Dahomey, a documentary by Mati Diop, takes home the top prize at the Berlin film festival.

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Mati Diop’s film about the repatriation of stolen artifacts from Europe to Africa won the highest award at the Berlin film festival, surpassing many established filmmakers.

The 41-year-old Senegalese-French director’s one-hour film, Dahomey, follows a hoard of 26 treasures on their 2021 return journey from Paris to Benin, from where they were looted by French forces almost a century and a half earlier.

The festivities in Cotonou, Benin’s main economic city, welcomed the arrival of valuable artifacts such as a tall wooden throne and lifelike animal statues from Dahomey. However, there are also concerns among the youth about the fate of the numerous objects still held in museums in France.

“To restitute is to do justice,” Diop said upon the receipt of her prize. “We can either get rid of the past as an unpleasant burden that only hinders our evolution, or we can take the responsibility and use it as the basis for moving forward. We have to choose.”

The success of Dahomey came as a unexpected result at the 74th Berlin film festival. Diop was awarded the Golden Bear for best film, beating out experienced directors such as Olivier Assayas and Hong Sang-soo, as well as the highly praised film My Favourite Cake by Iranian filmmakers Maryam Moghaddam and Behtash Sanaeeha.

The directors of the festival have received backlash for not bridging the gap between the Berlinale and the larger, more glamorous film festivals in Venice and Cannes. However, by choosing Dahomey as the winner of the top prize, the jury reaffirmed Berlin’s unique and politically-focused identity, rather than catering to popular tastes.

During the ceremony, a judge compared the Berlinale to a protected environment for films that are unable to be exhibited elsewhere. By awarding the best director prize to Nelson Carlo de los Santos Arias’s Pepe, an entertaining but also innovative art film about Pablo Escobar’s cocaine hippos, this reputation was solidified.

Sebastian Stan, an actor of Romanian and American descent, was awarded the Silver Bear for best actor for his performance in the darkly comedic film, A Different Man. Emily Watson also received recognition for her portrayal of a menacing mother superior in the drama, Small Things Like These, winning the award for best supporting actor. The best screenplay award went to German director Matthias Glasner for his black comedy, Sterben (Dying), which delves into the dynamics of an emotionally troubled family.

The film No Other Land, which focuses on the destruction of Palestinian villages in the West Bank, was awarded best documentary in the Encounters category. It had previously received one of the festival’s two audience awards, which are chosen by viewers.

Produced by a group of four youthful filmmakers, the film centers on the collaboration between Palestinian activist Basel Adra and Israeli journalist Yuval Abraham. Together, they aim to capture the devastation caused by Israel’s occupation on the community of Masafer Yatta.

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Upon receiving his award, Adra expressed difficulty in celebrating while a large number of his fellow citizens were being killed by Israel in Gaza. He called on Germany to honor the United Nations’ pleas and halt the provision of weapons to Israel.

Abraham, the creative collaborator, stated that the apartheid and inequality must come to an end. He emphasized the need for a ceasefire and a political resolution.

During the awards ceremony, the conflict in the Middle East took center stage as multiple winners and judges used their time on the microphone to advocate for a ceasefire in Gaza. American director Ben Russell, while accepting the Encounters best film award for his documentary Direct Action, donned a keffiyeh, a symbol of Palestinian nationalism. Diop, the unexpected victor of the night, also showed her support for Palestine.

The 74th Berlinale marks the last installment of the film festival led by Italian artistic director Carlo Chatrian and German managing director Mariëtte Rissenbeek. They are now handing over the responsibility to Tricia Tuttle, the previous head of the BFI London film festival.

Source: theguardian.com

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