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Berlin festival offers stars, Philippine movie for Streep-led jury

In Lav Diaz’s upcoming film Hele sa Hiwagang Hapis, John Lloyd Cruz plays El Filibusterismo’s Isagani, while Piolo Pascual takes on the role of Simon. STAR/File

BERLIN  — New movies starring Colin Firth, Nicole Kidman and Kirsten Dunst will compete for the top honors at this year's Berlin International Film Festival with offerings from Iran, Tunisia the Philippines and elsewhere, with Meryl Streep presiding over the jury that will choose the winners.

Eighteen movies are in contention for the Golden Bear prize at the first of the year's major European film festivals. In its 66th edition this year, it runs February 11-21.

The typically diverse program was presented by organizers Tuesday.

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It's hard to pin down any single overarching theme, but festival director Dieter Kosslick said many movies at this year's event address "the search for happiness" and "migration in the world in very varying forms."

The competition features two documentaries — Gianfranco Rosi's "Fire at Sea," about the Italian island of Lampedusa, where many migrants arrive in Europe, and U.S. director Alex Gibney's "Zero Days," on Internet surveillance.

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Theater director Michael Grandage's movie debut "Genius" stars Firth, Kidman and Jude Law in a look at Max Perkins' time as book editor at Scribner, overseeing work by Thomas Wolfe and Ernest Hemingway among others. Also premiering in Berlin is Jeff Nichols' science-fiction thriller "Midnight Special," featuring Dunst and Adam Driver.

The festival opens on February 11 with the Coen brothers' "Hail, Caesar!" Stars including George Clooney and Josh Brolin are expected in Berlin, where the comedy is screening out of competition.

Berlin prize-winners have been notoriously unpredictable over the years, with less prominent productions often picking up honors.

This year's field includes an epic historical drama from the Philippines, Lav Diaz' "A Lullaby to the Sorrowful Mystery," and the debut film from Tunisian director Mohamed Ben Attia, "Hedi."

Last year's Golden Bear went to Iranian dissident filmmaker Jafar Panahi's "Taxi," starring the director — who was officially banned from filmmaking — as a taxi driver.

This year's competition features two offerings from Iranian directors, though neither movie has such issues: Mani Haghighi's "A Dragon Arrives!" and Paris-based Rafi Pitts' "Soy Nero."

A seven-member jury led by first-time festival juror Streep will announce the winners of the festival's Golden Bear and various Silver Bear awards on Feb. 20.
   
A glance at the films in the main program at this year's Berlin International Film Festival. Original title followed in parentheses by English title given by the festival, where applicable and available.

In competition:

"24 Wochen" ("24 Weeks"), director Anne Zohra Berrached.

"Alone in Berlin," Vincent Perez.

"Boris sans Beatrice" ("Boris without Beatrice"), Denis Cote.

"Cartas da Guerra" ("Letters from War"), Ivo M. Ferreira.

"Chiang Jiang Tu" ("Crosscurrent"), Yang Chao.

"Ejheda Vared Mishavad!" ("A Dragon Arrives!"), Mani Haghighi.

"Fuocaammare" ("Fire at Sea"), Gianfranco Rosi.

"Genius," Michael Grandage.

"Hela Sa Hiwagang Hapis" ("A Lullaby to the Sorrowful Mystery"), Lav Diaz.

"Inhebbek Hedi" ("Hedi"), Mohamed Ben Attia.

"Kollektivet" ("The Commune"), Thomas Vinterberg.

"L'avenir" ("Things to Come"), Mia Hansen-Loeve.

"Midnight Special," Jeff Nichols.

"Quand on a 17 ans" ("Being 17"), Andre Techine.

"Smrt u Sarajevu" ("Death in Sarajevo"), Danis Tanovic.

"Soy Nero," Rafi Pitts.

"Zero Days," Alex Gibney.

"Zjednoczone Stany Milosci" ("United States of Love"), Tomasz Wasilewski.

Out of competition:

"Chi-Raq," Spike Lee.

"Des nouvelles de la planete Mars" ("News from planet Mars"), Dominik Moll.

"Hail, Caesar!" Joel and Ethan Coen.

"Mahana" ("The Patriarch"), Lee Tamahori.

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