BERLIN: Acclaimed US director Wes Anderson's new animated feature "Isle of Dogs" will on Thursday kick off the Berlin film festival, which is set to be rocked by aftershocks of the #MeToo movement.
With the global cinema industry in turmoil over allegations of rampant sexual misconduct, the 11-day event will seek a delicate balance between Hollywood glamour and frank debate in the wake of powerful producer Harvey Weinstein's downfall.
Bryan Cranston, Oscar-nominee Greta Gerwig, Bill Murray, Tilda Swinton, Jeff Goldblum and Liev Schreiber, who voice the pack of pooches and the humans who love them in Anderson's movie, are expected on the Berlinale red carpet for the world premiere.
But even before the opening, controversy erupted over the inclusion at the Berlinale of award-winning South Korean director Kim Ki-duk, who was fined in December for assaulting an actress on set.
The actress, who has refused to be publicly identified, has accused the festival -- traditionally a strong champion of Asian cinema -- of "hypocrisy" for inviting Kim to present his latest picture, "Human, Space, Time and Human".
- Berlinale 'condemns violence' -
Festival director Dieter Kosslick said he had excluded a handful of films because of credible sexual abuse allegations against their directors, screenwriters or stars.
But he told AFP he did not bar Kim because sexual harassment allegations by the same actress against him had been dismissed for lack of evidence, adding that he was seeking more information about an appeal in the case.
"Obviously the Berlinale condemns and opposes any form of violence or sexual misconduct," Kosslick said.
On Thursday, a coalition of more than 100 South Korean civic groups kept up the pressure, releasing a statement condemning the festival's stance.
"We are living in this unfair reality in which a physical assault offender is working and being welcomed everywhere as if nothing happened, while the victim who spoke out against the abuse is being isolated and marginalised," the alliance of about 140 groups said in a joint statement sent to AFP.
Meanwhile an online petition calling for the Berlinale to lay a black carpet instead of a red one in solidarity with sexual assault and harassment victims drew 21,000 signatures.
And German actress Anna Brueggemann launched the Twitter hashtag #NobodysDoll to encourage stars to abandon the high heels and low-cut gowns common at festival premieres for more "comfortable clothing".
Anderson last opened the Berlinale, which ranks with Cannes and Venice among Europe's top three cinema showcases, in 2014 with the world premiere of "The Grand Budapest Hotel", a box office hit which went on to scoop dozens of awards and an Oscar nomination for best picture.
It will be Anderson's fourth turn in competition for the Berlinale's Golden and Silver Bear top prizes following "The Royal Tenenbaums" and "The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou".
Tom Tykwer, one of the German directors behind the blockbuster miniseries "Babylon Berlin" now appearing on Netflix, will lead a gender-balanced jury including Belgian actress Cecile de France ("The Young Pope"), "Moonlight" producer Adele Romanski, Time magazine critic Stephanie Zacharek, Japanese composer Ryuichi Sakamoto and Spanish film historian Chema Prado.
Tykwer said he welcomed the inclusion of the #MeToo movement at the festival and called for a "fact-based" discussion of the industry's realities.
"It's important that the debate isn't artificially stoked (by sensationalist media), nor should it be snuffed out by anyone," he told reporters.
The competition features 19 films, four of them by female directors.
- First animated opening film -
"Isle of Dogs", made in the stop-motion style of Anderson's much-loved "Fantastic Mr Fox" from 2009, is set in a fictional Japanese city in which the autocratic mayor banishes all the hounds to an island garbage dump after an outbreak of canine flu.
Local boy Atari embarks on a rescue mission to track down his beloved bodyguard-pet Spots with the help of the island's furry occupants.
It will be the first animated film to open the Berlinale, now in its 68th year.
The prizes will be presented at a gala ceremony on February 24 before the festival wraps up the next day.
Last year, a tender Hungarian love story set in a slaughterhouse, "On Body and Soul" by female director Ildiko Enyedi, captured the Golden Bear. It is now nominated for an Academy Award for best foreign language film.