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Berlin filmfest unveils 2020 line-up amid diversity debate

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Berlin (AFP)

Films starring Johnny Depp and Sigourney Weaver will be among those premiering at Berlin's film festival next month, organisers said, as they defended a competition line-up with fewer female directors than last year.

The 11-day Berlinale, one of Europe's most prestigious film extravaganzas alongside Cannes and Venice, celebrates its 70th anniversary in 2020.

The upcoming edition will also be the festival's first under new directors Carlo Chatrian and Mariette Rissenbeek, after former boss Dieter Kosslick ended an 18-year spell at the helm last year.

Amid furious debate in Hollywood about the dominance of white winners at award shows, the duo said Wednesday they wanted the Berlin festival to "embrace diversity".

"The history of the Berlinale is one of awareness... of all the differences that exist not just in the film business, but in life," said Chatrian.

Last year, Kosslick signed the Berlinale up to a so-called "50/50" pledge to achieve gender parity by 2020.

Yet of the 18 films that will vie for the Golden and Silver Bear prizes, only six are directed by women, one fewer than in 2019.

They include Sally Potter's "The Roads Not Taken", starring Spanish star Javier Bardem.

Defending the line-up, Rissenbeek pointed out that "the artistic directors of the festival sections are generally women".

Major female stars at this year's event include Oscar-crowned British actress Helen Mirren, set to be honoured with the Berlinale's lifetime achievement award.

Fellow British Oscar winner Jeremy Irons will head the international jury, which organisers said would be announced in the coming weeks.

The festival will open on February 20 with Philippe Falardeau's "My Salinger Year", a Canadian-Irish production starring Sigourney Weaver and based on the memoirs of New York author Joanna Rakoff.

The main programme also contains two films from the controversial Russian "DAU" project, whose artists made headlines in Germany in 2018 when their application to rebuild part of the Berlin Wall was denied.

Also in competition is a modern take on Alfred Doeblin's literary classic "Berlin Alexanderplatz" by German-Afghan director Burhan Qurbani.

The iconic Alexanderplatz square in the heart of former East Berlin will also be one of the locations for this year's Berlinale.

Traditionally based at Potsdamer Platz in central Berlin, the festival has had to spread out across the city due to the recent closure of one of its host cinemas.

- Sustainability goals -

Outside the main competition, "Charlatan" by Polish director Agnieszka Holland and Andrew Levitas' "Minamata" starring Depp will both have their world premiere.

Capturing the "Friday for Future" mood, Chatrian and Rissenbeek said they wanted sustainability to be at the heart of the 2020 event.

They said the film industry had a "responsibility to support sustainable development and fair living conditions for all".

The Berlinale will screen 340 films before it wraps up with the traditional awards ceremony on March 1.

Last year's Golden Bear winner was "Synonyms", a semi-autobiographical drama by Israeli director Nadav Lapid.

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