BERLIN (Reuters) - Music comes to the movies at the Berlin Film Festival this year, with the Rolling Stones and Madonna expected on the red carpet and a heavy metal band from Baghdad banging heads on the big screen.
In between songs at the annual 11-day cinematic extravaganza will be more familiar fare of hard-hitting films from the real world, including a documentary about the Abu Ghraib prison abuses in Iraq and a feature on child soldiers in Eritrea.
Organizers will also be hoping for a smattering of Hollywood A-listers, crucial to the success of Europe’s first major film festival of the year. Scarlett Johansson, Natalie Portman, Penelope Cruz and Daniel Day-Lewis are all due to attend.
Opening the event on Thursday is “Shine a Light,” Martin Scorsese’s documentary about the band the Rolling Stones, using footage from two concerts in New York in 2006.
Having the likes of Mick Jagger and Scorsese at the glittering first night is a major coup for festival director Dieter Kosslick, who has struggled to secure strong opening films in the past.
“It’s not like you can just make a phone call and get the Stones,” Kosslick told German television on Friday. “You’ve got to have some good luck on your side too.”
“Shine a Light” is not listed as a competition film, and so will not be contending for prizes at the awards ceremony on February 16 including the coveted Golden Bear for best film.
Madonna’s film “Filth and Wisdom” is also out of the main competition, but the queen of pop’s directorial debut is bound to hit the headlines and draw comparisons — flattering or otherwise — with her director husband Guy Ritchie.
The film stars Richard E. Grant and Eugene Hutz from gypsy punk band Gogol Bordello.
“We wouldn’t have picked the film had we not liked it,” Kosslick said last week.
“I don’t know Madonna personally, but I’ve never before received a card from someone who said: ‘Dear Dieter, if you like my film, I’d love it to be screened in Berlin, yours, Madonna.’ Obviously, that really impressed me.”
Continuing the musical theme will be “Patti Smith: Dream of Life,” a portrait of the singer and poet, and “Bananaz,” the “definitive” documentary about British indie band Gorillaz.
“Heavy Metal in Baghdad” is about an Iraqi band which played only a handful of concerts due to the violence and fled to Turkey after receiving death threats from insurgent groups.
Also touching on Iraq is “Standard Operating Procedure” by U.S. director Errol Morris, an examination of the abuse of prisoners by U.S. soldiers at the Abu Ghraib prison which turned into an international scandal.
“We all know the pictures of torture at Abu Ghraib,” said Kosslick. “Now we see those again, but also get to see what the participants themselves have to say. Some of it just takes your breath away.”
Polish honorary Oscar winner Andrzej Wajda presents “Katyn,” about the mass execution of Polish officers ordered by the Soviet authorities in 1940.
Several films deal with the Middle East, including “Shahida - Brides of Allah” about women involved in suicide bombings in Israel, and “Lemon Tree” which tells the story of a Palestinian woman’s decision to take on the Israeli authorities.
Reporting by Mike Collett-White in London and Sylvia Westall and Erik Kirschbaum in Berlin; Editing by Michael Winfrey