Dahomey doc on Europe’s looted African art wins Berlin film festival

A documentary by Franco-Senegalese director Mati Diop probing Europe’s looted antiquities wins prestigious Golden Bear.

French-Senegalese filmmaker and actress Mati Diop celebrats with the Golden Bear for Best Film for the film "Dahomey" on stage during the awards ceremony of the 74th Berlinale International Film Festival, on February 24, 2024 in Berlin. (Photo by John MACDOUGALL / AFP) / ALTERNATE CROP - ALTERNATE CROP
French-Senegalese filmmaker Mati Diop celebrates in Berlin with the Golden Bear for Best Film awarded for the documentary, Dahomey [John Macdougall/AFP]

Dahomey, a documentary by Franco-Senegalese director Mati Diop probing the thorny issues surrounding Europe’s return of looted antiquities to Africa, has won the Berlin International Film Festival’s top prize.

Kenyan-Mexican Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o announced the seven-member panel’s choice for the Golden Bear award at a gala ceremony in the German capital Saturday.

Diop said the prize “not only honours me but the entire visible and invisible community that the film represents”.

Al Jazeera’s Dominic Kane, reporting from Berlin, said the documentary “confronts an issue that has been the forefront of many people’s minds, not just in the film world but also across Europe.

“DDahomeyconcentrates on the Benin bronzes and the struggle to return those bronzes. The whole principle of restitution, that is what the director Mati Diop referred to in accepting the prize, the Golden Bear at this festival,” Kane said.

South Korean arthouse favourite Hong Sang-soo captured the runner-up Grand Jury Prize for, A Traveller’s Needs, his third collaboration with French screen legend Isabelle Huppert.

French-Senegalese filmmaker and actress Mati Diop celebrates with the Golden Bear for Best Film for the film "Dahomey" with Berlinale Artistic Director Carlo Chatrian (R) and Head of programming Mark Peranson back stage during the awards ceremony of the 74th Berlinale International Film Festival, on February 24, 2024 in Berlin. (Photo by NADJA WOHLLEBEN / POOL / AFP)
Mati Diop celebrates with Berlinale Artistic Director Carlo Chatrian, right, and Head of Programming Mark Peranson backstage during the awards ceremony in Berlin [Nadja Wohlleben/Pool/AFP]

Hong, a frequent guest at the festival, thanked the jury, joking, “I don’t know what you saw in this film.”

French auteur Bruno Dumont accepted the third-place Jury Prize for, The Empire, an intergalactic battle of good and evil set in a French fishing village.

Dominican filmmaker Nelson Carlo de los Santos Arias won best director for, Pepe, his enigmatic docudrama conjuring the ghost of a hippopotamus owned by the late Colombian drug baron Pablo Escobar.

Marvel movie star Sebastian Stan picked up the best performance Silver Bear for his appearance in the US satire, A Different Man.

Stan plays an actor with neurofibromatosis, a genetic disease causing disfiguring tumours, who is cured with a groundbreaking medical treatment.

The Romanian American star called it “a story that’s not only about acceptance, identity and self-truth but about disfigurement and disability – a subject matter that’s been long overlooked by our own bias”.


The United Kingdom’s Emily Watson clinched the best supporting performance Silver Bear for her turn as a cruel mother superior in, Small Things Like These.

The film, starring Cillian Murphy, is about one of modern Ireland’s biggest scandals: the Magdalene laundries network of Roman Catholic penitentiary workhouses for “fallen women”.

She paid tribute to the “thousands and thousands of young women whose lives were devastated by the collusion between the Catholic church and the state in Ireland”.

German writer-director Matthias Glasner took the Silver Bear for best screenplay for his semi-autobiographical tragicomedy, Dying. The three-hour tour de force features some of the country’s top actors depicting a dysfunctional family.

The Silver Bear for outstanding artistic contribution went to cinematographer Martin Gschlacht for the chilling Austrian historical horror movie, The Devil’s Bath. It tells the tale of depressed women in the 18th century who murdered in order to be executed.

A separate Berlinale Documentary Award went to a Palestinian-Israeli activist collective for, No Other Land, about Palestinians displaced by Israeli troops and settlers in the occupied West Bank.

“In accepting the prize, the two men most involved in this film – one Israeli, one Palestinian – both spoke about the need for a ceasefire immediately, and that is a thought picked up by many other people – some recipients of awards, [and] some people presenting awards,” Kane said.

Cu Li Never Cries, by Vietnamese filmmaker Pham Ngoc Lan won the best first feature prize. The film tells the story of a woman who returns to Vietnam from Germany with the ashes of her estranged husband.

Best short film went to, An Odd Turn, by Argentina’s Francisco Lezama about a museum security guard who predicts a surge in the dollar’s value with a pendulum.

The Berlinale, as the festival is known, ranks with Cannes and Venice among Europe’s top cinema showcases.

Last year, another documentary took home the Golden Bear, France’s, On the Adamant, about a floating day-care centre for people with psychiatric problems.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies