Donald Trump Trade Policies, Personality Loom Over Berlin Film Festival

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Donald Trump

Fest director Dieter Kosslick calls the U.S. president “overrated” as insiders fret over his travel ban: “We have to worry about the visa status of every person we work with.”

The bellicose policies and personality of U.S. President Donald Trump are looming large over the Berlin Film Festival as one of Europe’s leading cinema events kicks off Thursday, along with the first major film market of the year.

Trump is the first and primary topic of conversation among film execs already in Berlin, and Trumpian politics are certain to be in focus over the next two weeks at the countless screenings and press conferences.

Berlin festival director Dieter Kosslick has already shared his political allegiance, calling Trump “the most overrated president in history,” a snide reference to Trump’s recent tweet calling Meryl Streep “one of the most overrated” actresses in Hollywood.

Politics is also front and center in many of the films screening in Berlin, including Raoul Peck’s I Am Not Your Negro and Young Karl Marx, Aki Kaurismaki’s refugee drama The Other Side of Hope and Oren Moverman’s The Dinner, which the director tells The Hollywood Reporter is “Trumpian” in its analysis of current issues.

Django, Etienne Comar’s biopic of jazz musician Django Reinhardt, which will open the festival on Thursday, has been praised by Germany’s Secretary of State for Culture Monika Grutters for focusing “on the behavior of artists in authoritarian systems.” The film is set in 1943 when Reinhardt fled Nazi-occupied Paris.

Trump’s politics are also in focus at the European Film Market, with attendees wondering what impact the president’s recent edicts, including the proposed travel ban on citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries, will have on the industry. “We have a Syrian director on one of our films and he is coming to Berlin, but I’m worried if that is the right decision, given the climate,” says Mimi Steinbauer, president of Radiant Films International. “We have to worry about the visa status of every person we work with, if they can travel or get back into the country. It’s insane.”

Trump’s trade policies could have the most direct impact on the international film industry. Many are troubled by the president’s decision to pull out of the planned Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership free-trade agreement between the U.S. and the European Union — a deal praised by the film industry for extending U.S.-style copyright protection across Europe.

Nu Image International president Jeffrey Greenstein said the Trump administration’s relationships with major markets will have a lasting impact on the industry. “There’s a sense that the uncertain political landscape is leaving questions over the flow of business in key foreign markets, such as Russia and, most importantly, China, and piracy is a known plague to our business and copyright industries,” he said. “I’m hopeful President Trump will be supportive since movies are the United States’ number one cultural export and, among other copyright industries, are a major source of U.S. revenues.”

Berlin prides itself on being the most political of the big festivals, but in the post-Trump era, politics threaten to overwhelm talk of movies and the industry that makes them.