Former Iraqi refugee Kurdwin Ayub wins Berlin Film Festival's Best First Feature

Spanish director Carla Simon's semi-autobiographical drama 'Alcarras' won the Golden Bear top prize

Film director Kurdwin Ayub won the Best First Feature Award for her film 'Sonne' at the Berlin International Film Festival. AP
Powered by automated translation

Former refugee Kurdwin Ayub has won the Berlin International Film Festival's Best First Feature for her provocative drama Sonne. Ayub, a writer, director and video and performance artist, is already a known name in the festival circuit for her shorts, but has made waves with her first full-length feature, inspired by her lived experience as an Iraqi immigrant growing up in Austria.

Sonne tells the story of a Kurdish teen, Yesmin, born in Vienna to Iraqi parents, whose religious and cultural identity is tested when a video she makes with her non-Muslim friends goes viral.

Like her film's main character, Ayub was born in Iraq and fled the country with her family during the First Gulf War. She grew up on the outskirts of Vienna in a refugee camp and is now an Austrian citizen.

“I always play with what is real and what is not real, who I am, is this story what I lived?” Ayub told Variety at her film's debut at the festival last week.

In its review, Britain's Screen Daily called Sonne a "vibrant feature" and praised it for its attempt "to reframe the adolescent Muslim experience."

Winners of Berlin International Film Festival 2022

Director Carla Simon won the Golden Bear for Best Film for her film 'Alcarras'. EPA

This year's Berlinale was held in-person for the first time in two years but was a shorter competition than usual, with strict regulations for audiences just as Covid-19 infections were peaking in Germany.

There were 18 films from 15 countries vying for the Golden Bear top prize, with the jury led by Indian-born American director M Night Shyamalan, best known for his film The Sixth Sense (1999).

Spanish director Carla Simon's semi-autobiographical drama Alcarras, about a family of peach farmers fighting for their future, won the Golden Bear on Wednesday night.

Simon, 35, dedicated the prize to her family, saying that "without them and my closeness to this world I wouldn't have been able to tell this story".

Set in Catalonia, the film follows the story of the Soles, a large, tight-knit family who spend their summers picking peaches in their orchard in a small village. But when they are threatened with eviction owing to new plans for the land, which include cutting down the peach trees and installing solar panels, the family members start to grow apart.

Shyamalan praised the film's cast of non-professional actors, who he said were able to "show the tenderness and struggle of family" and highlight "our connection and dependence on the land around us".

Variety called it a "lovely, bittersweet agricultural drama", praising Simon's "warm affinity for this alternately parched and verdant landscape".

German-Turkish comedienne Meltem Kaptan, 41, won the festival's second-ever gender-neutral acting prize for her performance in Rabiye Kurnaz vs George W Bush. The film by German director Andreas Dresen tells the true story of a mother's battle to bring her son back from Guantanamo Bay.

Kaptan dedicated the award "to all the mothers whose love is stronger than borders".

Comedienne Meltem Kaptan, the winner of the Silver Bear for Best Leading Performance for the film 'Rabiye Kurnaz vs George W. Bush'. EPA

Six of the festival's seven top prizes went to women, including the gong for Best Director, clinched by France's Claire Denis for Both Sides of the Blade. A tense pandemic-era love story, the film stars Juliette Binoche as a woman caught between two men — her longtime partner Jean and her elusive ex Francois.

The Hollywood Reporter called it a "smart, moody, superbly acted melodrama", while Screen Daily said Binoche and co-star Vincent Lindon, who plays Jean, were "at the top of their game".

French film director Claire Denis, actor Vincent Lindon and actress Juliette Binoche promote 'Both Sides of the Blade'. The film won Best Director at the Berlin Film Festival. EPA

The Novelist's Film, an understated drama from South Korean director Hong Sang-soo with a small cast of characters who reconnect by chance in the suburbs of Seoul, bagged the second prize.

Variety called it a "gently circuitous, conversation-driven charmer", while The Hollywood Reporter praised its "sly humour and insights into the insecurities of the artistic process".

South Korean director and screenwriter Hong Sang-soo and actress Kim Min-hee with their Silver Bear for Grand Jury for 'The Novelist's Film'. EPA

Third prize went to Robe of Gems, a gritty Mexican crime drama from writer-director Natalia Lopez Gallardo that explores the trauma inflicted on families in Mexico when relatives go missing.

The award for best screenplay went to Laila Stieler for her work on Rabiye Kurnaz vs George W. Bush.

Everything Will Be OK, Cambodian Rithy Panh's exploration of a dystopian future where animals have enslaved humans and taken over the world, won a Silver Bear for artistic contribution.

And Michael Koch's meditation on death and loss set in the Alps, A Piece of Sky, received a Special Mention.

Updated: May 11, 2023, 7:10 AM