Berlin: Refugee Crisis Overshadows Opening-Night Premiere

George Amal Clooney Berlin Film Festival - H 2016
Getty Images

George Amal Clooney Berlin Film Festival - H 2016

The 'Hail Caesar' premiere turned into "hail German chancellor Angela Merkel" as style and politics mixed at 66th edition's opening-night ceremony.

Growing divisions in Germany on how to manage Europe's refugee crisis overshadowed the glitzy premiere of Hail Caesar! at the Berlin Film Festival on Thursday night, even as George Clooney, Meryl Streep and Channing Tatum brought Hollywood glamour to the opening night.

The ceremony's host, German TV presenter and comic Anke Engelke, praised the Berlinale for showing people what it means to make and watch movies. "It means to open up, opening up our minds, to learn, educate, to look for the truth," she told opening-night guests in the Berlinale Palast.

"Be wide open, which I think is very important at a time when people are seriously thinking about closing borders," Engelke said to loud and sustained applause. She also joked to festival jury head Meryl Streep that, after a career receiving awards, including three Oscars, the Hollywood legend was now to hand out awards for the first time at the end of the 66th edition.

"No more awards for you. There is an Obergrenze [cap] in Germany," Engelke said with a not-so-subtle reference to German chancellor Angela Merkel's refusal to put an emergency brake on refugees reaching the country. Berlin Mayor Michael Muller struck a more sober note in his own address to the Palast audience when he said Germany had an historic responsibility to take a stand on the refugee issue.

"Building new walls and barbed wire, shooting at refugees — these are messages that must never be transmitted from Germany ever, ever again,” Muller said with backing for Merkel, who is to meet Friday with Hail Caesar! star George Clooney to discuss the refugee crisis.

"We have to stand up with civil courage, with human empathy and with solidarity towards those who need our help," he added. Earlier, as Clooney and his wife, Amal Clooney, and directors Joel and Ethan Coen led the Hail Caesar! cast into the venue, talk of the refugee influx and closing borders wasn't far from the red carpet.

Kimberly Emerson, wife of John Emerson, the U.S. ambassador to Germany, said the lives of Germans, and her own family, had been deeply touched by the plight of refugees struggling to reach safe haven in Europe and around the world. "We have 60 million people displaced. These people are coming and we need to reach out to them," Emerson, who sits on the board of Human Rights Watch, told The Hollywood Reporter. Emerson and her husband were joined on the red carpet by daughter Jacqueline Emerson, who played Foxface, the female tribute from District 5, in The Hunger Games.

MPAA chairman Chris Dodd chose not to talk politics when asked to comment on the European refugee crisis. He instead praised the Berlin Film Festival. "This is one of the best film festivals in the world," he said. Dodd was joined on the red carpet by NBCUniversal vice chairman Ron Meyer and his studio team launching Hail Caesar! in Berlin ahead of the international rollout for the Hollywood satire.

Other star power included Hail Caesar! castmembers Channing Tatum, Josh Brolin, Clive Owen; Tilda Swinton, Daniel Bruhl (who is at the festival with his latest film, Alone in Berlin), Lars Eidenger and Julianne Moore (who is promoting Maggie's Plan).