After 11 days of film premieres and star-studded events, the Berlin International Film Festival came to a close on Saturday, with refugee documentary 'Fuocoammare' taking home the Golden Bear for best film.
"Fuocoammare" ("Fire at Sea") has been awarded the Golden Bear for best film at the 66th annual Berlin International Film Festival. It is the first time that a feature-length documentary film has been awarded the prize. The film by Italian director Gianfranco Rosi highlights the dramatic situation of refugees on the tiny Italian island of Lampedusa.
"My deepest thought goes to those that never made it on their journey of hope," said Rosi, whose native Eritrea is a point of origin for many of the Europe-bound refugees. He dedicated his award to the people of Lampedusa, who he said have shown great humanity in the face of the numbers of refugees arriving on their island. Lying in the Mediterranean between Tunisia and Sicily, Lampedusa is often the first European port reached by thousands of asylum seekers from Africa and the Middle East.
"['Fuocoammare'] goes to the heart of what the Berlinale is about," said three-time Oscar winner Meryl Streep, who headed the seven-member jury that selected the winners. "Fuocoammare" also won the Prize of the Ecumenical Jury and the Amnesty International film prize.
The Berlinale, the first of the year's major European film festivals, is known for featuring topical international cinema. Last year's Golden Bear went to Iranian dissident filmmaker Jafar Panahi's "Taxi."
'Angels in Berlin'
The plight of migrants and refugees was a major theme at this year's festival, with numerous films showcasing the issue. Earlier in the evening, two shorts on migrants also won major prizes. Accepting his Silver Bear for "Jin zhi xia mao" ("Anchorage Prohibited"), director Chiang Wei Liang praised Germany's efforts in welcoming refugees over the past year.
"There are angels in Berlin, not just high up on the victory column," he said.
Last week, Hollywood actor George Clooney and his human rights lawyer wife Amal, in town for the festival premiere of Clooney's new film "Hail, Caesar!," met with German Chancellor Angela Merkel to discuss the crisis in Syria and Europe's efforts to help refugees.
The festival also made an effort this year to employ refugees in several positions, opened screenings to asylum seekers and collected upwards of 25,000 euros ($27,800) in donations.
Oscar-winning Bosnian director Danis Tanovic won the festival's Jury Grand Prize, seen as the festival's second most-prestigious award after the Golden Bear, for "Smrt u Sarajevu" ("Death in Sarajevo"), a film about the corrosive legacy of the Balkan wars.
Majd Mastoura took home the award for best actor, the Silver Bear, for his role in the Tunisian film "Inhebbek Hedi," which is set in the wake of the 2011 Arab Spring.
The film, which tells the story of a love triangle, is by director Mohamed Ben Attia and was the first Tunisian film shown in the international competition in two decades.
The Silver Bear for best actress went to Trine Dyrholm for "Kollektivet," in which Dyrholm's character Anna struggles with her life as a member of a commune in 1970s Copenhagen.
French filmmaker Mia Hansen-Love won the Silver Bear for her film "L'avenir," which stars Isabelle Huppert as a woman facing the onset of old age after the breakup of her marriage.
The winners were selected by the international jury led by Streep, who received an enthusiastic welcome on the rainy red carpet before the awards ceremony.
Other jury members included German actor Lars Eidinger, UK film critic Nick James, French photographer Brigitte Lacombe, British actor Clive Owen, Italian actress Alba Rohrwacher and Polish director Malgorzata Szumowska.
A number of prominent German politicians were also seated among the stars and filmmakers in the audience, including German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Berlin Mayor Michael Müller.
Earlier Saturday, Israeli filmmakers came out on top in the first round of prizes at the Berlinale. The feature film "Junction 48," from director Udi Aloni, was given the Panorama Audience Award. The Israeli-German co-production tells the story of two Palestinian musicians living in Israel, battling repression and their own conservative communities.
Fellow Israeli directors and brothers Tomer and Barak Heymann were given the audience award for best documentary for "Who's Gonna Love Me Now?," a film about a gay Israeli man living with HIV who joins the London Gay Men's Chorus. The two films were selected from 51 submissions sent in from 33 countries.
LIST OF BERLINALE WINNERS