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Golden Bear goes to Iranian film 'There Is No Evil'

Elizabeth Grenier
February 29, 2020

The Golden Bear, the top prize of the Berlin International Film Festival, went to dissident Iranian filmmaker Mohammad Rasoulof, who is persecuted in his home country.

Internationale Filmfestspiele Berlin 2020 | Preisverleihung | There Is No Evil, Bester Film
Image: Reuters/F. Bensch

"This is for a filmmaker who couldn't be here tonight," said actress Baran Rasoulof, the director's daughter, as she held the Golden Bear that went to There Is No Evil.

The winner of the Golden Bear wasn't at the ceremony to pick up the award himself, as Iranian authorities banned dissident filmmaker Mohammad Rasoulof from traveling abroad, as well as from making films, in reaction to his 2017 film,  A Man of Integrity, which won a major award at the Cannes film festival. 

Two years later, the director was also sentenced to one year in prison, although it is not yet clear when he will actually be imprisoned.

Rasoulof managed to direct his Golden Bear-winning film by creatively bypassing Iranian officials' censorship. The work, combining four short films, shows different ways of dealing with the death penalty ⁠— a powerful comment on freedom of expression in a despotic country. 

"I would like to thank our amazing cast and crew who put their lives in danger for this film," said executive producer Farzad Pak. Many of the film's participants in the audience were in tears. 

"This new friend [the Golden Bear] will travel to my country very soon ... and will tell Mohammad: 'You are not alone'," said producer Kaveh Farnam.

Other wins and snubs

Eliza Hittman won the Silver Bear Grand Jury Prize, the festival's second most important award, for her teen abortion drama, Never Rarely Sometimes Always. The work, which had premiered at Sundance in January, was at the top of many critics' list. Ahead of the festival, president of the jury Jeremy Irons was criticized for past comments on abortion, and he had to distance himself once again from his own statements at the beginning of the Berlinale.  

A German critics' favorite, Berlin Alexanderplatz by Burhan Qubani, didn't pick up any of the coveted Bears. Similarly, Kelly Reichardt's First Cow was often named among the top candidates for a Berlinale top award, but left empty-handed.

Film still Malmkrog in Encounters
Best director of the Encounters section: Cristi Puiu for 'Malmkrog'Image: Mandragora

New Encounters section

It was the first festival under the direction of directorial duo Mariette Rissenbeek and Carlo Chatrian. As the artistic director, Chatrian added a new separate competitive section, called Encounters, which aims to "foster aesthetically and structurally daring works from independent, innovative filmmakers."

In this section, the award for the best film went to The Works and Days (of Tayoko Shiojiri in the Shiotani Basin) by C.W. Winter and Anders Edström. The Trouble With Being Born by Austrian director Sandra Wollner won the special jury award; the best director award went to Malmkrog by Romanian director Cristi Puiu.

The GWFF Best First Feature Award went to Colombian director Camilo Restrepo, whose film also screened in the new Encounters section. Nightmarish and hallucinatory, Los Conductos is based on the recollections of a sect survivor and deals with religion and violence in Colombia.

More Golden Bears for short film and lifetime achievement

Another Golden Bear was also awarded on Saturday to the best short film, T, by Jamaican-American filmmaker Keisha Rae Witherspoon.

The Honorary Golden Bear was handed out to actress Helen Mirren earlier this week.


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