Berlin Film festival presents program ranging from European to Iranian films

This year's Berlin International Film Festival features a program ranging from Iran to Argentina and includes new movies from U.S. veterans Sidney Lumet and Robert Altman, organizers said Monday. This year's "Berlinale" the 56th, runs from Feb. 9-19. Organizers say it will offer 19 world premieres. "The films this year are overall very political, very close to reality ... directed toward people's problems, with less fantasy," festival director Dieter Kosslick told reporters.

Among them are "The Road to Guantanamo" from British director Michael Winterbottom, whose "In This World" won the top Golden Bear award in 2003. Kosslick described the new film, which traces the story of three British Muslims held at the prison camp, as "a statement for human rights."

The first of the year's major European film festivals, the Berlin event opens with the premiere of Marc Evans' drama "Snow Cake," starring Alan Rickman and Sigourney Weaver.

It will close with a digitally restored version of Sam Peckinpah's 1973 film "Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid," screening out of competition.

Among the movies competing for the Golden Bear is Altman's adaptation of Garrison Keillor's "A Prairie Home Companion," the story of a legendary radio show taken off the air after 30 years, whose stars include Meryl Streep, Woody Harrelson and Kevin Kline.

Also making its debut will be Lumet's "Find Me Guilty," a courtroom drama starring Vin Diesel as mobster Giacomo "Fat Jack" DiNorscio, who successfully defended himself in a two-year-long trial in the mid-1980s.

This year's program includes a strong contingent from host country Germany. Its four entries include Oskar Roehler's "The Elementary Particles," an adaptation of a novel by Michel Houllebecq.

From France comes Claude Chabrol's "L'ivresse du pouvoir" ("The Comedy of Power"), starring Isabelle Huppert as an uncompromising magistrate who investigates a top executive.

Organizers are offering two films from Iran this year a decision that Kosslick said predates the current standoff over that country's nuclear program.

"I think these two films show, in very, very different ways, a bit of Iran," he said.

Jafar Panahi's "Offside" follows the story of a girl who disguises herself as a boy to attend a soccer game at a stadium in Tehran.

Rafi Pitts' "Zemestan" ("It's Winter") documents living and working conditions on the outskirts of the capital.

This year's lone Latin American entry in the main program comes from Argentine director Rodrigo Moreno, whose "El Custodio" ("The Minder") follows the story of a top politician's dedicated bodyguard.

Honorary Golden Bears for lifetime achievement will go to British actor Sir Ian McKellen and Polish director Andrzej Wajda.

British actress Charlotte Rampling is to head the eight-member jury that will award the Golden Bear. Last year's winner was the South African film "Carmen in Khayelitsha," directed by Mark Dornford-May, reports the AP.


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