Refugee film wins Golden Bear

Director Gianfranco Rosi with jury president and actress Meryl Streep after receiving the Golden Bear for the documentary, Fuocoammare (Fire At Sea).
Director Gianfranco Rosi with jury president and actress Meryl Streep after receiving the Golden Bear for the documentary, Fuocoammare (Fire At Sea).PHOTO: REUTERS

BERLIN • Gianfranco Rosi's docu- mentary film Fuocoammare (Fire At Sea), about the refugee crisis in the Mediterranean off the Italian island of Lampedusa, won the Golden Bear prize for Best Film at the Berlin International Film Festival last Saturday.

Also among the prizes given out was one given to a Philippines- Singapore co-production, A Lullaby To The Sorrowful Mystery (Hele Sa Hiwagang Hapis), directed by Filipino director Lav Diaz. The Alfred Bauer Prize was awarded for a film that opens new perspectives in cinema.

Rosi's win was a fitting end for a festival which went out of its way to make refugees welcome by giving them free tickets.

The Italian director paid tribute to those who risked their lives to escape war and poverty, and to the people of Lampedusa who welcomed them.

"Of course, now at this moment, my deeper thoughts go to all the people who never arrived to Lampedusa on these journeys of hope," Rosi said, accepting his prize.

Rosi, who won the top prize for another documentary in Venice in 2013, in this film shows daily life on the small island, mostly through the eyes of a young boy named Samuele.

In the sea nearby, the Italian navy searches for overloaded boats full of refugees dying of suffocation and asphyxiation by diesel fumes and brings survivors back to Lampedusa for treatment and for transport to refugee centres.

"I want to dedicate this award to the people of Lampedusa who were always extremely open to accept people arriving there," Rosi said.

He noted that the flood of refugees that has made headlines recently began about 30 years ago for the island just off the coast of North Africa.

He said he had asked local doctor Pietro Bartolo, who treats refugees and appears in the film, why the island welcomes the tens of thousands of people who land there.

"He told me Lampedusa is a place of fishermen, we are fishermen, and fishermen, they all accept always, anything that comes from the sea. So this may be a lesson that (we) should learn to accept anything that comes from the sea," Rosi said.

Actress Meryl Streep said her seven-member jury was "swept away" by the documentary, which she called "urgent, imaginative and necessary film-making".

"It's a daring hybrid of captured footage and deliberate storytelling that allows us to consider what documentary can do," she said. "It demands its place in front of our eyes and compels our engagement and action."

Singapore was represented for the first time in the festival's main competition section by A Lullaby To The Sorrowful Mystery.

Festival director Dieter Kosslick said that watching Diaz's film was a unique experience, not just for its length of 81/2 hours, but also because guests were all dressed up for the premiere that started in the morning. The screening started at 9.30am and ended shortly before 7pm, with a one-hour lunch break. The movie is set in the late 19th century at the period of the Philippine revolution against Spanish rule.

The Silver Bear Grand Jury Prize went to Smrt U Sarajevu (Death In Sarajevo) and its director Danis Tanovic.

The Best Director award went to France's Mia Hansen-Love for her film L'Avenir (Things To Come), starring Isabelle Huppert as a philosophy teacher whose marriage falls apart just as her elderly mother dies.

The Best Actor award went to Majd Mastoura for his role in the Tunisian film Inhebbek Hedi while Trine Dyrholm took Best Actress for her role in the Danish film Kollektivet (The Commune).

The cinematography award went to Mark Lee Ping-Bing for the camerawork in the Chinese film Chang Jiang Tu (Crosscurrent) directed by Yang Chao and Best Script went to Polish director and screenwriter Tomasz Wasilewski for Zjednoczone Stany Milosci (United States Of Love).


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 22, 2016, with the headline 'Refugee film wins Golden Bear'. Print Edition | Subscribe