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Refugee doccie wins Berlin festival top prize

2016-02-22 13:00

Berlin - The Berlin film festival wrapped up Sunday after Fire at Sea, a harrowing documentary about Europe's refugee crisis, clinched its Golden Bear top prize from a jury led by Meryl Streep.

As Europe grapples with its biggest migrant influx since World War II, the picture by Italian director Gianfranco Rosi offers an unflinching look at life on the Mediterranean island of Lampedusa, where thousands of asylum seekers from Africa and the Middle East have arrived trying to reach the European Union over the last two decades.

Thousands more have perished on the dangerous journey in rickety, overcrowded boats.

The Eritrean-born Rosi, who spent several months on Italy's Lampedusa making the film, dedicated the prize to its residents "who open their hearts to other peoples".

"I hope to bring awareness," he said as he accepted the trophy from Streep.

"It is not acceptable that people die crossing the sea trying to escape from tragedies."

The picture is told through the eyes of a 12-year-old local boy, Samuele Pucillo, and a doctor, Pietro Bartolo, who has been tending to the dehydrated, malnourished and traumatised new arrivals for a quarter-century.

In chilling footage, Rosi accompanied coastguard rescue missions answering the terrified SOS calls of people on boats, most of them arriving from Libya. Many of the vessels are packed with corpses of people who suffocated from diesel fumes.

'Urgent, necessary filmmaking' 

Three-time Oscar-winner Streep said her seven-member jury was "swept away" by Fire at Sea, which she called "urgent, imaginative and necessary filmmaking".

"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."

The Golden Bear for Fire at Sea comes after the Cannes film festival last May awarded its Palme d'Or to Dheepan, a drama about Sri Lankan refugees living on the violent outskirts of Paris.

Rosi, who captured the Venice film festival's 2013 Golden Lion for his film Sacro GRA, said when his film premiered that Europe's refugee crisis marked one of the worst humanitarian catastrophes since the Holocaust.

He told reporters after the awards ceremony late Saturday that he would aim to show the film to the people of Lampedusa in an open-air screening in the spring.

The festival, now in its 66th year, had placed a special spotlight on the refugee issue, after Germany let in more than 1.1 million asylum seekers last year.

Donations boxes to support charities helping torture survivors were placed at cinema venues, and festival internships and free tickets were reserved for migrants.

George Clooney, whose Hail, Caesar! opened the event, even met with German Chancellor Angela Merkel with his wife Amal "to talk about how best we can help".

Here is a full list of all the winners: 

- Golden Bear for best film: "Fuocoammare" (Fire at Sea), Gianfranco Rosi, Italy/France

- Jury Grand Prix Silver Bear: "Smrt u Sarajevu" (Death in Sarajevo), Danis Tanovic, Bosnia/France

- Silver Bear for best director: Mia Hansen-Love for "L'avenir" (Things to Come), France/Germany

- Silver Bear for best actress: Trine Dyrholm in "Kollektivet" (The Commune), Denmark/Sweden/Netherlands

- Silver Bear for best actor: Majd Mastoura in "Hedi", Tunisia/Belgium/France

- Silver Bear for outstanding artistic contribution (camera): Mark Lee Ping-Bing for "Chang Jiang Tu" (Crosscurrent), China

- Silver Bear for best script: Tomasz Wasilewski for "Zjednoczone stany milosci" (United States of Love), Poland/Sweden

- Alfred Bauer Prize for work of particular innovation: "Hele Sa Hiwagang Hapis" (A Lullaby to the Sorrowful Mystery) by Lav Diaz, The Philippines/Singapore

- Best first feature film: "Inhebbek Hedi" (Hedi) by Mohamed Ben Attia, Tunisia/Belgium/France

- Golden Bear for best short film: "Balada de um Batraquio" (Batrachian's Ballad), Leonor Teles, Portugal

- Teddy for best feature film with gay or lesbian context: "Kater" (Tomcat), Haendl Klaus, Austria

- Teddy for best documentary film with gay or lesbian context: "Kiki" (Kiki), Sara

(Photo: AP)

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