BERLIN (Reuters) – The racist killings of nine people in a German town cast a shadow over the Berlin Film Festival on Thursday, where a minute’s silence was held to commemorate the victims, and stars who will feature in the festival spoke out.
Filmmakers, some from Germany’s minority communities, expressed their shock over the attacks at the Berlinale, seen as the most political of the major film festivals and traditional champion of arthouse movies and progressive causes.
The attacker, who shot dead people in shisha bars in the central German town of Hanau late on Wednesday before killing his mother and himself, published a manifesto online strewn with conspiracy theories and racist views, prosecutors said.
The attack, at least five of whose victims were Turkish nationals, followed another by a far-right gunman on an eastern city’s synagogue, when two people were killed.
Burhan Qurbani, director of “Berlin Alexanderplatz”, a retelling of a German novel of social exclusion from the 1920s that premieres on Wednesday, talked in an interview of his fear that such attacks could become ‘normal’.
Born in Germany to Afghan refugees, Qurbani retells Alexander Doeblin’s novel with an African refugee as the central character instead of the novel’s freshly released, disoriented prisoner.
“Yesterday there was a massacre,” said Qurbani, who has close family ties to Hanau. “It’s not normal in Germany, and I hope it’s not going to become normal. Our history should teach us that we can’t allow nationalist, racist and xenophobic elements to define our image.”
Chancellor Angela Merkel’s decision in 2015 to allow in over a million refugees, mainly people displaced by Syria’s civil war, transformed German politics, fueled the rise of a far-right party and prompted soul-searching over whether the country could live up its commitments to asylum and human rights.
“As a refugee you not only lose your home, you are leaving your language, your confidence, your family, the feeling of being secure: that is human dignity to me,” Qurbani said, reflecting the views of the many people who had lauded Merkel’s decision.
Melika Foroutan, Iranian-German star of “Pari”, which premiers on Tuesday and tells the story of an Iranian mother seeking her vanished migrant son on the teeming streets of Athens, urged more social engagement from her compatriots.
“Today is not a good day,” she said in an interview. “I have a nephew who also goes to shisha bars. It could have been him… I take this attack personally, and I think all democrats in Germany should take this attack personally.”
Reporting by Thomas Escritt, Tara Oakes and Lena Toepler; Editing by Bernadette Baum