Berlin - Hollywood will be out in force to kick off the Berlin film festival Thursday, with Meryl Streep joining George Clooney and the Coen brothers for the event where Europe's refugee crisis will also play a starring role.
The 11-day Berlinale, one of the top three cinema showcases in Europe along with Cannes and Venice, will start with a gala screening of "Hail, Caesar!", Joel and Ethan Coen's tribute to Tinseltown's 1950s golden age.
Clooney, who plays a dimwit actor in what the brothers have called the third in their "Numbskull Trilogy" with the heartthrob, is expected on the red carpet with his wife Amal and co-stars Channing Tatum and Tilda Swinton.
"Hail, Caesar!" which opened in the United States last week is screening out of competition at the festival.
Streep, who is serving as this year's jury president in judging 18 contenders from around the world, underlined the tough task ahead in picking one film above another.
"It's going to be difficult but it's a necessary lift for one, because it makes all rise," she told journalists at the opening of the festival.
British actor Clive Owen, who joins her in jury duty, said every film selected for the competition is "already to be celebrated".
But the task of the jury is to "champion somebody who we think will benefit hugely from (the award) and could make a huge difference and further their career and give them the opportunity to make more good important films," he said.
Streep's team will hand out the Golden Bear top prize on February 20. Last year it went to Iranian dissident filmmaker Jafar Panahi for "Taxi", which he made in secret.
As Europe endures the largest refugee influx since World War II, with 1.1 million asylum seekers arriving in Germany last year, the theme of migration will be omnipresent at the festival.
Italian documentary director Gianfranco Rosi, who picked up top honours in Venice three years ago, will enter the competition with "Fire at Sea" about Lampedusa, a Mediterranean island on the front line of the crisis.
It will join another dozen films in the festival's sprawling sidebar sections looking at the impact of mass displacement.
"Refugees have always played a role at the Berlinale, since 1951," when the event was launched in the Cold War outpost of West Berlin just six years after World War II, festival director Dieter Kosslick told AFP.
"Back then many Germans were refugees and the festival was founded to foster understanding in German society and among nations." In addition, hundreds of tickets have been set aside for asylum seekers at the festival, which will also hold fundraising events for refugee charities.
Among the world premieres generating buzz ahead of the start was a new adaptation of the international bestseller "Alone in Berlin", Hans Fallada's 1947 novel based on a true story.
The Nazi-era thriller sees Emma Thompson and Brendan Gleeson play a German couple who risk their lives to mount a resistance campaign against Hitler after losing their only son in the war.
Big crowds are also expected for "Genius", the feature debut by British theatre director Michael Grandage starring Colin Firth as literary editor Max Perkins, who published some of the 20th century's greatest American writers.
Jude Law plays Thomas Wolfe, Nicole Kidman his lover and muse Aline Bernstein, with Dominic West portraying Ernest Hemingway and Guy Pearce as F. Scott Fitzgerald.
Biopics will enjoy top billing, with Germany's first feature production on Jewish teenage diarist Anne Frank, who died at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, due to premiere.
US actor Don Cheadle will be in town to show his directorial debut, "Miles Ahead", in which he plays the jazz great Miles Davis.
And "Sex and the City" star Cynthia Nixon will unveil her portrayal of iconic American poet Emily Dickinson.
Kosslick said another trend was marathon movies, testing the boundaries of storytelling in a world in which viewers had lengthened their attention spans by binge-watching ambitious new television series.
"There are feature films that really take their time to tell a complete story," he said.
One extreme outlier is a more than eight-hour Filipino historical opus, "A Lullaby to the Sorrowful Mystery" by Lav Diaz, which will be shown with just one hour-long break.
However "Lullaby" isn't even the longest feature that will test the stamina of cinema-goers.
"Chamisso's Shadow", based on the life of German 19th century scientific explorer Adelbert von Chamisso, weighing in at more than 12 hours, will be screened in a single sitting, with two intermissions.