BERLIN -- The first of the year's major European film festivals got underway in Berlin on Thursday with a strong contingent of movies from female directors, which jury president Juliette Binoche greeted as "a good step forward."
The 69th Berlin International Film Festival was starting with Danish director Lone Scherfig's "The Kindness of Strangers," which follows an ensemble of characters through a New York City winter. It is the first of 17 contenders for the event's top Golden Bear award, whose winner will be announced Feb. 16.
The honors will be awarded by a six-member jury under French actress Binoche, who noted that there are seven films by women directors this year.
"I think that's a good step forward, and 10 years ago it was not like that," Binoche told reporters. "So I think we're opening hearts, minds and eventually bodies."
British producer, director and actress Trudie Styler, a fellow juror, said that having 41 percent of competition films directed by women was "a stepping-forward moment."
Competitors this year include Agnieszka Holland's "Mr. Jones," following a Welsh journalist's experience of the 1930s famine in Ukraine, and Isabel Coixet's "Elisa & Marcela," a love story between two women in Spain over a century ago that is a Netflix project.
There are new productions from previous Golden Bear winners Fatih Akin — "The Golden Glove," based on the story of a 1970s German serial killer — and Wang Quan'an, with "Ondog."
This year's "Berlinale" is also the end of an era. It is the last under Dieter Kosslick, the event's director for 18 years.
He will be succeeded next year by a double-headed team of Carlo Chatrian and Mariette Rissenbeek. Locarno film festival chief Chatrian will become artistic director and Rissenbeek, a German movie industry official, will be managing director.
The Berlin festival, held in gray February weather in the German capital, doesn't match the glamor of its cousins in Cannes and Venice. But Kosslick has always prided himself on the fact that it is open to a wider audience, with some 400 films screening in various sections.