"True Grit" is screening out of competition in Berlin, the first of the year's major European film festivals. It opens a varied 10-day program that includes Ralph Fiennes' debut as a director in "Coriolanus," and J.C. Chandor's finance thriller "Margin Call," starring Kevin Spacey and Demi Moore.
Joel and Ethan Coen returned to the Berlin festival for the first time since 1998's "The Big Lebowski." The new movie also reunites them with Jeff Bridges, who plays an aging, cynical marshal hired by a 14-year-old girl (Hailee Steinfeld) to track down her father's killer (Josh Brolin).
The Coens based their film on a 1968 novel by American author Charles Portis. Ethan Coen said Henry Hathaway's earlier movie version starring Wayne was "kind of an irrelevancy for us."
"We did the movie because we were enthusiastic about the novel ... and kind of in blithe disregard for the fact that this other version existed," he said.
The film has garnered 10 Oscar nominations, among others for best film; best actor for Bridges; best supporting actress for Steinfeld; and best director for the Coens.
"The book read like a Coen brothers screenplay," Bridges told reporters. "I was happy that they weren't referencing the film because I didn't want to have to impersonate John Wayne."
The film has made a successful start in the United States. Brolin said that was because it reflects "the simplicity of loyalty and community and hard work" and predicted that it will resonate in Europe as well.
A six-member jury under actress Isabella Rossellini will award the festival's top honor, the Golden Bear, on Feb. 19. A seat was left symbolically empty on Thursday for the jury's official seventh member, Iranian director Jafar Panahi.
Panahi was sentenced last year to six years in jail in his homeland on charges of working against the ruling system. He is also banned from leaving Iran, shooting films or scriptwriting for 20 years.
Inviting Panahi was an "attempt to take a very strong position for freedom of speech and freedom of artists," Rossellini said.
She also said she was looking forward to "the individuality and surprises that we will encounter."
In recent years, Berlin juries have often honored relatively unheralded productions such as last year's Golden Bear winner, Turkish director Semih Kaplanoglu's "Honey."