the AfD won more than 20 percent of the vote and some who called for Grütters' centrist Christian Democratic Party to cooperate with the far right.

Despite the somber opening, the Berlinale gala did manage to end on an upbeat note, with Falardeau introducing his film surrounded by the entire cast.

"When one sits in a theater, you are part of a community," said Carlo Chatrain, the festival's new artistic director. "A community where there is no distinctions of class, of language, of religion." In what sounded both like an appeal and a promise, he added: "Cinema is what brings us together."