By Alice Baghdjian
BERLIN (Reuters) - Social upheaval and political awakening will form the focal themes of the 62nd Berlin film festival, director Dieter Kosslick said, as films depicting the Arab Spring and Japan's crippled Fukushima nuclear facility take centre stage.
The festival will screen documentaries and fictional works from Arab film makers which trace the turbulent progress of the 2011 mass uprisings across the Arab region and explore the political and philosophical questions left in the wake of the often bloody demonstrations.
Some of the first films to address the social upheaval caused by the Japanese tsunami and Fukushima nuclear disaster last year will also make their international debuts at the festival.
The material complemented the political tradition of the festival, Kosslick said.
" is a natural path for us to take, not just because we are a political festival," he told a small group of foreign reporters.
"We are showing the films in order to create a bigger picture about upheaval and awakening ... it was natural to link these films with our other activities," he said.
The film festival, also called the Berlinale, is well known for engaging in political debate -- last year it became a platform to protest against the arrest of Iranian director Jafar Panahi.
Accused of inciting opposition protests in 2009 and making a film without permission, Panahi was banned from travelling outside Iran and was consequently unable to take up the seat he had been offered on the Berlinale jury.
This year the festival will continue the debate about the position of the artist in society with the international premiere of a documentary about dissident Chinese artist Ai Weiwei.
"The role of the artist in the world, and the role of power and powerlessness is also a theme of our films and discussions this year," Kosslick said.
But the Berlinale also attempts to marry grit with glitz.
Numerous Hollywood stars are expected to parade down the red carpet this year, and Oscar-nominated actress Meryl Streep will be awarded an Honorary Golden Bear for Lifetime Achievement at a screening of her latest film, "The Iron Lady," in which she plays former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.
Jake Gyllenhaal and Charlotte Gainsbourg will rub shoulders on the festival's international jury, which will select the winner of the Golden Bear, the Berlinale's top prize, from a line-up of 17 films.
One film vying for the award, "Les Adieux à la Reine" (Farewell My Queen), starring Diane Kruger as Marie Antoinette, will launch the festival on February 9 with its world premiere.
The February 9-19 Berlinale is ranked as one of the world's top film festivals alongside Cannes, Toronto, Sundance and Venice.
(Reporting by Alice Baghdjian, editing by Paul Casciato)