1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

Berlinale: Film on looted colonial-era art wins Golden Bear

February 24, 2024

Mati Diop's documentary on the restitution of 26 colonial works to Benin won the top award at the Berlin International Film Festival. Other surprising picks were among the winners of the Silver Bears.

Mati Diop holding the Golden Bear for Best Film.
Mati Diop won the Golden Bear for Best Film for 'Dahomey'Image: Andreas Rentz/Getty Images

The Berlinale is renowned for being the most political of all three major European film festivals. In its 74th edition, it remained true to its reputation by awarding its top prize, the Golden Bear, to Mati Diop's documentary "Dahomey," which accompanies the restitution of 26 of the royal treasures of the Kingdom of Dahomey from France to Benin. 

"To rebuild, we must first restitute," said the French-Senegalese filmmaker in her acceptance speech. "We are among those who refuse to forget."  

Diop had already made Cannes history with the celebrated premiere of her 2019 feature film, "Atlantics," becoming the first Black woman to be featured in competition at the festival.

The documentary is honored at a time when the return of colonial objects is a strongly debated topic in the museums of former colonial powers. 

Surprising picks among the Silver Bears

Other works that were considered favorites were, however, snubbed by the international jury led by Lupita Nyong'o. The Mexican-Kenyan Academy Award-winning actress was accompanied in the task of selecting the Golden and Silver Bears by six co-jurors: actor and director Brady Corbet (US), director Ann Hui (Hong Kong, China), director Christian Petzold (Germany), director Albert Serra (Spain), actor and director Jasmine Trinca (Italy) and writer Oksana Zabuzhko (Ukraine).

Lupita Nyong'o is Berlinale's first Black jury president

Among the works, the Iranian entry "My Favourite Cake," which tackles taboos faced by women in Iran, won the hearts of many critics. Its directors, Maryam Moghaddam and Behtash Sanaeeha, were banned from traveling outside Iran by their country's authorities because of their work. The film received the Fipresci Prize and the Prize of the Ecumenical Jury ahead of the gala ceremony, but it did not receive any of the coveted bears.

Meanwhile, "A Traveler's Needs," described by critics as a rather average work by Berlinale veteran Hong Sangsoo, won the festival's second top award. The celebrated South Korean filmmaker is adding the 2024 Silver Bear Grand Jury Prize to his collection of Berlin film festival awards. "I don't know what you saw in the film," the director said upon receiving the prize, prompting laughter among the audience.

French filmmaker Bruno Dumont let a recording of an AI voice speak in the name of his trophy as he accepted his Silver Bear Jury Prize for sci-fi spoof "The Empire." Dominican filmmaker Nelson Carlo De Los Santos Arias criticized American imperialism as he received the Silver Bear for Best Director for his experimental work, "Pepe."

Emily Watson, Sebastian Stan win acting awards

Sebastian Stan, known by fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe as Bucky Barnes / Winter Soldier, won the Silver Bear for Best Leading Performance for his role in "A Different Man," while Emily Watson, who portrays Sister Mary in "Small Things Like These," received the Silver Bear for Best Supporting Performance. The Berlinale's acting awards are gender-neutral.

 Sebastian Stan holding a Silver Bear.
A bit of star power at the Berlinale: Sebastian Stan won a Silver Bear for his role in 'A Different Man'Image: John Macdougall/AFP/Getty Images

German filmmaker Matthias Glasner won the Silver Bear for Best Screenplay for his family drama "Dying," starring Lars Eidinger. Upon announcing the prize, Ukrainian author Oksana Zabuzhko referred to the war in her home country and noted that the "lack of empathy," which she said was at the root of all conflicts, was well explored in this family drama.

The Silver Bear for Outstanding Artistic Contribution went to cinematographer Martin Gschlacht for his camerawork on the dark psychological drama "The Devil's Bath," directed by Austrian filmmakers Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala.

Palestinian-Israeli documentary honored with prize

Another strong political moment at the awards ceremony came with the announcement of the Best Documentary award, which went to "No Other Land," a film documenting the eradication of a West Bank village by Israeli soldiers and Jewish armed settlers.

The film was directed by a Palestinian-Israeli collective and screened in the festival's Panorama sidebar. Picking up the award in the name of the collective, Palestinian Basel Adra and Israeli Yuval Abraham called on Germany "to respect the UN calls and stop sending weapons to Israel."

Adra also said it was hard for him to celebrate while his compatriots in Gaza were being "slaughtered and massacred." Abraham also called for an end to "this apartheid, this inequality."

This was the last festival run by directorial duo Mariette Rissenbeek and Carlo Chatrian, who, at the opening of the gala, also called on Hamas to release all hostages and asked Israel to "do anything possible to avoid victims."

Edited by: Martin Kuebler

Portrait of a young woman with red hair and glasses
Elizabeth Grenier Editor and reporter for DW Culture