Clooney, Streep to highlight Berlin film festival

The Berlin film festival, one of Europe's top cinema showcases, will get underway Thursday, bringing a galaxy of stars to the wintry German capital.

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More than 400 films will be screened during the 11-day gathering, alongside a slew of special events. Here's a list of Berlinale highlights already generating buzz:

CLOONEY IN A MINISKIRT: Germany harbours a special love for Hollywood charmer George Clooney, a frequent and honoured guest at the Berlinale.

The festival will open with a gala screening of his new movie, Joel and Ethan Coen's "Hail, Caesar!", and Clooney is expected on the red carpet with his wife Amal along with co-stars Channing Tatum, Tilda Swinton and this year's jury president Meryl Streep.

In what the Coens have called the third in a "Numbskull Trilogy" with Clooney, the actor plays a dimwitted 1950s movie star appearing in a swords-and-sandals epic.

The German papers say hearts are already aflutter at the prospect of Gorgeous George in a Roman soldier's metal miniskirt.

MASTER CLASS WITH MERYL: Streep will be doing her first stint at film festival jury duty.

But on February 14, Valentine's Day no less, she will take a break from sizing up the 18 contenders for the Golden Bear top prize to give a master class to a few hundred lucky young actors.

The festival's Talent Campus says the three-time Oscar winner, master of accents and feminist icon will impart "her experience from decades at the top of the acting profession".

CINEMA AS ENDURANCE SPORT: The German language, of course, has a word to describe the patience and perseverance required to sit through something extremely long: Sitzfleisch.

A Filipino contender by director Lav Diaz weighs in at more than eight hours long, with an hour's break scheduled around the halfway mark.

It is the longest entry ever to vie for the Golden Bear in the festival's 66-year history.

"A Lullaby to the Sorrowful Mystery" is described as a tableau of the tumultuous political history of the Philippines and will occupy the Berlinale Palast main venue for an entire day.

Streep may be pronouncing Sitzfleisch with an impeccable German accent before the screening is out.

FALLADA RETURNS: Many call Hans Fallada's 1947 novel "Alone in Berlin" the greatest work of fiction ever set in the German capital.

The Nazi-era thriller, based on a true story, depicts German parents whose only son falls in battle, prompting them to mount a daring resistance campaign against Hitler.

The first English-language film adaptation of the international bestseller stars two-time Oscar winner Emma Thompson and Irish actor Brendan Gleeson as the pair who risk everything to take a principled stand.

ONE-TWO PUNCH: Two of the most outspoken voices in US filmmaking, Spike Lee and Michael Moore, will give back-to-back press conferences on February 16 after the European premieres of their latest films.

Lee will sit down with reporters to discuss "Chi-Raq", a music-infused satire of gun violence in Chicago.

But no prizes for guessing that the conversation will also hit the Oscars race controversy, gun violence and the US presidential race.

And while Moore will be plugging his documentary "Where to Invade Next", expect him to hold forth on the Syrian refugees he has taken in to his Michigan home and the Flint water contamination scandal, to name just two issues.

PERSONAL STORIES: Biopics are all the rage this year so expect long queues for these high-profile releases:

Don Cheadle, perhaps best known as Robert Downey Jr's sidekick in the "Iron Man" films, will appear in his own passion project about jazz icon Miles Davis, "Miles Ahead", for which he raised a large chunk of the financing on crowdfunding website Indiegogo.

In "A Quiet Passion", "Sex and the City" star Cynthia Nixon takes an unlikely turn as mysterious 19th century American poet Emily Dickinson.

Meanwhile Germany's first feature on the Jewish teenage diarist Anne Frank, who died at Bergen-Belsen, will have its world premiere.

And Oscar winner Colin Firth leads an all-star cast in "Genius" portraying American literary editor Max Perkins who polished the manuscripts of Thomas Wolfe (played by Jude Law), Ernest Hemingway (Dominic West) and F. Scott Fitzgerald (Guy Pearce).


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