berlinale berlin film festival.jpg
Photograph: EPA/MICHAEL KAPPELER

The Berlin Film Festival opens its doors next week with a programme shaped by movies about people's search for happiness in a turbulent world gripped by economic uncertainties and political tensions.

"The right to happiness for people around the world is a theme of this year's festival," said Berlinale chief Dieter Kosslick unveiling the festival's programme on Tuesday.

But he said, "It's not just about a right to happiness but a right to work, love and to find a place to call home."

With this in mind, the festival plans to screen a series of movies across all its sections delving into the global refugee crisis.

This includes selecting for its main competition a documentary about the Italian island of Lampedusa, which is often the first place that many asylum seekers reach on their sometimes perilous journey to Europe.

The film, Fuocoammare (Fire at Sea) from Italian director Gianfranco Rosi, is one of 18 movies competing for the Berlinale's top honour, the Golden Bear for best film.

A comedy about Hollywood's Golden Age from Oscar-winning US directors Joel and Ethan Coen is to open the Berlinale, which is the first major European film festival of the year.

The Coen brothers’ movie, Hail, Caesar!, features an A-list cast including Josh Brolin, George Clooney, Ralph Fiennes, Scarlett Johansson, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton and Channing Tatum, with a raft of celebrities set to appear on the Berlinale's famed red carpet.

Among those also expected in Berlin are Spike Lee, Tim Robbins, Colin Firth, Jude Law, Kirsten Dunst, Alexander Skarsgard, Nicole Kidman and Julianne Moore.

The larger-than-life figure of US documentary filmmaker Michael Moore is also to present in Berlin his latest satire on US life, Where to Invade.

Of the 18 films to be screened in the main competition, 15 are world premieres and include movies from the US, France, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Britain, China and Vietnam.

Now in its 66th year, the Berlinale is also planning a tribute to David Bowie by screening Nicolas Roeg's 1976 sci-fi film The Man Who Fell to Earth in which the British music legend starred. Bowie, who lived in Berlin in the 1970's, died of cancer last month.

"David Bowie was a tremendous musician, an avant-garde artist who expressed his creativity in many disciplines," said Kosslick.

The festival is also planning tributes to Italian filmmaker Ettore Scola and British actor Alan Rickman with special screenings of their films. They both also died last month.

Three-time Ocsar winner Meryl Streep is to head up a seven-member jury, which includes British actor Clive Owen, Italian actress Alba Rohrwacher, French fashion photographer Brigitte Lacombe and Polish director Malgorzata Szumowska.

Among the movies in the race for top honours in Berlin are US director Jeff Nichols' new science fiction thriller, Midnight Special.

Also keenly awaited this year is Swiss director Vincent Perez's Alone in Berlin (Jeder stirbt fuer sich allein) about the life of a normal couple in Berlin during World War II, who take part in an act of resistance after a family tragedy.

China is represented by Yang Chao's love drama Chang Jiang Tu (Crosscurrent), while Poland's Tomasz Wasilewski's Zjednoczone Stany Miłosci (United States of Love) tells a story of life following the fall of communism in his nation.

Also in the lineup of competition movies is Filipino director Lav Diaz's eight-hour-long A Lullaby for the Sorrowful Mystery, which is set against the 1986-87 revolution in his nation.

The Berlinale coveted prizes, including awards for best actor and actress, are to be handed out at a gala ceremony on February 20.

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