Franco-Senegalese Documentary ‘Dahomey’ Wins Berlin’s Golden Bear.

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At the 74th annual event, Lupita Nyong’o, a Kenyan-Mexican Oscar winner and the first black jury president, revealed the seven-member panel’s selection among 20 Golden Bear award nominees during an extravagant ceremony.

The top prize at the Berlin Film Festival went to Mati Diop’s Franco-Senegalese documentary Dahomey, which explores the complex problems surrounding Europe’s return of looted treasures to Africa.

“It honors not just me but the entire visible and invisible community that the film represents,” Diop said of the award.

“Restitution is a prerequisite for rebuilding, but what does it entail? “To restore is to uphold justice,” she continued.

In Diop’s surreal video, 26 priceless treasures from the Dahomey kingdom are tracked as they return to Benin in 2021 from a museum in Paris.

In the film, Diop has one of the statues describe, in an eerie Fon-language voice-over, how the French pillaged his land, how he was forced into exile, and how he was eventually able to return home at the Cotonou museum.

Local students engage in fascinating, spontaneous debates about the historical significance of the restitution act and whether it should be celebrated or met with outrage upon the arrival of the collection.

The documentary was described as “some kind of miracle, packing an extraordinary amount of information, inquiry, and wild, persuasive imagination into a slim, 68-minute runtime” by the New York Times.

Variety described Dahomey as a “striking, stirring example of the poetry that can result when the dead and the dispossessed speak to and through the living”.

Diop became the first black woman to compete in Cannes 2019 when she won the runner-up Grand Prix for her eerie Netflix series Atlantique.

Diop acknowledged the significance of restitution, but she did not plan to “celebrate” the gesture made by French President Emmanuel Macron, she told French news agency AFP at the event.

She pointed out that only 26 antiquities had been returned “against the more than 7,000 works still held captive” in Paris.

Regarding the other awards, South Korean arthouse darling Hong Sang-soo, who has collaborated with French film great Isabelle Huppert on three occasions, won the Grand Jury Prize as runner-up for A Traveler’s Needs.

“Against the more than 7,000 works still held captive” in Paris, she pointed out that only 26 antiquities had been returned.

Regarding the other accolades, South Korean arthouse darling Hong Sang-soo, who has collaborated with French film great Isabelle Huppert on three occasions, won the Grand Jury Prize as runner-up for his film A Traveller’s Needs.

Regular attendee Hong praised the jury, joking, “I don’t know what you saw in this film.”

The Empire, an interplanetary conflict between good and evil that takes place in a French fishing village, won the third-place Jury Prize, which was accepted by French director Bruno Dumont.

The mysterious documentary Pepe, directed by Dominican filmmaker Nelson Carlo de Los Santos Arias, won best director. Pepe features the ghost of a hippopotamus that belonged to the late Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar.

This year’s jury presided over by Lupita Nyong’o, Oscar-winner was made up of actor-directors Brady Corbet and Jasmine Trinca and directors Ann Hui, Petzold, and Albert Serra alongside Ukrainian writer Oksana Zabuzhko.

Lupita Nyongo, who is new to serving on film juries, expressed her enthusiasm for learning from and collaborating with her fellow jurors, saying, “It is an honor to be here, a deep pleasure.”

 

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