BERLIN  - This year's Berlin International Film Festival marks a resurgence for the global film industry after years in the doldrums due to the COVID-19 pandemic, industry expert Scott Roxborough said on the eve of the event.

While the icons who will ply its red carpet this year - including China's Fan Bingbing, Sean Penn, Steven Spielberg and Anne Hathaway - will command much of the attention, it is the scramble for choice picks at the parallel European Film Market that make the festival, known as the Berlinale, a fixture of the global film calendar.

And, after a three-year pandemic lull, the volume of movies seeking distributors or financing is setting records, with 827 films from 121 countries chasing 1,168 buyers, according to the festival.

"The film industry is starting to come out of the pandemic, starting to revive itself," said Roxborough, Europe bureau chief of the Hollywood Reporter. "It's going to be here in Berlin where we really see the green shoots of the future of cinema."

Born in a divided city on the front lines of the Cold War, the Berlin Film Festival has always had a political focus, and that is doubly the case this year, when it coincides with the first anniversary of Russia's invasion of Ukraine and ongoing anti-government protests in Iran.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy will address Thursday's opening night gala by video link, the festival announced on Wednesday. There are several Ukraine and Iran-focussed films on the programme, including "Superpower", Sean Penn's and Aaron Kaufman's profile of Zelenskiy, which was filmed as Russian tanks rolled across the border.

Films backed by the Russian or Iranian governments are banned.

The festival will see actress Fan Bingbing return to the big screen in "Green Night", the story of two women forced to be self-reliant in Seoul's underworld. One of China's biggest stars, her lengthy absence had prompted speculation she had fallen foul of China's leadership.

(Reporting by Hanna Rantala, writing by Thomas Escritt; Editing by Bernadette Baum and Mike Harrison)