Italian director Gianfranco Rosi’s film on the refugee crisis wins Berlin festival’s top prize

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.

Director Gianfranco Rosi receives the Golden Bear for his film Fuocoammare at the 66th Berlin film festival on Saturday. Fabrizio Bensch / Reuters
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Gianfranco Rosi's documentary Fuocoammare (Fire at Sea), about the refugee crisis in the Mediterranean off the Italian island of Lampedusa, has won the Golden Bear prize for Best Film at the Berlin International Film Festival.

It was a fitting selection for a festival that went out of its way to make refugees welcome by giving them free tickets. Rosi 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 that never arrived to Lampudusa on these journeys of hope,” Rosi said in his acceptance speech.

Rosi, a top-prize winner at Venice in 2013 with his documentary Sacro GRA (Holy GRA), shows daily life on the small island, while 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 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,” said Rosi.

He noted that the flood of refugees that has made international headlines recently began about 30 years ago for the island, just off the coast of North Africa. Rosi said he had asked Dr Pietro Bartolo, a physician on Lampedusa who treats refugees, 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,” said Rosi.

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).

The best actor award went to Majd Mastoura for his role in the Tunisian film Hedi, while Trine Dyrholm took best actress for her role in the Danish film Kollektivet (The Commune).

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