By Michelle Martin
BERLIN (Reuters) - When the Nazis asked Django Reinhardt to play for troops heading to the Eastern Front, the musician faced a moral dilemma relevant to artists today, the director of a biopic on the jazz guitar pioneer said on Thursday.
"Django", which opens the Berlin Film Festival, tells the story of the French guitarist who was courted by the Nazi occupiers to make a morale-boosting performance and counter "negro" jazz music at a time when people of his Romani ethnicity were being rounded up and killed in concentration camps.
French director Etienne Comar, who listened to Django's music as a child because his father was a fan, said he wanted to depict an artist in a complex historical era to show something that would resonate with contemporary audiences.
"Political commitment is not a straightforward question - should you play or not play to a certain audience when you don't approve of their ideas, for example?" Comar said at a news conference before the film's screening.
In the movie, Django has just performed in a successful show in occupied Paris when a German officer tells him that Joseph Goebbels, Nazi Germany's propaganda minister, and maybe even Adolf Hitler want to see him play in Berlin.
While Django initially thinks his popularity will protect him, he decides to try to flee to Switzerland with his mother and pregnant wife when his lover warns that people are being rounded up in Germany and babies are being used for experiments.
"I realized there were an enormous number of parallels (with today)," Comar said. "Refugees, the ways in which you can constrain people, preventing them from traveling and moving about freely."
More than a million migrants, many of them fleeing conflict and persecution, have arrived in Germany over the last two years and the premiere of "Django" comes at a time of international outrage over U.S. President Donald Trump's temporary travel ban on people from seven Muslim-majority countries and refugees.
"Django" is one of 18 films at the 'Berlinale' competing for Golden and Silver Bears. The festival in the German capital runs until Feb. 19.
(Editing by Robin Pomeroy)